— By Tom Carpenter
When it comes to turkey guns, you’ve probably seen it all.
At one end of the spectrum sits the dedicated turkey gun. Whether it’s a pump or semiauto, this gun just looks, feels and acts the part. Usually featuring a short to mid-length barrel topped with a super-tight-patterning choke tube, this camouflaged shotgun may feature a pistol-style grip and almost certainly carries some type of special sighting mechanism beyond a simple brass bead or two.
At the other end of the spectrum is the get-the-job-done turkey gun. Many of us started out turkey hunting with one of these in hand. We went to our gun safe and grabbed whatever shotgun seemed right, maybe wrapped it in camouflage tape to make it look more the part, ensured a full choke tube topped the barrel, stuffed in a few turkey loads, hit the patterning board and then headed to the turkey woods.
And you know what? Plenty of turkeys are killed with both kinds of gun each spring. Today’s dedicated turkey gun may be a little fancier and is almost certainly deadlier at longer ranges. But get-the-job done models kill turkeys, too, and plenty of them.
However, there is a middle ground worth exploring.
Maybe you’re looking for a new turkey shotgun, but family economics say it needs to be something you can carry into the field for other wild game during different times of year. Or, perhaps you’re introducing a new hunter to the sport, and turkeys are just one part of the overall plan, which means you need a more well-rounded gun.
No matter what your scenario might be, there are excellent options available on today’s market — shotguns that are versatile enough to also serve you on upland birds, waterfowl and sometimes even slug-gun deer, or guns that are affordable that can be accessorized, adjusted and outfitted for turkey-specific duty in spring.
1. Stoeger M3500
In Spring 2017 I had the good fortune to hunt Rios at the Diamond K Hunting Ranch in Menard County, Texas, with the good folks from Stoeger. Two shotgun models — a pump and a semiautomatic — were in the lineup to test out on the rockin’ Rios roaming the ranch. And although I’m a pump-gun guy from way back, I immediately latched onto something new for me, Stoeger’s semiauto M3500.
Stoeger already had a M3000 semiauto in their lineup, chambered for shells up to 3 inches. The M3500 was added to take shells up to 3-1/2 inches. That makes for a turkey-killing machine and puts the gun into play for serious waterfowlers, too. Coupled with Federal Premium 3rd Degree 3-1/2-inch loads, it was a deadly turkey gun indeed.
Stoeger’s inertia-driven action delivers reliable performance, which I really needed on one Rio. Guide Josh Neuberger’s afternoon setup in a copse of live oaks was perfect, but, of course, a gobbler came in from the wrong direction. I twisted, turned and contorted myself enough to miss the shot, despite the fine Burris FastFire II red-dot sight topping the gun.
But, smooth-as-silk, another shell was ready to go after I scrambled to get an open second shot off and drop the confused gobbler before he knew what was really going on.
There are no pistons or O-rings in the M3500’s forearm, and gas doesn’t drive the action. Gas goes out the barrel, not in your face. A locking head stays in place, and springs operate the action. This all makes the gun lighter, as it weighs in at only 7.3 pounds. It’s also easy to clean, and there’s more than enough punch in 3- or 3-1/2-inch loads to cycle the gun completely.
Stoeger’s product manager Keith Heinlein had each M3500 outfitted with a pistol grip, and I loved it. Heinlein says it’s an easy process to exchange a straight stock for a pistol grip for turkey season. It’s an economical option, too, as cost for a pistol-grip stock that fits the Stoeger is only $89 to $109, depending on finish.
During that Texas hunt we shot the 24-inch-barreled shotgun, which, as a short barrel advocate, I appreciated. However, 26- and 28-inch barrels are also available that lend themselves better to waterfowl or upland hunting.
The M3500 and M3000 come with improved-cylinder, modified and full choke tubes from the factory, but you could use an extra-full turkey choke. In synthetic black the M3500 has $679 price tag, and it bumps up to $779 for camo models in Realtree APG or MAX-5 camo. The M3000 runs around $599 in black, $649 for camo. Both shotguns come pre-drilled and tapped for sights, which makes for an easy change-out in late winter to get set up for spring turkeys.
Stoeger is part of the Benelli USA family, so you know you are getting a reliable, hardworking blue-collar gun.
2. Stevens 320
A few springs ago one of my sons ran into a turkey shooting slump. Ethan had shot plenty of turkeys in his young career, but for unknown reasons he hit a funk and missed three birds on one South Dakota prairie trip before finally connecting.
I suspected part of the problem had to do with sighting, so I wanted to find an extremely affordable gun for him to try, as an expensive one wasn’t in the family budget.
Enter the Stevens 320 this past spring. Versions of this solid little shotgun run at an MSRP of only $236 to $276, but this is no beat-and-toss firearm. Properly cared for, this tough little pump action will last as long as you need it to.
We used the Model 320 Field Grade with a Mossy Oak Obsession synthetic stock. The shotgun featured a nice 22-inch barrel — perfect for turkey hunting, suitable for other pursuits. To help break the shooting slump, the gun was topped with a Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 HiRise red-dot sight mounted for us by Bushnell’s communications coordinator and gunsmith Jared Hinton.
We arrived at the hunting cabin with but a few minutes of daylight left. After propping a paper turkey target in the branches of a cedar, we stuffed a 3rd Degree load into the Stevens and quickly marched off 30 paces. Ethan sat down and sprayed the target with a perfect, dense pattern, leaving a big smile on his face.
The next morning brought an even bigger smile. Our dawn setup didn’t work out, but we looped far out into the rolling South Dakota ranch lands and finally got ahead of the birds. As we made a final approach on several strutters, the birds became nervous. Sensing the turkeys were about to bolt, the boy got up on one knee to shoot and rolled a gobbler just as it started to hit stride.
The Stevens 320 combo worked perfectly. In the end, Ethan’s slump was broken, but the bank account wasn’t.
Minus the Bushnell red dot, which is easy to mount, the gun performed admirably in the duck blind and grouse woods last fall, and the smooth-working action never failed. It will be easy to turn back into a turkey gun for Spring 2018, as all we’ll need to do is re-mount the Bushnell red dot and spend a half-hour at the range.
3. Mossberg 500
Mossberg’s venerable and affordable Model 500 has been an institution in the shotgun world since 1960. When I was growing up, it seemed every back porch or barn corner had at least one Model 500 propped up and poised for a quick small-game hunt or a poke at a pesky fox or coyote.
Replacement barrels have always been a part of the scene since the 1970s for Model 500s, too. I remember ordering a slug barrel in the 1980s with sights and full rifling. What a concept that was — a real slug gun for deer on the same frame used to chase rabbits, pheasants and ducks!
Now the Model 500’s options are almost endless, with Mossberg’s FLEX Series of modular shotgun components and accessories such as stocks, recoil pads and forends. Using an innovative tool-less locking system of connectors, you could easily covert a 500 FLEX shotgun from a duck gun to tactical-style turkey gun in minutes.
And if you already have a 500, Mossberg offers FLEX conversion kits for both 12-and 20-gauge shotguns. All required hardware is included. Forends and stocks feature matte black, Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity or Realtree MAX-4 finishes. Pistol-grip stocks are also available and make a great addition for a turkey gun.
Here’s another recommendation. A good base Model 500 with a 26- or 28-inch barrel and synthetic stock will do solid duty in the upland fields or duck blind for about $359. Get a $200 replacement turkey barrel (sights included) and add a turkey choke tube if you feel the extra-full choke that’s included isn’t enough.
4. Stoeger P3000
The other Stoeger gun we shot during the aforementioned Texas trip was the new P3000. This pump gun comes in a variety of configurations, but the black synthetic 12-gauge with a 28-inch barrel that we used would be an excellent all-around shotgun choice.
It sure did the job on turkeys. Coupled with Federal 3rd Degree loads, this hard-working shotgun consistently pounded toms out to maximum, acceptable ranges. Gun writer Mike Dickerson used a P3000 to drop a gobbler (his very first!) stone cold at well over half a football field.
No special sights topped these guns for the hunt. We used just the front bead. That didn’t stop Stoeger product manager Keith Heinlein from putting the boom down on an afternoon Rio expertly worked for a full hour by outfitter Thomas Neuberger. Having shot a bird myself that morning, I just watched the show from off to the side, but I did get to run out and pick up Heinlein’s incredible five-bearded bird.
A black synthetic P3000 with a 26- or 28-inch barrel comes with a five-year warranty and an economical price tag of $295. A model dressed in Realtree MAX-5 with the same barrel-length options checks in at $395.
Personally, I loved the gun’s sleek and streamlined design — there’s a defined and handsome corner where the stock meets the receiver to really make you get your head snugged down on the sighting plane. It’s a nice and tight operator and feels good shucking shells through it.
The gun is nice and light, too. The ones we were shooting weighed in at just a hair under 7 pounds. As an added bonus, studs make adding a sling easy.
Stoeger has since also introduced a P3500. This could be an excellent combo for the hunter looking to use 3-1/2 inch shells for waterfowl and turkeys. The P3500 comes in black or Realtree MAX-5 finishes, with an MSRP of $399 to $499.
5. Remington 870 Express Combo
It might seem like a cop-out to mention the obvious choice of a Remington 870 as an all-around, versatile shotgun. But it would be even more of a cop-out not to mention the 870 at all.
So many general configurations of the 870 are available, along with replacement barrels designed for turkeys and deer, that it could be hard to recommend just one specific gun in the lineup.
Fortunately, Remington has a package available, and the 870 Express Combo is a good one. For right around $600, you get two shotguns in one. Choose a 26-inch or 28-inch barrel for bird and turkey hunting, plus a 20-inch rifled barrel for slug shooting.
Like all 870s, the receiver is milled from a solid block of steel. The synthetic wood stock is easily enough socked or taped for turkey season, but you really wouldn’t even need to, as the finish is non-reflective. The flat-black matte finish on both barrel and receiver is non-reflective as well.
As much as we love spring turkey hunting, most of us also pursue other game over the course of a year. If the budget says your next shotgun needs to get the job done in the in pheasant fields, grouse thickets, duck blinds and deer stands in addition to the turkey woods, you have good options.
About the Author: Tom Carpenter is editor of Pheasants Forever Journal and a freelancer who focuses his outdoor year on the northern plains. His favorite thing to hunt or fish for is … whatever he’s hunting or fishing for.