Is a 20 Gauge Shotgun Enough for Turkey Hunting? (video)

Turkey hunter sitting next to tree shooting at 3 turkeys

For many years, the 3-inch, 12-gauge ruled the roost with turkey hunters, but with the introduction of the 3 1/2-inch shell, the 12-gauge upped the ante with a whopping 2 3/8-ounce payload of shot. However, these behemoth shells come at a price — in both cost and punishing recoil.

Mossberg 500 Super Bantam Turkey Pump-Action Shotgun
The Mossberg 500 Super Bantam 20-gauge Turkey

An 8-pound shotgun firing a standard 3 1/2-inch payload will generate about 66 pounds of recoil, more than a .375 H&H rifle, and is considered the minimum for hunting dangerous game in Africa. Repeated firings can produce headaches, much like those suffering a slight concussion.

So is there hope for hunters of a slighter build than Hulk Hogan?

Remington Model 870 Express Pump-Action Shotgun
Remington Model 870 Pump-Action

When turkey hunters get together and the subject of turkey guns like the popular Remington Model 870 Pump-Action Shotgun roll around, there's an understanding: Bigger is better. And while this might be the rule rather than the exception, the future of hunting lies with our youth and the fastest rising group of new shooters and hunters — women. So it only makes sense that manufacturers are producing women and youth friendly turkey hunting equipment.

Today's 20 gauge is a great alternative to the mind numbing torture of the 12 gauge, but can the 20 gauge run with the big dogs and how does it perform in the field where it matters most?

Why a 20 Gauge Shotgun Choice is a Good Bet for Turkeys

Need your turkey gun downsized? Turkey hunters are not created equal. Most ladies and youth hunters aren't built like lumberjacks, and the next generation of turkey hunters need a shotgun to fit them and not kick them so hard as excessive recoil can cause flinching especially in new shooters.

Benelli Performance Shop M2 Turkey Edition Shotgun
Benelli Performance Shop M2 Turkey
Edition Shotgun

Twenty gauge shotguns are nothing new, but as far as being marketed as a turkey gun, there are several advantages to them. Besides lighter than a 12 gauge gun, they are more compact exhibiting shorter barrels. Keep in mind, you will need to consider the effective range to make a kill shot if switching from a 12 gauge to a 20 gauge. Of course it depends upon other factors too, like the choke and the shotshells, about 30 yards, also pattern is as important as is velocity.

One gun choice is the Benelli Performance Shop M2 Turkey Edition Shotgun. This is serious medicine and this gun features custom work and high-end enhancements that'll make other turkey hunters jealous. This edition has been test-fired using Federal Premium Ammunition. Computer printouts are provided to show round impacts in consistent and controlled 10", 20", and 30" patterns. The 24" barrel and receiver are finished in Midnight Bronze, and the comfortable stock and rifle forend are both decked out in Mossy Oak Bottomland camo to help you blend into turkey habitat. You'll experience up to 48% less recoil for faster follow-up shots.

 Mossberg 510 Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun
Mossberg 510 Mini Super Bantam 20
Gauge Shotgun

The time tested and proven Mossberg 500 Super Bantam Turkey Shotgun is designed to grow with the hunter. The stock is adjustable from 12-13 inches by use of spacers that fit on the butt stock. The 500 Super Bantam Turkey features an X-Full choke tube for delivering tight shot patterns needed for turkey hunting, and it also accepts Accu-Set choke tubes, making it versatile for many hunting situations. Also comes with an X-Full choke tube for delivering tight shot patterns needed for turkey hunting. Add to that,  Adjustable fiber optic sights provide a vivid sight picture in the early morning woods.

The 510 Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge Shotgun model has a pull length of 10.5- 11.5 inches; an 18.5 inch barrel; and both models are available in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity and feature an extra full Accu-choke turkey tube.

I wouldn't be afraid to bet a biscuit smothered in sausage gravy that any of these 20-gauge turkey guns will be an effective hunting weapon.

Turkey Hunters Want a Shot Capable of Delivering the Magic Pellet

It does not take a lot to kill a turkey. In fact, a single pellet will do the job, but this single pellet has to be in the right place. Therefore, hunters look for a payload of shot capable of delivering that pellet in the right place.

Hunter patterning his shotgun
No matter what gauge, patterning your
shotgun is vital to success.

This becomes a numbers game. A 1 1/2 oz. load of 6s from a 20 gauge is no different than a 1 1/2 oz. load of 6s from a 12 gauge — other than speed — and a turkey will never be able to tell whether it was shot with a 12 gauge or a 20. The more pellets headed toward your target, the better your chances of putting one in a turkey's vitals.

The range of a 20 gauge cannot match the 12 gauge, but the handicap equates to only 10-15 yards, making your maximum effective range in the neighborhood of 30-35 yards. And yes, I know many hunters out there shoot beyond 35 yards, but new hunters should resist the urge to shoot longer ranges until more experience and confidence in both their skill and marksmanship increases.

	 RangeMaxx Turkey Target
RangeMaxx Turkey Target

Selecting a shell isn't like going to the market for a gallon of milk and grabbing the first one you see. Try as many different shells as you can and shoot them on the patterning board like a RangeMaxx Turkey Target before settling on one, a dense pattern on a turkey's head is the desired effect.

TIP: Don't forget to check how your shotgun patterns at close range. A few seasons ago I nearly missed a bird as it stood only a few yards from the end of my shotgun. At 30 yards, my shotgun patterned well, but at close range the pattern was high. Luckily, a pellet from the bottom half of the pattern caught the top of the gobbler's head.

WATCH THIS VIDEO: Dr. Warren Strickland and Jim Martin examine the pattern board and the importance of using a large pattern board to define your maximum range when shooting a turkey.

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Remington Premier Magnum Turkey Loads Shotshells
Remington Premier Magnum Turkey Loads Shotshells

Need a little more range? Today's new high density ammunition like HEVI-Shots HEVI-13 or Remington Premier Magnum Turkey Loads Shotshells will give you a few extra yards, but don't let it become a crutch and never shoot beyond your established maximum range.

The downside of the new hi-density shells is, for the most part, they are all 3-inch shells. If you are looking for a standard shell, look no further than the Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS Turkey Shotshells . Heavyweight is one-third more dense than lead. This 1 1/8-ounce load of 7s duplicates the pattern density found in a load of No. 5 lead shot. This is great news for young shooters and recoil sensitive shooters.

Please check the legality of this load as some states regulate the shot size to be used on turkeys.

 About Aftermarket Choke Tubes

Cabela's Turkey Choke Tube
Cabela's Turkey Choke Tube

As stated earlier, it only takes one pellet to put a gobbler down, but it must be the right one. To stack the odds in my favor and deliver as many "right" pellets as possible, I use an aftermarket choke tube. I prefer choke tubes by ndian Creek Shooting Systems, but others like the popular Cabela'sTurkey Choke Tube and Carlson's Long Beard XR Turkey Choke Tubes are effective in putting a lot of pellets downrange and on target.

Can Using a 20 Gauge Gun Make You a Better Hunter?

I knew an older Southern gentleman who used nothing but a .410 to turkey hunt and each season he filled his tag. "If you call 'em close enough you can use a hickory switch," he'd laugh as we gathered around him trying to absorb his turkey wisdom. While I'm not ready to use a hickory switch, this sage advice brings up a great point.

Two turkey hunters holding a bird they shot
Ray Eye in Hawaii with Kimi, who used a
20-gauge to fill her tag.

If you can call or coax a bird within easy range, then it shouldn't matter whether you are shooting a 20 gauge or a Howitzer. Many hunters use turkey decoys to coax a wary longbeard in the final few yards. Decoys can also keep the bird's attention focused on something other than your setup.

Turkey hunting guru, Ray Eye, is confident the 20 gauge is enough to anchor a big gobbler. Each spring he guides many youth hunters — many of whom carry a 20 gauge — but Eye has a warning for new hunters: "When using the 20 gauge, you need to get the birds in close. One of the biggest mistakes young hunters make is moving around too much while turkey hunting," he said. "As a bird gets close it is even more important not to move."

For this reason, Eye utilizes and recommends portable blinds for young hunters. Blinds, if properly used, will help hide movement especially at the moment of truth.

"When that gobbler is within 20 yards there's no room for mistakes," says Eye. "If you move, it's game over."

Tips for Matching a Shotgun With Hunting Style

Eye recommends matching your shotgun and shells to the location of your hunt and hunting style.

"In open areas, use a larger size shot than you would in timbered areas," Eye said. "Larger pellets carry more of a punch at longer ranges than a smaller pellet. High density ammo and the ultra-tight choke tubes are great in these areas and don't be afraid to mount some sort of optic."

"In heavily timbered areas, like the Missouri Ozarks, a bird will be right on top of you before you see it. Down there turkeys are taken at distances measured in feet rather than yards," he said. "It is guerilla warfare...hand to hand combat, switch to a load of 6s and a modified choke. Use a bead sight or rifled sights to keep your head down on the stock."

The Verdict

So can the 20 gauge hang with the 12 gauge shotgun? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. So fear not, users of the 20 gauge — it is here to stay and is up for any challenge.