But in the last 25 years, wild turkey populations in the United States have grown tremendously. The number of hunters has paralleled this increase with more turkey hunters entering the woods every year. It is not only hunters getting in on the act, but gun manufacturers have also raced to fill the new equipment niche this wildlife resource has spawned. While some things have remained unchanged from the days of our fore fathers, turkey guns have evolved, and they are far from primitive anymore!
Turkey hunters, like most other hunters, had accepted the antiquated belief that longer barrels on shotguns equaled "tighter, harder hitting patterns" and often carried their waterfowling piece afield in the spring. But since the advent of smokeless powders (about 100 years ago) barrels over 20" produced very little (if anything) in increased velocity. Pattern densities have always been controlled by choke constriction and shell design - never by overall barrel length. So turkey hunters were tromping through the woods with a weapon that didn't fill any bill very well.
Turkey guns 40 years ago were heavy and hard to carry. They were shiny, which spooked turkeys. They were also hard to precisely aim in low light conditions and did not even come close to matching the pattern densities regularly produced by guns of today.
Today all of that has changed. Turkey guns, thanks to hunters needs and suggestions made by The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), are now lighter weight, handier to transport through the woods with a integral sling system, easier to aim thanks to fiber optic sights and produce tighter groups with more velocity. All of today's modern turkey guns are more effective and versatile than ever before with high tech interchangeable choke systems. Top off all these features with the latest camo finishes and these guns literally disappear in the woods.
You've Come A Long Way Baby, But How Did You Get There?
As you have probably noticed, turkey guns have evolved a long way over what hunters were using less than 25 years ago. This radical change did not happen overnight nor did it happen alone. Along with hunters and gun manufacturers, the NWTF played a huge role in this evolution.
Working in cooperation with gun manufacturers, a team of experienced turkey hunters on the NWTF national staff shared design ideas that would produce shotguns that offer features that work well in hunting situations. They also shared their expertise on gun designs that would command premium prices in the fundraising banquet arena where top dollars translate to more money for wild turkey management. Many of the guns were embellished with engraved wild turkey scenes created by NWTF CEO, Rob Keck.
Through the hard work of NWTF volunteers and the organization's growth, many of the firearms manufacturers have been willing to pay a premium for the NWTF seal of approval through the "trade gun" arrangement. Several newer variations of turkey guns have been developed as a result of past NWTF gun programs. The resulting dollars raised through NWTF gun sales have benefited wild turkey restoration and management across the country.
While NWTF was busy with the concept design, gun manufacturers and small gunsmith shops across the country got busy with performance. Choke design, incorporating adjustability and porting for recoil reduction has been around for the last fifty years (Poly-Choke and Cutts Compensator) but it was not until the early eighties, when Winchester introduced their Winchoke system that the development of interchangeable chokes took off. It was this clean application and effectiveness that started the choke tube revolution. There is not a shotgun available (from any of the major manufacturers) today that does not come standard with interchangeable choke tubes.
Today, nearly two dozen companies offer after-market choke tubes for turkey hunting. The overall length of the tube has been elongated, The constriction zone of the choke has been tinkered with (some opt for a parallel stabilization area after the choke while others swear by a long gradual choke). Some chokes are also ported to reduce recoil and improve pattern densities. In recent years, some companies have been designing choke tubes that actually slow the wad cup thereby reducing the amount of disturbed pellets in the payload after it leaves the barrel.
Turkey Guns of Today
Next to choke tubes the most significant development to the turkey gun was the advent of the 3 1/2-inch, 12-gauge shotgun and shotshell. Mossberg is credited with developing the first shotgun for the 3 1/2-inch magnum in the late 1980s. They toyed with the idea of resurrecting the 10-gauge in their Model 500 shotgun to answer the dilemmas faced with shooting steel shot at waterfowl. Key personnel at Mossberg learned that Federal Cartridge and Browning had discussed the idea of a 3 1/2-inch shell and gun to shoot the magnum loading, but Browning opted for the 10-gauge instead to solve the woes of shooting steel. When Mossberg's engineers learned of this decision, they went to the drawing board and developed the 835 Ulti-Mag® . An agreement with Federal to supply the 3 1/2-inch ammo set the production wheels in motion for this successful gun/load marriage. A short time later, 3 1/2-inch turkey loads were developed for the 12-gauge, and a new era in turkey guns was born.
Winchester offers their Super X2 in a NWTF configuration as well. The X2 is available in both matte black and Mossy Oak® Break-Up™. Both models come complete with three-dot TruGlo® sights and are capable of handling shells up to 3 1/2 inches. Both turkey models also come with an extended turkey choke tube for tighter more consistent patterns.
Browning also has their new NWTF turkey series in their Gold auto loading design. It simply disappears in the woods due to a subtle coating of Mossy Oak® Break-Up™. The NWTF logo is proudly but also discretely displayed on the butt stock. This 24-inch barreled, 12-gauge 3 1/2 gun comes complete with Hi-Viz™ sights and an extra full turkey tube.
Remington offers two specifically dedicated turkey guns. The 870 (3 1/2) and the 11-87 Special Purpose Synthetic Turkey Camo. These two guns both come with an interchangeable turkey choke, padded camo sling and are covered from head to toe in Realtree® X-Tra Brown™.
Every year gunsmiths and major manufacturers alike are still tinkering with various improvements to the turkey guns on the market today. Collectively, the best ideas will surely work their way to the top in the coming years and will improve the way we take aim at this marvelous sport.
To purchase from Cabela's complete selection of shotguns, visit one of their Retail Stores.