Photo by J. Wayne Fears
Use a life-size small game target to test the small game load in your modified turkey gun.
Turkey guns for
Late afternoon the day before the opening of squirrel season found me in the hunting camp of a conservation officer friend. As I unloaded my gear to settle into one of the bunks, I took my shotgun from the soft case and sat it in the gun rack.
“That’s not a squirrel gun,” my friend said as he moved across the room to get a closer look at the racked scattergun. “That’s your turkey gun; I recognize it.”
“You’re right,” I told him. “It’s one of the best squirrel shotguns I have ever used, especially hunting in thick ground cover and shooting squirrels in high, dense foliage.”
He was surprised, but after we discussed what I did to transform an excellent turkey gun into an excellent small game gun he admitted it made sense. Plus, we shared the opinion on how good it was to have one gun that, with a little effort, could be used for several species of small game as well as wild turkey.
Many turkey guns are naturals for upland game
Upland game such as grouse, rabbits, woodcock and squirrels that may be hunted in thick, steep habitat often requires a gun that is compact and fast to swing. The short-barreled turkey gun can be ideal, especially one with a sighting system that makes acquiring a running or flying target fast and easy.
Photo by J. Wayne Fears
Turkey guns can make excellent crow guns especially when owl/crow decoys are used in addition to calling. Many of the targets may be sitting, and it can take a hard hit to put them down.
The camo pattern on many turkey guns is a plus in the squirrel woods, or when calling crows. My camo turkey gun is ideal in a dove field as well.
Match the load to the gun
Not every auto-loading turkey gun will handle the light field loads used on small game. While not a problem with single shots or pump shotguns, some autoloaders require a special adjustment to handle light loads or they will not cycle the lighter recoiling loads at all. Study the owner’s manual on your auto-loading turkey gun and make sure it will handle, or can be adjusted to handle, light field loads necessary for small game, which can be especially critical with dove/quail loads.
Going from 3-inch turkey loads to 2¾-inch small game loads in an autoloader can make a lot of difference in how your gun preforms. Make those adjustments on the pattern board range, following the instructions in the owner’s manual of your shotgun.
Sight modification may be necessary
Most modern turkey guns have a rifle-style sighting system designed to shoot a small target at 40 yards. Some may have a rifle-style open sight; others may be a lighted reticle or dot, while others may be equipped with a shotgun scope with some magnification. Match the sighting system to the small game species and hunting technique you plan on using. I once tried using a pump turkey shotgun with a low power scope for an impromptu quail hunt. I replaced the extra-full choke with an improved cylinder tube, but it was still a disaster. I should have known better, but I didn’t want to take the scope off my shotgun. There was no quail for dinner.
Select choke tubes with care, and test
Every turkey shotgun has its own personality and matching the selected load to the choke takes time shooting at a pattern board. One brand or load of No. 4s may not shoot the same pattern as another brand or load of the same shot size. The same can be said for small game loads and the choke tubes you use for squirrel, grouse, woodcock, dove, crow, rabbit or other small game species. When you replace your turkey choke tube with a small-game choke tube, it requires some effort to get it right.
I have seen a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 turkey gun shoot a perfect rabbit pattern at 30 yards using a modified choke tube firing a 2¾-inch Federal Game Load of No. 6 shot. Switch to Remington or Winchester game loads in No. 6 shot, and it threw a pattern with holes in it.
Study the small game you want to hunt and get a choke tube constricted to match the load to the game animal. But do not stop there. Take a selection of loads recommended for the critter you plan to hunt and shoot them through your turkey gun, equipped with the choke tube you selected. On the pattern board you will quickly see how your shotgun performs with the choke tube and various loads. Usually one load will stand out.
Converting your turkey gun into a small game gun costs a lot less than buying one or more small game guns, and the combination turkey/small game gun will last a lifetime with a little care. — J. Wayne Fears