First off, turkey hunting is by its nature not all that demanding on guns. This is not wingshooting. This is not duck hunting. You make a shot, fill a tag, and that’s it. A cheap gun will do as well as the most expensive.
Of all the systems I’ve tried, the pump is probably the best in my mind for weight, ease of operation and overall usability. I hunted with a semi for years. I’ve hunted with a bunch of others. Pumps have their problems, but they seem like the best for the job.
Think cheap. A $150 pawn shop pump with a clean barrel that can take choke tubes can do as good as an $800 Bennelli. Don’t worry about scratches. Don’t worry about a little surface rust. You’ll be spray painting.
Barrel Length is a matter of debate. I’m used to 28″ barrels. They are not a real hindrance, but a short barrel and a good choke will do as good a job. It used to be, you got a super-long barrel to increase velocity and keep a tight pattern ( look at a Marlin Goose Gun). However, newer powders and better choking systems have allowed us to go to shorter barrels.
Sights? I use a scope, but my eyes are about as bad as it gets. I just can’t see the pin and the turkey at the same time anymore. A 1.5 -4.5 scope set to about 2.5 power is perfect for me. The important thing without a scope is making sure you have a good sight picture down the barrel. Turkey hunting without a scope demands good consistent cheek placement. You can do that with a vent rib and some of those cheap glue-on sights. Just remember, you’ll be shooting in less-than-ideal situations and the chance for shooting over or under the target is there. Scopes remove a lot of that problem, but you pay for it . Scopes make it harder to acquire your target and reduce overall situational awareness. My advice is to only use scopes when you need them. I just happen to need them.
Camo? Get three cans of spray paint, different colors and have at it. This is why I tout cheap guns. $8 bucks worth of spray paint on a beater $150 pump will get you a turkey-proof camo job and it will be the worst thing that ever happens to the finish of your gun for the rest of its life. Any scratches can be fixed up with more spray paint. No rust. No muss, no fuss.
One of my mantras this Spring has been kind of doing the reverse of what folks normally do at the patterning board. Rather than seeing how far and how tight you can make a shotgun go, I think it is a better path to find a gun that suits your hunting style and work within its limitations. I don’t mean we should all step in the time machine and go back 50 years in technology. However, if you normally hunt in dense spring foilage and normally don’t see a turkey unless he’s within 15-20 yards, then a shotgun that shoots well out to 30 yards is probably all you need. It will be not only a good turkey gun, but a GREAT turkey gun. Conversely, a turkey gun that shoots bullet-type patterns at 15 yards is probably too tight for your normal needs.
Lastly, the loads. Look, if you regularly take turkeys at 40+ yards in open conditions, a 3.5 ” hevi-shot load may be just what you need. However, all but a a few of my turkeys in 30 years of hunting have been taken under conditions that would have required anything more than a 2 3/4″ high-brass pheasant load. 80% of my kills have been inside 17 yards. I shoot a 3″ #4 lead turkey load and have never seen it under perform inside 40 yards, however, I would be the first to admit it is overkill. I once took a shot at gob from the prone position and I was feeling it in my shoulder clear to Labor Day.
. . . and one more thing. I do not think it’s really a turkey gun unless it has a sling on it. A good sling is great for keeping both hands free as you’re on the move. I know there are those who feel the opposite, but that’s just me."What Makes a Great Turkey Gun?",