For nearly a century O.F. Mossberg & Sons has manufactured firearms for hunting, shooting sports, military and law enforcement. Now the oldest family-owned firearm manufacturer in America—and the largest pump-action shotgun manufacturer in the world—has introduced a new line of shotguns that combines years of ingenuity with functional design. It’s dubbed the “Turkey Thug Series” after Mossy Oak’s “Turkey Thugs” TV show, and it features four specialized, pump-action models.
Perhaps the most significant attribute of the entire line is Mossberg’s Lightning Pump Action user-adjustable, creep-free trigger system. Pull weight is easily adjusted by turning a screw in the rear of the trigger housing. This application allows the user to customize trigger tension, providing the comfort and confidence to make an accurate shot. An almost rifle-like trigger is an advantage on new turkey guns with modern chokes and loads that produce incredibly tight patterns. The Lightning system should maintain Mossberg’s longstanding reputation as a maker of accurate, consistent-shooting shotguns.
In another effort to increase accuracy and control, the Model 535 Thug I tested features an ergonomic pistol grip. In recent years the world of big-game and predator hunting has benefited from the crossover of tactical arms ingenuity. Now the technology has made its way into the turkey arena. More than just looks, the pistol grip serves a specific purpose: It provides superior one-handed control when your other hand’s on a turkey call. In the turkey woods this setup helps the shooter keep his head low and eyes focused on the target.
The non-tapered, 1-inch-thick butt pad is uniform from heel to toe, making for comfortable shouldering while providing a wide surface area for dispersing the recoil of this lightweight gun. However, the comb of the Turkey Thug 535 exhibits an aggressive drop. Last season, a local turkey guide I know reported that 28 clients using shotguns missed birds within 40 yards. He speculated that most misses were due to the hunters not keeping their heads down during the shot. In an effort to elevate the comb I removed the factory-installed pitch-plate, which raised the comb about 3⁄16 of an inch. The change helped me keep my cheek—rather than my jaw—anchored on the stock. Overall, the pistol grip and low-profile stock of the Thug should equate to fewer misses.
I tested the Turkey Thug 535 in a wide range of in-the-field scenarios, with and without illuminated sights and with multiple loads. It comes with a receiver-mounted Picatinny rail and a TruGlo red-dot sight. Other models include the 500, which is a black synthetic 12-gauge capable of handling 3-inch shells weighing 7.25 pounds with a 24-inch barrel and fiber-optic sights; the 835, a beefed-up version of the 535 complete with a red-dot sight that measures 40.75 inches and weighs 7.25 pounds; and another 535 like my test gun shown above, minus the red-dot and Picatinny rail.
I liked the red-dot sight when wearing a heavy, cold-weather jacket and my turkey vest. But I didn’t like shooting with the red-dot when wearing lightweight clothing because it forced my face off the stock in order to see through the high mounting position of the sight. However, when wearing bulkier clothes in some seated positions I found the gun shouldered with ease, allowing a secure anchor point to be taken with my chin.
Due to the drop of the comb and height of the TruGlo, I mounted a different sight on the Picatinny rail. With Trijicon’s low-profile, fiber-optic-illuminated RMR, I found it easier to stay in the gun and maintain a solid shooting position. Having multiple illuminated sight mounting options allows hunters to choose what best fits specific shooting styles. Whichever sight is chosen, this gun enables hunters to shoot easily with both eyes open in order to maximize peripheral vision.
Later I learned that this gun’s stock has a removable spacer that adds or detracts 1 inch from the length of pull. Removing it allowed me to get higher on the gun and helped my drop-at-comb issue.
The Picatinny rail features a slot that runs its full length. This allow hunters to look underneath the mounted optic to instead utilize the fiber-optic front and rear “iron” sights that come mounted on the gun’s ventilated rib. I found my form to be most sound—and my patterns most consistent—when I shot through the illuminated sight or when I removed it and the rail, going strictly with the fiber-optic front and rear sights. If you want to mount an optic on your turkey gun you’ll find the rail accommodating. If you don’t like to use an optic, you’ll find, as I did, that a clean top-line minus the rail provides a clearer line of sight on the 535.
When patterning the Thug I tested nine different loads ranging from 2 3/4-inch No. 6 shot to 3 1/2-inch No 4’s. Never have I had a turkey gun so consistently pattern such a variety of loads. The one that shined brightest through the Thug’s 20-inch barrel was Federal Premium’s 3-inch No. 5 with a Flitecontrol wad. It repeatedly threw an impressively tight pattern and performed flawlessly through the Mossberg “XX-Full” Accu-Choke (the only one that comes with the gun). It’s easy to tighten in the field; there’s no need for an aftermarket choke on this gun.
The magazine loading port is easy to access and allows for quick loading. The follower on the bottom of the port has been eliminated so there’s no need to take your hand off the ready position to put a round in the magazine.
Set on the lightest trigger pull, every cap I snapped was crisp and clean with no creep. Combine this performance with a slick action that made Mossberg’s 835 predecessor models so popular—and the fact that the 535 spits out empties cleanly from the right-side ejection port by way of a dual extractor system—and you have one smooth-shooting turkey gun. The ejector is easy to manage and can be changed-out in the field, if necessary.
Unlike traditional Mossberg action rails, the Thug features a modified tubing system that results in a lighter, more slender forearm to comfortably fit smaller hands. The action bar attaches directly to the forearm so there’s no excess metal, a feature echoing that of a defense-gun system.
Behind the trigger guard, the action lock lever is situated on the left side of the trigger housing, making for easy manipulation. A tang-mounted safety requires an extended thumb reach to engage.
Clearly, Mossberg has taken some bold steps with the Thug 535. But these steps translate to practical applications in the field that should boost success rates. At a light 6.75 pounds with fast handling, this tactical-style shotgun will do a number not only on turkeys but on coyotes as well. It will be interesting to see the trends Mossberg sets with this eye-catching, functional gun.