Thirty years ago, just about the only specially configured scatterguns you could find were the overpriced over/unders designed for wealthy hunters to knock a daily limit of quail from the sky. My first effort at modifying my shiny blued Remington 1100 into a turkey killer was taking a roll of camo tape and wrapping the gun more times than I could count.
In fact, it was Remington who first recognized the unique features a turkey hunter really needed in a shotgun and began incorporating camouflage finishes, shorter barrels and tighter choke constrictions. Other manufacturers were quick to follow with turkey hunter numbers growing by leaps and bounds in the 1990s. Today, nearly every major gunmaker has a specialized turkey shotgun or two, and features have expanded to include a variety of stock configurations, sighting and optic options, recoil dampening pads, operating systems and weatherized finishes for harsh elements.
Turkey hunter numbers have leveled off, but it’s good to know that gun manufacturers still recognize the value of creating even more refined gobbler getters, as this year’s crop of top models reveals.
Benelli Super Vinci
When Benelli introduced its In-Line Inertia Driven system and unique modular design in the Vinci two years ago, it delivered a radical departure from the way other shotguns cycled and were even assembled and disassembled. The Inertia Driven action, combined with strategically incorporated dampening pads atop and along the stock and butt of the gun, made the Vinci one of the softest kicking, if not the softest kicking, 12-gauge on the market. I was fortunate enough to get a first look at the shotgun during a hunt with Benelli, and later that year, in Florida, may have become the first person to ever shoot a turkey with one. When stories were compared, another hunter on the same trip said he pulled his trigger at approximately the same time I dropped my limbhanger. Besides the performance, the modularity of the Vinci amazed everyone on the hunt with the promise for some cool configurations in years to come. Benelli has delivered.
Last year they rolled out their Vinci with the SteadyGrip pistol grip stock, and for 2011, they’ve gone back to the original configuration, but made it extremely capable of cycling turkey crushing 3 ½-inch loads. Now the softest kicking gun around also handles some of the most brutal loads to shoot, and the recoil sensitive hunter is the winner. Capable of handling everything from 3 ½ down to 2 ¾ loads, the Vinci is available with a 26- or a 28-inch barrel, boasts a stepped vent rib with a metal mid-bead and red bar front sight and tips the scales right at 7 pounds. Finishes include black synthetic, Realtree Max-4 and Realtree APG. Overall shotgun length is 48 ½ and 50 ½ depending on barrel length. ($1,649-$1,759)
Remington Versa Max
An innovator from its earliest days, Remington introduced its own top recoil managing model with the creation of the Versa Max, a gas-operated 12-gauge reported to reduce the felt recoil down to that of a 20. This classicly styled shotgun boasts beautiful lines and a narrow configuration, but with all the features a turkey hunter could ask for. Capable of handling everything from 3 ½- to 2 ¾-inch loads, the synthetic stock and fore-end boast overmolded grips for sure handling, and the oversized trigger guard and larger safety make it easier to use when wearing gloves.
The barrel and other operating components are nickel- and nickel Teflon-plated, respectively, for maximum corrosion resistance, and for the sportsman prone to not wiping down his firearm as he should, the action is virtually self-cleaning, tested to continuously cycle thousands of rounds without jamming. Available in Realtree HD Camo, the Versa Max comes with four chokes including an extended extra full choke for tightening up most of today’s top turkey loads. ($1,599)
Mossberg Turkey THUG Series
Known for delivering workhorse shotguns at a price a working man can still swing, Mossberg continues the tradition with its Turkey THUG Series of shotguns. Our favorite at first glance is the Turkey THUG Model 535 with the full-length synthetic pistol grip stock. Pistol grip stock designs came into vogue some years back courtesy of Benelli and Mossberg, and for the turkey hunter looking to ensure a solid aim and extended lockdown as a slow-to-come longbeard dances hesitantly into range, nothing works better. The pump-action offers ultra-reliable performance in a game where more often than not, one shot is all it takes, but occasionally more are required.
The Turkey THUG 535 features a 20-inch barrel, the option of adjustable fiber optic sights or a factory-mounted TRUGLO red-dot sight, a receiver-mounted Picatinny rail and the company’s Lightning Pump Action (LPA) user-adjustable, creep-free trigger system. It is available in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity, a nod to the partnership Mossberg forged with the camo creator. Other guns in the series include a semi-auto Model 835 version and a pump-action Model 500. ($612/$671 with red-dot sight)
Winchester Super X3 NWTF
Somewhere along the line Winchester shotguns adopted a more high-end market position and migrated from the ranks of a bargain buy, but as a result of that transition, they are producing some darn fine performing shotguns. In fact, I was so impressed by a Super X3 that I had the opportunity to shoot for a story I was working on that I decided to buy it. Winchester introduced a new X3 configuration for 2011 called the Super X3 NWTF Extreme Turkey shotgun. A portion of the purchase price of each gun will go to support the NWTF’s wild turkey conservation efforts.
The 12-gauge X3 is chambered to accommodate 3 ½-inch shells and features a 24-inch back-bored barrel and an Invector Plus extra-full extended turkey choke tube. The finish is in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity, and for withstanding the elements, the stock and fore-end are coated in Dura-Touch Armor. An adjustable rear sight and TRUGLO fiber-optic front sight help in the rifle-like delivery of tight patterns at close range. The Super X3 NWTF Extreme Turkey is also available in a 3-inch, 20-gauge model as well, for $150 less than the bigger bore. ($1,559)
Browning NWTF Silver
Browning aficionados will love the NWTF Silver shotgun made specifically with the turkey hunter in mind. The gas-operated autoloader is available in 3-inch and 3 ½-inch chambered models, which are equally capable of cycling 2 ¾-inch shells. The aluminum alloy receiver boasts Browning’s semi-humpback design and the composite stock and forearm are Dura-Touch Armor coated. The entire gun is dipped in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity.
The vent rib barrel is lined with a HiViz 4-in-1 fiber-optic sight. The NWTF Silver comes with three Invector Plus choke tubes. Proceeds from the purchase of this shotgun also go to benefit the NWTF. The Silver tips the scales at 7 pounds for the 3-inch model and 7 pounds, 4 ounces for the 3 ½. Overall length is 45 inches and barrel length is 24 inches. ($1,460 for 3 ½-inch model/$1,300 for 3-inch model)