My 20-Gauge Season - Part 2
In Alabama, you’re allowed five turkeys during the season, but only one per day. One of my primary goals with the 2020 turkey season was to hunt almost exclusively with a 20 gauge. Traditionally, that’s not a weapon I’d have chosen, but given the improvements in shot, chokes and weapon functionality, I was interested in giving it a shot. Literally.
If you’ll refer back to Part 1 of this short series, you’ll recall that my first two birds were pretty close, not necessarily pushing my Benelli M-2 to the max. My third Alabama turkey appeared after three long days of waiting him out, and I was able to prove to myself that the M-2 paired with Rob Roberts custom chokes and Boss Tom tungsten turkey loads is a very capable shotgun at a longer distance. I shot that turkey at 45 yards, and he hardly flopped.
But one test isn’t enough.
I had some other objectives with my 2020 turkey season, including capturing all of my turkey hunts on film. But I’m not above closing the deal off camera if a good opportunity presents itself. My son had been my cameraman on a couple of hunts, and this one was no different. The surprise was that a bird actually roosted right up the hill from our spot, and came in on a string right off of the limb, something that rarely happens.
With rain falling, the bird appeared on our field minutes after legal shooting light. Of course, he showed up in the only spot on the food plot where the main camera my son was running, and three additional GoPros weren’t able to see him. Alabama turkeys are tough customers, and I wasn’t about to let him walk. Plus, I knew I had one bird remaining in my limit, so I put him down at 15 yards. The M-2 combo performed flawlessly, but not a distance to test the range a second time.
At that point in the year, the coronavirus was also really ramping up, and I while I was at home, I was also part-time teacher and stay-at-home dad as my wife continued to work. With time running out, I was beginning to worry that my chances were dwindling.
I had hoped to find another property to kill my final turkey on, but even those opportunities were drying up quickly. I hadn’t checked my cameras on our lease for two weeks, and figured I’d take a look — I had nothing to lose.
I was surprised to find several opportunities, and decided to focus on one particular bird. Interestingly, he was visiting the exact same food plot as the previous turkey I had killed. With four days of the season remaining, my son and I planned to hit it hard and leave everything on the field.
The following morning found my son and I tucked into the Primos Double Bull Surround View 360 at first light. We heard no gobbling from the limb, which isn’t overly surprising during the late part of the Alabama season. But about an hour into the morning, a lone longbeard appeared on the gas line about 500 yards away. It was a long shot, but we called and managed to pull him the entire distance to about 50 yards.
He never finished his approach, rather stood in the woods and just gobbled at everything we gave him without ever showing himself. Suddenly, a second bird fired off behind us gobbling only once. About 15 minutes later, he appeared on our food plot at 49.5 yards, and a well-placed shot dropped him in his tracks.
I tell you that story — you can watch the hunt here if you’d like — to reconfirm how important confidence is to your shooting accuracy. I know that’s nothing new to gun enthusiasts, home-protection advocates and competitive shooters, but in the hunting world most turkey and upland hunters just don’t practice with their shotguns all that often.
And maybe some don’t really have to. But this year has taught me that time behind the gun before the season opened was critical to my success.
Before I took the Benelli to the field, I spent time with it on the range to see how it would perform at 50 yards. After that investment, I was confident the gun was capable, but I needed to prove it in an actual hunting scenario — and more than once.
In years past, I’ve sought the right turkey-hunting combination of shotgun, choke and shells that maximize efficiency. I’ve found that most
combinations work well at standards distances, out to 30 to 35 yards, but shot consistency at 40 yards and beyond is where inconsistencies begin to occur. Those inconsistencies could easily be placed at the feet of the shooter, but if the gun isn’t capable, it isn’t capable. And knowing is knowing, (to stack up a couple of common clichés), and having the needed distance is a good thing. But only if you are certain you and the gun can perform under the stress of a real-life situation.
I’m a traditional turkey hunter, in that, I want them close. Until this year, I’ve been very hesitant to shoot beyond 40 yards, and when I have pushed the distance, the results have been mixed. Not enough success to be confident. But now my perspective has changed dramatically. I won’t hesitate to shoot out to 60 yards if the hunt warrants that kind of shot. Here in Alabama, you don’t get very many opportunities.
Since I film most of my hunts, I have to tote a bunch of gear along with me. It’s not for everyone, but I like it. Being able to reduce weight and the number of square inches thanks to a downsize from a 12 to a 20 gauge is a welcome improvement.
The days of a smaller shotgun being only for youth or old men are gone. I’m not too proud to say that. Or maybe I’m actually beginning to
age and don’t know it yet. The bottom line is, time on the range before heading out to hunt is your duty, for the critter’s sake and your own. And the modernization of smaller caliber and gauges make them just as effective as their larger counterparts.
I’m a believer now, but I’ll have to test it out again next season, I think. One can’t have too much data when it comes to shooting turkeys. ~ Thomas
Thomas has spent over two decades pursing whitetails, turkeys and ducks across 10 states and two Canadian provinces. He currently works full time as a Senior Editor and freelances on the side as a hunting videographer, photographer, editor and writer. His work has been featured in some of the nation's leading hunting and fishing magazines spanning nearly a 13-year content generating career in the outdoor market.