Turkey hunting, especially for spring gobbler, is one of the fastest growing outdoors activities among women and youth hunters. Like the all hunters, women and youth are exposed to the many television programs dealing with turkey hunting, and they are also influenced by attending events such as women's outdoors events and youth field days.
Very often, female hunters of all ages and pre-teen male hunters are outfitted with equipment and firearms that have been used by adult males in the family when they begin hunting. There are some situations where this practice is fine, but using an oversized, too-heavy shotgun for turkey hunting is not recommended for retaining women and youth hunters.
This year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has designated Saturday, April 23, as the special one-day youth turkey hunt for spring gobbler. This year's statewide spring gobbler season opens Saturday, April 30, and continues through Tuesday, May 31, with all-day hunting legal beginning Monday, May 16, through the end of the season.
With that in mind, now is the time to find a turkey gun – commonly called "youth models" – for hunters with smaller frames. Almost all manufactures make smaller versions – usually in 20 gauge – of their full-size, 12-gauge turkey guns, and many firearms shops have a selection of used youth models.
There was a time when all turkey hunters were forced to use heavy, 10-gauge shotguns for turkey hunting. No matter if they were single-shot, side-by-side or auto-loading models, they were far from ideal as none had the extra-full chokes designed to deliver tight patterns down range.
Now, there is no shortage of specialized shotguns, chokes and ammunition on the market designed exclusively for turkey hunting. Today, even a 20-gauge shotgun will take a bird if the right choke-and-ammo combination is used.
Ed Kenney, owner of Ed's Sports Shop in Tamaqua, has a lifetime of experience selling firearms and sees no immediate end in the on-going development of turkey guns. He said every major manufacturer has introduced new models in the last few years.
"When you stop to think about it, today's turkey hunters probably have more choices in turkey guns than deer hunters have in deer rifles," Kennedy said. "Auto-loaders have become very popular, but you still have hunters who prefer pump actions and a few who like the challenge of using a break-action, single-shot model.
"By using a turkey gun, hunters no longer have to use camo tape to hide the bright, satin finish on the shotguns they use for upland birds or small game. All turkey guns are manufactured with a choice of finishes in camo patterns, matte or flat black.
"Another advantage that turkey guns have over field guns is their shorter barrels are better suited for moving in tight spaces and cut down on weight. All of them are designed to be used with special turkey chokes by the various manufactures and after-market brands, which all these shorter-barreled turkey guns to have greater range than some field guns."
Selecting a turkey gun is a matter of personal preference, from the finish of the stock and barrel, the action, the type of stock and the manufacturer. No matter what gun is selected, it should be done well in advance of using it in the field.
Just because Winchester loads work best in a friend's Remington 870, Remington or Federal loads may provide the best performance in a Thompson/Center Arms Encore. For that matter, there are times when shotguns of the same model will not perform the same with the same brand of factory loads.
In many ways, the supply of turkey guns on the market from firearms manufactures is meeting the demand. Finding that special gun should be done in time to prepare for the season and learn its effectiveness.
That is true for all turkey hunters – not just women and youth.