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I’m a full-grown man who stands 6 foot 1 and weighs 190 pounds—and I turkey hunt each spring with a 20-gauge youth shotgun. This all started because I was running late. My standard turkey gun was somewhere beneath a pile of clothing, decoys, and assorted gear. I was tired and lazy, so I grabbed my son’s Mossberg 500 Youth Bantam simply because it was within easy reach.
I killed a tom that morning, a loudmouthed 2-year-old that gobbled hard and often, and he dropped stone-dead at 32 steps. I’ve carried that little 20-gauge on more hunts than not ever since. What is it that makes a youth-model shotgun such a terrific spring option? Here are three things.
Turkeys were not meant to be hunted from a blind. I understand that it’s effective. Anyone can do it. But should you really be bragging to your buddies about waiting for a turkey to walk by from the comfort of a tent? I think not.
When I hunt longbeards, I want to cover ground and squeeze every ounce out of the experience that I can. Swinging a 12-gauge is no big deal if you’re mostly sitting and waiting, but lugging around a heavy shotgun all day can take a toll. The little youth gun I use weighs just under 6 pounds, including the red-dot optic. That’s almost 3 pounds lighter than my fully loaded 12-gauge. With a good sling attached to it, I can carry the youth model all day and barely notice the weight.
The gun’s small size also makes it easier for me to set up quickly when a bird responds. With a 22-inch barrel and a short stock, the bantam Mossberg is nearly 8 inches shorter than my full-size 12. That’s a significant savings and is much appreciated when I’m diving into a tangle of briars and brush to hide from a longbeard that cuts off my calls at short range.
With top-quality turkey loads, my son’s youth shotgun patterns every bit as well as my dedicated adult-size turkey gun. And it makes turkeys flop just as fast too. Turkey loads for 20-gauge shotguns have come a long way, and if you look at the ballistics, you’ll see you aren’t giving up much. Winchester’s Longbeard XR delivers 1 ⁷⁄₈ ounces of No. 5 shot at 1,050 fps from a 12-gauge. The 20 delivers 1¼ ounces of No. 5s at 1,000 fps. Choke options for 20s have also grown in size and variety. Match your favorite load with a quality choke, and you’ll have a shotgun that will break beaks at 45 yards with consistency. Will it kill a gobbler out to 50 and even 60 yards? Probably. But what’s the fun in that?
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Three Great 20-Gauges
This was my son’s first turkey gun—and the gun I’ve claimed as my own on many spring mornings. It’s a basic, no-frills pump gun that has laid to rest many a longbeard, and it continues to function despite my less-than-gentle treatment. ($419; Mossberg)
If you want an autoloader, this youth model is worth a look. It features a 21-inch barrel and a 13-inch length of pull, making it short and compact. It’ll shoot 3-inch shells as well, a must for killing gobblers at longer ranges. ($885; remington)
Benelli dubs its youth models “compact” shotguns. At 44.2 inches in length and just over 6 pounds, the 20-gauge Nova is indeed compact—and a great turkey gun when paired with a good choke tube. ($469, black; $569, camo; Benelli USA)