Case: Enough gun for turkey hunting might be less than you think

AP photo by Michael Conroy / Guests browse firearms in the Benelli display area of exhibits at the NRA's annual meeting on April 16 in Indianapolis.

I have long been a fan of Robert Ruark. If you hunt and fish or have anything to do with firearms but don't know who Robert Ruark is, well, you should.

Robert Chester Ruark Jr. was born in 1915 in Wilmington, North Carolina. He grew up hunting and fishing this area when there were a lot of bobwhite quail and plenty of land to wander on without worrying about posted signs.

Ruark had a lifelong dream of going on safari in Africa, and after his first trip with fabled professional hunter Harry Selby, he returned many times. Ruark wrote several books on Africa, including "Horn of the Hunter," "Uhuru," "Robert Ruark's Africa" and "Use Enough Gun: On Hunting Big Game."

The latter is basically a collection of his remembrances from hunting in Africa, and the title is a reference to using a large enough caliber for the game you are hunting.

You may well be wondering where I am going with all this (as usual), but there is a connection here with turkey hunting. Many of you turkey hunters out there know we live in a time when the turkey shotgun and ammunition world has gone big: 12-gauge shotguns (some would even go with the 10-gauge) with 3-inch and 3 1/2-inch ammo, and the effective killing range for these weapons seems to grow every year.

Now don't get me wrong: I am not slandering the big guns and ammo for hunting the king of game birds. I have several shotguns in this category as well as the appropriate shotgun shells and will continue to use them. I am saying under the right conditions, which is keeping things in the proper yardage area, the 20-gauge is enough gun for turkeys. (Apologies to those turkey hunters who have embraced the .410 bore — I like them, too — but today we are talking about the 20-gauge.)

The wild turkey gobbler is a large and very tough bird, capable of absorbing a lot of lead and still being able to elude the hunter. They can absorb the lead in the body area, and those feathers give some amazing protection from shot pellets. For this reason, turkey hunters know they want to concentrate on hitting the head and neck area when shooting at turkeys.

Because we are shooting at this vital area, not the whole turkey, I will hold that any shotgun that delivers enough pellets to this area with enough punch (force) will take turkeys sufficiently at certain ranges. This includes the 20-gauge.

Now before all the indignant letters start coming in, I am saying we should keep our shots on turkeys with the 20-gauge inside of 40 yards, and if I had my druthers, I would like him better inside of 30. There are some shotgun, choke and shotshell combinations out there capable of delivering turkey-taking patterns quite handily with the 20-gauge.

Here are a couple.

Benelli Nova Turkey Model 20-gauge

I may be slightly biased in this addition to the turkey gun list because I grabbed this little shotgun practically out of the box, took it to the field on opening morning of spring turkey season and promptly shot a big gobbler with it. (It is easy sometimes, but not often.)

The new Nova Turkey 20-gauge comes chambered for 2 3/4-inch and 3-inch 20-gauge shotshells and features a 24-inch barrel with included improved cylinder, modified and full chokes. With its 24-inch barrel length and 6 1/2-pound weight, the Nova Turkey 20-gauge offers a lightweight platform to leverage the reach and terminal performance of today's advanced turkey loads. The new model furthers its mission with a full coverage Mossy Oak Bottomlands camo finish. This iconic spring turkey pattern has helped conceal woodland and field edge gobbler hunters for more than three decades. The full-length ribbed barrel terminates with a high-visibility red-bar front sight for quick sight picture acquisition in the early morning light. It has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $559.

Mossberg 500 Turkey 20-gauge

The Mossberg 500 pump shotgun has achieved almost legendary status, and some believe there may have been as many 500s sold as the equally celebrated Remington 870. This is one tough shotgun and has stood the test of time. Mossberg has brought this gun out in 20-gauge in several different models; the one that is currently living at my house is the 500. This nifty little turkey killer features a 22-inch barrel with a vent rib and adjustable fiber optic rifle-type sights.

The 500 is fully camouflaged in Mossy Oak Obsession and has a Mossberg ported accu-choke in .585 restriction. At 6 3/4 pounds, it is a joy to carry in the woods and may be what you are looking for in a gun for the youngster, lady hunter, your buddy with a bum shoulder or anyone who just doesn't want to get pounded by a bigger shotgun.

Now what about some ammo?

Apex Ammunition TSS Turkey Loads

There is no doubt that tungsten super shot changed the turkey hunting world more than any other development in the past 50 years. Not only does this shot allow for extreme shotgun ranges, but TSS also brought the sub-gauges (like the 20) into the limelight for turkey hunting. Apex is an American company — owned and operated by veterans and located in the state of Mississippi — has a main focus of providing its customers and community with the absolute best turkey and waterfowl hunting experience possible. There are several companies making TSS loads, of course, but Apex offers a smaller-batch, hand-loaded shell that is devastating on gobblers, and there are 12-, 16-, 20-, 28-gauge and .410 loads available.

Winchester Long Beard XR 20-gauge

It's been a few years now since Winchester came out with its revolutionary Shot Lok technology that gave us the Long Beard XR shotshell. Somehow, Winchester engineers perfected a method of loading the shell with a liquid resin on the shot charge. When this resin hardens, it completely encases the shot. Immediately upon firing, this resin shatters and becomes a buffering compound that maintains the pattern at extreme ranges.

Kills on turkeys from 60 yards don't seem to be a problem with a 12-gauge, and it was only a matter of time until Winchester came out with a 20-gauge version. I would still stay within 40 yards with the 20-gauge.

I'm not sure if Bobby Ruark would agree, but under the right conditions, the 20-gauge is enough gun for turkeys — and a lot more fun to shoot.

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at