On Your Own Custom Turkey Gun
Bob McNally 04.14.15
Owning a specialized shotgun perfectly suited to hunting turkeys is a measure of pride among many hunters. A gun that shoots tight patterns to 40 yards, is lightweight, accurate, and fast handling is something every turkey hunter yearns for, and when such a gun is discovered by a discerning sportsman, well, it’s a cherished piece of vital equipment.
Many shotgun manufacturers market superb firearms that fill the bill nicely for such turkey tools. Many feature full camouflage, specialized sights, grips, stocks, short barrels for light weight, custom chokes, and more options than a European sports car.
But it’s not difficult to set up such a gun on your own. Moreover, it’s a lot of fun to assemble such a custom firearm, and it’s sure to be exactly what you want from a turkey smoothbore.
This is the avenue I followed, resulting in a shotgun I’ve now owned for over 15 years and have used to roll many toms in many places. I started with an old, trusted Ithaca Model 37 “Featherlight” 12-gauge pump, chambered for 2¾-inch shells, and previously used primarily for saltwater waterfowling (so it’s parkerized for rust proofing and non-reflective).
I’m a lifelong pump gun shooter, believing such firearms rarely jam, are as reliable as the U.S. military, and aren’t particular about detailed cleaning. I chose this Model 37 because for most waterfowl these days I use 3-inch shells. But with modern turkey loads, especially tight-shooting, hard-hitting non-toxic shells such as “Hevi-Shot”, 2¾-inch shells are plenty lethal on turkeys to 40 yards.
Another plus for the Model 37 is that I’ve used this design shotgun for decades, and the gun and stock fit me well enough that I’ve employed it for everything from doves to honkers. That kind of shooting confidence goes a long way in choosing a turkey firearm.
First thing I did to customize my old workhorse Model 37 was order a special parkerized barrel from the Ithaca Gun Company having adjustable front and rear sights. I specified a short barrel to save weight and for use in tight cover that can hamper gun movement on a tom slipping into range.
Then I immediately installed front-and-rear fiber-optic sights in favor of a scope. I like the advantage of improved peripheral vision that open sights offer, although scoped shotguns are easy to pattern and sight in.
This iron-sight shotgun barrel also came with a screw attachment that easily accommodates a sling. A shoulder sling is something vital to all-day turkey gun carrying, so this was a modification mandate.
I also installed a quality recoil pad, with spacers between stock and pad to perfectly fit me during shooting.
Next I wanted the best choke possible, something ultra-tight to keep pellets in the kill zone on a gobbler head out to 40 yards. Rhino is the brand I picked, and I have no regrets. Loaded with 7½ “Hevi-Shot,” this choke peppers a 40-yard target with staggering effectiveness, and I’ve collected many toms out to 47 yards with it.
This pet turkey gun is ideal for me. It’s lightweight, simple to handle, extremely reliable, fast to get on target, and is a no-frills, deadly-effective smoothbore.