Turkey hunting in Oregon

Gearing up for the spring season

Gary Lewis / The Bulletin /

Published Mar 13, 2013 at 05:00AM

My taste in shotguns runs to wood and blued steel. I like two barrels, one on top of the other or side-by-side, but last year I won a Weatherby SA-08 semi-automatic with a $5 ticket in a raffle.

I didn't need another shotgun, I told myself, but then I reflected on a day in a turkey blind a few years ago. We had set up in what I guessed was the birds' daily travel route. When the first big gobbler strolled into range, I centered the bead on it and squeezed the trigger.

Now I had patterned the gun the day before with Federal Premium Mag-Shok, but that bird walked right back out of range. Yes, I missed, but there must have been a turkey-head-shaped hole in the pattern at 20-plus yards.

That's the target — that bobbing, weaving, red, white and blue noggin with a beak, snood and wattles.

As I fondled that new matte-finished auto-loader with its synthetic stock, I pictured my perfect, dedicated turkey gun.

Like a compound bow, a turkey gun can be set up as simply or as complex as the hunter's taste; it becomes a highly personalized tool.

Turkey guns, like turkey hunters, come in all shapes and sizes. For some years, the ultimate turkey guns were long-barreled, with tight chokes, matte finishes, synthetic stocks and fiber-optic sights. A 12-gauge is the standard, but some hunters opt for 10-gauge to get a few more feet of effective range. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

A few years ago, I interviewed outdoor writer M.D. Johnson about his turkey gun. M.D. is taller than most, but he carries a youth model Remington 870 20-gauge pump that he has modified to fit his frame and deliver a load out to 40 yards and beyond.

Television host and outdoor writer Scott Haugen, who makes his home east of Eugene, prefers a pistol-gripped, camouflaged Mossberg Turkey Thug pump-action 12-gauge. In his new book, “Western Turkey Hunting,” Haugen recommends a barrel length of 20 to 24 inches and an overall weight of six-and-a-half to eight pounds. He suggests an aftermarket turkey choke and either a fiber-optic sight or a red-dot reflex like the Trijicon RMR.

As important as the sight and the choke, the choice of ammunition is critical. Most turkey hunters opt for No. 4 to No. 6 shot. Pattern it before the hunt. A two-ounce load of No. 6 lead carries about 450 pellets, but at 30 or 40 yards the pattern might be so dispersed that it might completely miss a turkey's head. When sighting-in, look for the load that puts at least 10 pellets in a turkey head-sized target at 35, 40 or 45 yards.

Last year, I hunted with Troy Rodakowski, a writer from Junction City. He carried a 12-gauge Remington 870 SPS topped with a TruGlo sight and a specialized turkey choke, stoked with 3 1/2-inch loads of No. 4 shot.

When we heard the first gobbles of the morning, we located three different toms, all on the move, headed down a series of ridges toward the creek bottom. After an hour of cat-and-mouse, Rodakowski dropped down behind a log and I tucked in against a tree and pulled up my face mask.

In my hand was the Weatherby, modified with a TruGlo Bone Collector choke tube and fiber-optic front and rear sights. The front sight found the bird at 23 yards and it went down hard. The Central Oregon gobbler sported a broomed-off 7 1/2-inch beard and one-inch worn-down spurs.

Today, I replaced the magazine plug, installed a Quake sling, screwed the choke back in and wrapped the fore-end and the stock with Camo Form fabric to break up the shape of the gun. Next time I go to the range, I'm going to try out some new turkey loads.

With a mild winter all but behind us, I am looking forward to a great spring turkey season.