How I Chose My 10-Year-Old’s First Turkey Gun

I’m a laid-back individual, but when it comes to buying a firearm, I become OCD. So, when I set out to find the right turkey shotgun for my son this spring, I allowed social media to help narrow down my choices — and it worked!

How I Chose My 10-Year-Old’s First Turkey Gun

Photo: Mark Olis

Being a parent is stressful. It takes accounting skills to pay for their never-ending appetite and their insane ability to outgrow apparel. It would also help to have a logistics degree to efficiently get them to school, then to one of their many extracurricular activities — oh yeah, feed them again — and then back home for a quick scrub down before bedtime. However, if you really want to ramp up the stress level, take a kid turkey hunting!

I knew my 10-year-old son had trouble sitting still, but wow, was it obvious during the opening day of Alabama’s youth turkey hunt in early March. As I strained my ears to listen for a distant gobble, all I could hear was my son’s constant movement echoing inside the blind we sat in. I thought, “Surely he’ll stop moving soon?” I even asked him about an hour into the hunt. “Are you going to stop moving at some point?” His answer, “I have a lot of energy in the mornings and I need to stretch.” Umm…OK, but that’s the last time I feed him a Pop Tart and a juice box for breakfast prior to a hunt.

My son gasped for a quivering breath when he saw the birds. I asked was he ready. He said, 'No, I’m too low in the chair.'”

In between killing time and scratching on my turkey calls, I would tell my son how important it is to not move because turkeys have amazing eyesight. I would tell him stories of past close encounters I had with gobblers where I wouldn’t even blink because I worried the turkey would see it. He listened intently and I could tell he was taking it in, but it did nothing to deter fidgeting. With zero action so far, I pulled out my box call and wafted several loud yelps over the ridges and valleys. Then we heard it!

With wide eyes, I pointed to my left and said, “Was that a gobble?” He pointed right and said, “Yeah, but it was over here!” Our first turkey hunt together and we were already acting like seasoned gobbler chasers — arguing over which way the tom was. I waited a minute and let out another series of yelps. This time I clearly heard the gobble to my left. My partner was still pointing right. However, the gobbler was now closer! I told my son to grab his shotgun and get it positioned out of the blind’s window.

For a solid month prior to this day, I focused my attention and energy on researching, asking questions and doing my homework on what type of shotgun I should get him for turkey hunting. It was now time to see how those decisions would play out. 

With all of this buzz around the 20 gauge, the writer decided that’s the chambering he'd go with for his young son. He would get a lighter, more compact shotgun with less felt recoil than a 12 gauge. Photo: Mark Olis
With all of this buzz around the 20 gauge, the writer decided that’s the chambering he'd go with for his young son. He would get a lighter, more compact shotgun with less felt recoil than a 12 gauge. Photo: Mark Olis

The 20 Gauge Wave

I first started hearing about guys using 20-gauge shotguns for turkey hunting about 12 years ago. I was working at the National Wild Turkey Federation at the time and was on a hunt with NWTF’s former CEO, Rob Keck, and Realtree founder Bill Jordan. I asked Keck what type of shotgun he was shooting and, while I’ve since forgotten the make and model, I never forgot that he said it was chambered in 20 gauge. I sort of balked at the response and he went on to tell me how deadly the setup was, and it was a joy to carry around the woods because it was so light. Fast forward a decade and the 20 gauge has now become the hot new gun in the turkey woods.

Ammunition technology is what really blasted the 20 gauge to the top for turkey hunters. Several years ago, a new shot was developed called Tungsten Super Shot (TSS). The benefits of tungsten over other metals is that it’s denser than lead. Lead weighs 11.4 g/cc, while TSS weighs about 18.1 g/cc. Because TSS is denser than lead (lead is denser than steel), you can use smaller shot, which means you can load more of it into the same size shell and it retains velocity farther down range. TSS is harder than lead, too, which allows it to hold its shape better. This equates to amazing patterns at longer distances. All of these attributes combine to make it a killer turkey round.

Ammunition technology is what really blasted the 20 gauge to the top for turkey hunters.”

Handloaders caught on to TSS years before commercial options were available, and it didn’t take long for word to get out that guys were regularly shooting turkeys beyond 60 yards. One of the first ammo companies on the scene to load TSS was Apex Ammunition out of Columbus, Mississippi. Turkey hunters using their shells started preaching the gospel too, and now you have to hunt around to find Apex rounds in stock. And with a price tag of $40 to $50 per box of five shells, you’d think it would collect dust waiting for a buyer. These shells are literally flying off the shelves.

Choosing The Gun and Load

With all of this buzz around the 20 gauge, I decided that’s the chambering I would go with because I could get a lighter, more compact shotgun with less felt recoil than a 12 gauge. I still didn’t know which shotgun to get though.

I’m a member of a Facebook group called the Mississippi Turkey Hunters. With more than 16,000 members, it’s a plethora of knowledge when it comes to anything turkey hunting. So I posted the question on the page, “Which 20-gauge youth model shotgun have you had good success with, and what choke/shell combo performs the best out of it?” The answers started pouring in. It didn’t take long for a winner to begin to emerge. Hands down, the majority of the guys recommended the Remington 870 youth model paired with an Indian Creek BDS Choke Tube with a .555 constriction and Apex shotshells.

One of the first ammo companies on the scene to load TSS was Apex Ammunition out of Columbus, Mississippi. Turkey hunters using their shells started preaching the gospel too, and now you have to hunt around to find Apex rounds in stock. Photo: Mark Olis
One of the first ammo companies on the scene to load TSS was Apex Ammunition out of Columbus, Mississippi. Turkey hunters using their shells started preaching the gospel too, and now you have to hunt around to find Apex rounds in stock. Photo: Mark Olis

With such an overwhelming response, I didn’t even hesitate and got the Remington 870 Express Compact in 20 gauge. This gun is chambered for 2 ¾ and 3-inch shells, is a light 6 pounds, has a 13-inch length of pull with extra spacers included, is 40 ½ inches in total length, and will hold 4 + 1 shells. The stock and forend are covered in Realtree Hardwood HD camo and the barrel is 21 inches long. It was literally a perfect fit for my son and he absolutely loved that it was a pump action!

I was still new to the TSS and Apex ammo line, so I reached out to Jason Lonsberry at Apex ammo and told him what gun my son would be shooting and what choke and ammo he would recommend. He too recommended the Indian Creek Choke and TSS ammo. However, he said he’d recommend I use their Apex LT-20 round with 1 3/8 ounces of #8 TSS in a 2 ¾ inch shell. He explained that the LT-20 is a lighter recoiling round than their popular 3-inch GT-20 load with 1 5/8 ounce of #8 shot. He said they designed that load specifically for youth, so they could handle the recoil better. He also assured me that at 1,150 fps, it was a killer round beyond 50 yards.

Once I received the ammo and choke tube, I quickly headed to the range to see what kind of pattern it would throw at 30 yards. Before ever going downrange to check my first shot, I was blown away at how little the LT-20 round kicked. For the past 20 years, I’ve been shooting 3 and 3 ½-inch magnum 12-gauge loads that kick like a mule. This little 20-gauge round was a delight to shoot and the light shotgun was going to be a dream to carry in the woods. After walking up to the target, I was amazed at the pellet count inside a 10-inch circle. It was a swarm of #8 shot that would devastate a turkey head.

After my son’s hunt, I mounted a Styrka S3 Red Dot sight on it and sighted it in on a Champion life-size sight-in turkey head target with the LT-20 load. The pattern was 2-inches high at 30 yards, but still managed to put 183 #8 shot pellets inside the 10-inch circle and 66 pellets in the turkey’s head. Adjusting the 10-inch circle up 2 inches, there were 219 pellets inside the 10-inch circle with the 2 ¾-inch 20-gauge shell. 

Back To The Hunt…

Over the next 20 minutes — I know in kid time, it must have seemed like several hours — we heard raspy yelps getting closer and closer to our location. Then all went silent, and so did my son’s enthusiasm. While I was plastered to the left-hand side of the blind looking and listening for turkeys, my son had set his shotgun down on the window ledge. I decided to slightly stick my head out of the window to look farther behind us. That’s when I abruptly noticed a bright red head staring back at me! I slowly pulled my head back in and whispered to my son, “Get ready, here’s a gobbler!” 

The writer's son pictured with his first wild turkey, taken using a Remington 870 Express Compact in 20 gauge. The writer chose the Apex LT-20 round with 1 3/8 ounces of #8 TSS in a 2 ¾ inch shell. Photo: Mark Olis
The writer's son pictured with his first wild turkey, taken using a Remington 870 Express Compact in 20 gauge. The writer chose the Apex LT-20 round with 1 3/8 ounces of #8 TSS in a 2 ¾ inch shell. Photo: Mark Olis

I gradually raised his shotgun back up and had him get it to his shoulder. As I slowly peeked back out of the window the bird was gone! My heart sunk. I scanned the woods looking for him again, and nothing. I grabbed my call and let out a few soft yelps. Still nothing.

After about 5 minutes of playing it all back in my head, I caught movement out of the same left window. A red head was making its way toward the sprawling food plot in front of us. Then another read head, and another, and another! Four jakes were not 30 yards in front of us looking for the hen they thought was there. My son gasped for a quivering breath when he saw the birds. I asked was he ready. He said, “No, I’m too low in the chair.” Earlier in the hunt I folded his coveralls and set them on his chair so that he would be sitting higher. He had since slid off of the coveralls and couldn’t get a good bead on the turkeys. This was turning into one of the most nerve-wracking jake hunts that I’ve ever been a part of. 

I again grabbed his shotgun and held it in the window while he slowly worked his way back up onto the “booster” seat — the entire time hoping these jakes were legally blind and wouldn’t see us move. To my surprise, he said he could now get a good shot. However, he now had to wait for the birds to separate, or he’d kill multiples with one shot. He patiently waited and one of the birds on the right stepped several feet away from the group. I said, “Put the bead on his neck right under the beak and squeeze the trigger just like you do on a rifle.” A few tense seconds ticked by and then the shotgun erupted. Three toms jumped in the air and ran to the left the same way they came.

I knew he got his bird, but we couldn’t see it flopping behind a brush pile on the edge of the field. I said, “You got him!” He thought he had missed. I let him walk up on the bird first. It had a few kicks left and he bent down to check out his first turkey. He made a perfect shot!

The writer's 10-year-old son carries his first gobbler to the truck. Photo: Mark Olis
The writer's 10-year-old son carries his first gobbler to the truck. Photo: Mark Olis

I couldn’t have been prouder at this moment. What an accomplishment for a young man to join the ranks as a turkey hunter. He asked who was going to carry the bird back to the truck, which I said the honor was all his. He was all smiles and king of the world the rest of the day. Before I showed him how to properly clean the bird, we said a prayer of thanksgiving. Thanking the Lord for His creation and the turkey for his life, which we would in turn gain life from at the dinner table.

Taking a kid turkey hunting is a joyful and stressful experience when everything goes right. Having the proper shotgun for the job only increases their chance of success. I’m more than pleased with the decision of which gun, ammo and choke combination to go with. I would highly recommend this setup to anyone looking to get their kids involved in the wonderful sport of turkey hunting. I also stress the importance of asking experienced turkey hunters what they have used and what they recommend. There are a lot of great folks out there who have put in the time and effort. Don’t waste these valuable resources that are often a click away.

Now that the state-wide season has opened, I’ve commandeered, I mean borrowed, my son’s 20 gauge to chase gobblers!

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