4 Best Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

4 Best Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

October 24, 2023 / Comments (4)


Now that turkey hunting season is nearly upon us, it’s time for you to think about which type of weapon that you are going to use for your next hunting trip. Choosing a caliber for turkey hunting is especially important if you are a beginner to this sport in general.

Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

Overall, a shotgun is easily the best choice for a weapon for turkey hunting.  But what caliber of shotgun should you choose for your turkey gun? In this article, we will cover the primary options you have for caliber turkey hunting.

4 Best Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

.410 Bore

The first option you have for a turkey hunting caliber is .410 bore (which is sometimes and incorrectly referred to as .410 gauge).  A .410 is easily the smallest and least powerful of the traditional sizes of shotgun caliber.  As a result, it is considered by many to be too light for turkey hunting, with the consensus being that a 20 gauge is the lightest you should go for turkey.

Nonetheless, many turkeys have been killed before with a .410, so it can be done so long as you get close enough.  The best advantage that a .410 has it has extremely limited recoil, which makes it easy to manage for children, young shooters, and women.

At the very least, .410 bore serves as a solid introductory round and is a good training caliber before you move on to the larger gauges such as 20 gauge or 12 gauge. 1

20 Gauge

The 20 gauge is a smooth bore shotgun that fires a smaller caliber of shell than the 12 gauge.  It is a popular choice among smaller statured shooters, beginner shooters, women, or anyone who is hunting for small game.

The 20 gauge has more than enough power for practically all game birds, including grouse, quail, and turkey.  When loaded with slugs it can even become an effective deer hunting caliber even.

The 20 gauge is also favored by many because it has significantly less recoil than the 12 gauge on average.  This makes the 20 gauge a more suitable choice for prolonged shooting and more desirable for anyone who simply desires less felt recoil.

However, this is only true so long as the 20 gauge shotgun you are using is not actually lighter in and of itself.  Many 20 gauge shotguns, particularly Youth models, are made lighter and shorter so they are easier to carry.

Unfortunately, this offsets the recoil and makes shooting the gun less manageable.  A 7 pound 12 gauge shotgun will have less recoil than a 20 gauge that weighs 5 pounds, for instance.

For this reason, if you want less recoil, make sure that the 20 gauge shotgun you choose is not lightened and is fairly heavy.

16 Gauge

The 16 gauge is enormously popular in Europe but is far less so in the United States.  Nonetheless, it is a truly excellent choice for turkey hunting.

If you think about it, the 16 gauge is actually a good compromise between the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge.  It has a bore diameter that is almost two thirds of an inch, and an ounce of shot from 16 gauge shotgun will create a column that creates a good pattern.

The 16 gauge is essentially the perfect gauge for all upland game bird hunting.  It was originally known as the ‘gentlemen’s gauge’ when it was popular in the early 20th Century, and when the 12 gauge was used more often by farmers and market gunners.

With the 16 gauge, you will get greater recoil and power than the 20 gauge but less so than the 12 gauge, which is exactly why it can be a good compromise between the two.

Since the 16 gauge is not as popular as 12 gauge or 20 gauge, ammunition can be a little harder to find for it as well, so you need to keep this in mind.

12 Gauge

Without question, the 12 Gauge is the most popular caliber of shotgun in the United States as well in the entire world.  There are definitely more turkey hunters who use the 12 gauge than any other kind of shotgun there is, maybe even combined

The 12 gauge will be effective on turkeys out to fifty yards so long as you are using the right type of ammunition for it.. There are far more pellets coming out of the barrel in contrast to smaller calibers, so you have a far greater chance of hitting and bringing down your target.

Another advantage to the 12 gauge is because it is so popular, the ammunition is cheap and readily available.  You can easily find a box of 25 rounds of 12 gauge birdshot rounds at practically any sporting goods store for around five to six dollars a box, which is a price you can’t beat.

Furthermore, there are a variety of shotguns chambered for the 12 gauge (as well as the 20 gauge) as well.


All in all, these are your primary caliber options for a turkey hunting shotgun.  Out of these ones that we have discussed, the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge are easily the most popular, so they are the main two that you should consider for yourself.

If you are still currently undecided between the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge, then here are the primary points for you to consider:

  • There are more pellets in the pattern for a 12 gauge
  • You have a greater chance of hitting the turkey with a 12 gauge
  • A 12 gauge has superior terminal performance and velocity, which makes it more deadly at longer ranges
  • The 20 gauge can still be effective out to the same distances (50 yards) as the 12 gauge with the right loads
  • The 20 gauge has far less recoil, but only if you choose a shotgun that has not been reduced in weight (stay away from Youth models of shotguns for this reason)

The .410 bore is generally too light for turkeys, and the 16 gauge is a great compromise but is also not so common.  Therefore 12 gauge and 20 gauge are your best choices. At last along the calibers try to get a good red dot sight for shotgun because a cheap quality sight can make your experience worst. Some people give lots of attention to the calibers but they often ignore other critical factors which should not be in your case.

4 Best Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

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Editor's Note: This was first published in July 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

4 Responses to :
4 Best Caliber Options for Turkey Hunting

  1. Russell Mathuss says:

    I have a sweet 16 Browning full coke, it gets the job done. Russ Mathuss

  2. russell drinkwater says:

    I have always found a 22 rimfire using subsonics and a good can is best for turkeys! Not too disturbing and accurate enough out to 75 meters for a headshot.

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