Who’d have thought a miniature Mossberg Super Bantam 20 gauge would turn two Alaska neophytes into successful turkey hunters in the tough mountains of Idaho? One gun, two females (one just ten years old) who’d never seen a turkey or fired a shotgun and not only do they both get turkeys, they double. With just one gun. And no guide by their side.
Meet The Hunters
Offroad racer, diesel mechanic, welder, and Alaska subsistence hunter Martha Tansy and her polite, inquisitive, home-schooled daughter Elli came to Idaho in April to see what all this turkey hunting hullabaloo was about. No turkeys in Alaska. At least no the wild, feathered kind.
(OK all you turkey pros, think about this: Martha and Elli have never hunted, let alone shot, a turkey, but they’ve both shot caribou and moose! Most of us grow up hunting squirrels and rabbits, then graduate to turkeys and deer while dreaming of one day hunting a big caribou or massive moose. These Alaskan girls start at the top and work their way down, I guess. So let’s see how they manage.)
Hunt Ranch Turkeys for Easy Pickings?
Our neighbors Blaine and Joann had tolerated a wintering flock of Idaho’s “new” (introduced) Merriam’s turkeys in and around their wintering livestock. They were more than ready for someone to disburse the noisy gluttons. I figured a flock acclimated to ranch life would be easy pickings. Pop up a Double Bull blind along the alfalfa field, set out a GHG decoy, and load up. What could be easier, right?
Meet the Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey 20 Gauge
But first… a crash course in shotguns, sights, and turkey behavior. I’d procured a versatile Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey 20 gauge for the Alaskans. With its 12-inch length-of-pull (LOP,) 22-inch barrel, and 5.25-pound mass, this Model 500 pump gun would be as close to “manageable” for a 10-year-old girl as any gun. And when it was mama’s turn, we could screw on the included spacer (butt extender) for a 13-inch LOP.
Mossberg’s Super Bantam Turkey comes with a green fiber optic front sight and red, adjustable (windage and elevation) rear sight. Easy to see. But I wanted even easier, so I mounted a Riton red dot sight. You’ll find shooters using these red dots on a variety of close-range guns, especially handguns. I find them ideal for turkey guns because they are small, light, and much easier to drag through the woods than a scope. Easier to use, too, because you don’t have to keep your eye within a narrow “eye relief” distance nor perfectly aligned to see the full, proper field-of-view. A red dot sits well forward on the gun and you can see the red dot regardless how off-center your head. New shooters’ heads are often off center.
Here’s Your Red Dot Bonus
And, as they say on TV ads, “that’s not all!” A red dot has almost no parallax. There is no internal reticle on which the target and your eye must be focused and centered for precise aiming. A red dot sight projects an illuminated, red aiming point toward the target. What you see at the back end is a mirrored reflection of this dot. This is why red dots are also known as reflex sights. If you’ve adjusted the red dot to point where your barrel is directing its bullet or center of shot, whatever you see the red dot covering is where the shot will go. That dot could be in the upper left quadrant of the sight or lower left… Doesn’t matter. It’s covering the striking point. Quick and easy.
Federal TSS Shells Empower Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey 20 Gauge
The final ingredient in this turkey harvesting kit was the shell. While we zeroed the Riton red dot and trained the shooters with inexpensive, light recoiling Winchester steel shot shells, we did our final zeroing, density-and-distance testing, and turkey targeting with Federal’s new Heavyweight TSS shells. The pellets in these are a tungsten-alloy mix roughly 56 percent heavier per size (higher specific gravity) than lead pellets. This means that a pellet half the diameter of a lead #4 would carry roughly the same energy at all ranges. A 1-5/8-ounce payload of Federal’s tungsten alloy #8 shot would harbor about twice as many pellets as the same volume of #4 shot. The upshot is more pellets carrying sufficient energy to terminate a turkey at longer distances. How far is “longer?” At 50 yards our gun, X-Full choke, and 3-inch Heavyweight TSS shells with a blend of #7 and #9 shot were putting more than enough pellets (10 to 15) on a turkey-head target to suggest lights out.
Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey Needs Help From Friends
No matter how good your gear, you need to get it within range of a bearded turkey. I told Martha and Elli about toms, jakes, and bearded hens. Explained how the birds roosted, gobbled at dusk and dawn, strutted, foraged and roamed. I described and demonstrated their dance and calls, the black of the gobbler’s feathers, the red, white and blue heads. I warned against shooting a strutting, puffed up bird and showed how a “putt” call would get them heads up and skinny. And then we swathed ourselves in camo and went hunting. For days…
Turkey Hide From Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey
I doubt Idaho’s Merriam’s knew two Alaska females with a borrowed Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey 20 gauge had designs on them, but they sure acted as if they did. We scouted the roost trees, glassed the fields and pastures, even trained a spotting scope on mountain forests clear up to snow line. No calls. No tracks. No birds.
We tried new locations where landowners practically begged us to remove some of their obnoxious, noisy, wintering turkeys. After a week of work we’d heard one gobbler on the roost at dusk, gotten two on the far side of a ridge to gobble back to one series of prospecting yelps, and glassed two hens wandering the high slopes. It was time for my secret weapon. Carlos.
Carlos the Fencer to the Rescue
I called my good friend and master fencer Carlos. If anyone knew where turkeys roamed, Carlos was the man. He’d probably fenced half the pastures in the county. His son, Tony, who guided us 40 miles to a towering hill up which he and his dad had erected a cattle fence. They must have used a helicopter. “No, we did it all by horse,” Tony said matter of factly. “We always heard and saw turkeys.”
“Where, usually,” I asked as I stood craning my neck to see the top of the hill.
“Up there. Near the top. Right where those six are walking now.”
I was afraid he’d say that. We went up the next morning in the dark. Took about three days to reach the top. Or a least felt like it. No blood, but sweat and tears. Six jakes and one hen came when I called, but hung up on a side ridge at 100 yards, preening, strutting, and teasing us. They ducked under the fence to the wrong side. We hiked higher and spotted a flock of two dozen hens feeding toward the top. We circled to get ahead, set up decoys, called. Moved and tried again.
“I’ve got to get back and work,” I announced at noon.
“Can we stay?” Martha asked.
“You got enough water? Something to eat? OK. Sit atop this ridge at the edge of a clearing like this, put the decoys about 30 yards out, yelp a few times every fifteen minutes or so, and don’t move. You might get one. They’ll wander and feed and from all this sign I’d say they’ll work the top. Gobblers like to sit atop a ridge like this during midday. If you shoot one, stay put and pass the gun to Elli. Other toms usually jump when you shoot, but then stand around looking. Or they’ll attack the bird you shot and dance on it. Kicking a good man when he’s down. Good chance to shoot another.”
Mossberg Bantam Super Turkey 20 ga. Finally Barks
And that’s how it happened. The Alaskans hunched through a rain shower that passed just before a flock wandered in. Dripping, Martha popped a jake, handed the 20 gauge to Elli and she shot another jake.
Just how I’d planned it. Well, maybe not so much, but we’ll take it!
What did work according to plan was the Mossberg Super Bantam Turkey with that Riton red dot. The combination proved light, easy to use, and darned effective for two new, small-framed shooters who’d never fired a shotgun at a turkey before. Match such a simple, functional gun to tungsten shells with 50-yard reach and you set any new turkey hunter on the road to success. Even when pursuing Idaho’s wild, widespread, uncooperative mountain-running turkeys.
Prior to becoming a volunteer turkey guide for wayward Alaskans, Ron Spomer pursued these delicious birds from Mexico to Canada. Rumor has it he actually shot one or two. Oddly, he finds it just as satisfying when one of his prote’ges bags one.