By David Link

As I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend the other day, they commented on how they would like to get into turkey hunting this season but that they needed a shotgun. For those hunters who already own a shotgun, a “Top Turkey Guns For 2015” article or something along those lines would really fit the bill for this time of year, but for my friend, she just needs an entry to mid level shotgun versatile enough to hunt turkey, upland game, shoot some clays, and maybe even serve the role of a home defense weapon in a pinch. No offense to advanced and turkey specific shotguns, I certainly want one, but this article is for those who are gearing up for turkey season but need a practical choice as their first shotgun. So let’s examine a few versatile shotguns that make great additions to anyone’s hunting and shooting arsenal. This article is based upon shotguns we carry, but if you see something missing from the list that you would like to suggest, feel free to leave us a comment!

Browning BPS Micro Midas Pump Shotgun

The first thing I thought of when she asked about buying a shotgun was a 20 gauge. Sure, sure, a 20 gauge is not an ideal turkey gun because of the reduced shot load that you’ll be flinging at the bird, but I’ve always been outspoken about just how valuable it was to have a 20 gauge as my first shotgun. They are generally easier to handle (especially shotguns like the Micro Midas) and the reduced recoil can really help first time shooters settle in before they move up to a 12 gauge. Now would I recommend a 20 gauge to my friend only looking to buy one shotgun, well no; I would say go ahead and spring for the 12 gauge, but I did want to pick out one 20 gauge as an honorable mention. If you have a younger shooter and you’re shopping for a shotgun, give a 20 gauge consideration.

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When it comes to a quality 20 gauge, the Browning BPS Micro Midas is especially appealing. This is a shotgun designed for smaller framed shooters, but in my experience this is by no means a deal breaker if you’re even a medium sized shooter. What a smaller framed shotgun can do is give you quick shouldering speed, and that can be great in situations like upland hunting or when you don’t have a lot of time before your shooting window closes. A lighter shotgun is also nice when you’re carrying it long distances. The package we carry also comes with 4 choke tubes, which is a good starter package for anyone looking to get the best performance right out of the box. Combo this with the Total Barrel Dynamics system that includes a lengthened forcing cone and an Invector Plus choke system that encourages tighter and more uniform patterns with the choice of several choke types. Another bonus in this shotgun is the included stock spacers that can increase stock length if need be. Really, you can’t ask for a better shotgun for small framed or young users to start with. So do yourself a favor and consider the 20 gauge option, even just for contrast.

Remington 870 Express Pump Shotgun

It’s hard to have any conversation about versatile shotguns without a mention of the Remington 870 Express. The Express line is the more affordable alternative to the Remington Wingmaster line, and you can get an extreme amount of value out of these shotguns without too much of an investment. The 870 was initially developed way back in 1949, and it remains one of the most popular shotguns on the market. The Express shoots 2 3/4 and 3″ shells and comes with varying barrel lengths from 18 to 30 inches, and you can get it with either matte wood or synthetic stocks. The reliability of the 870 is legendary, and since I would recommend a pump action for anyone purchasing their first shotgun, this firearm certainly fits the bill of entry level shotgun. It’s really hard to go wrong with an 870 Express as your first shotgun. If this shotgun sounds good but you’re ready to invest a little bit more, the Wingmaster is a quality upgrade.

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Mossberg 500 Pump Shotgun

Although the Remington 870 is the most produced shotgun ever, the Mossberg 500 series is currently the best selling shotgun on the market, and it is second on the list of most shotguns ever produced. The Mossberg 500 is slightly less expensive than an 870, and most would argue that the 870 is of slightly better quality, but the Mossberg 500 is still a very reliable shotgun. It is also chambered to shoot 2 3/4 and 3″ shells, and it comes standard with a synthetic stock. The Mossberg 500 is available with a shorter 14 inch barrel in some models, but for sporting purposes a little longer barrel is preferable. The longest barrels are available at 30 inches similar to the Remington 870. Whichever you choose can be simply a matter of brand preference, but one thing is for certain, either shotgun is a great option for a new hunter or shooter.
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Browning BPS Hunter Pump Shotgun

As we evaluate the last two shotguns on our list, we’re going to touch on a couple more advanced models for those who want to spend a little bit more on their first shotgun. First up is the Browning BPS Hunter Pump Shotgun. The first option that distinguishes this shotgun from the previous models we’ve examined is the bottom ejection of shells as opposed to the side ejection. This serves two main purposes. It keeps any ejecting shells from kciking up into your field of view, and it keeps less debris like dust from falling into the action. The Browning BPS is a slightly heavier shotgun than the Mossberg 500 or the Remington 870, and if you select a wood stock, you’ll find it of higher quality than the wood stocks of a shotgun like the Remington 870 Express. What this shotgun won’t offer that you might want to consider if you’re willing to spend a bit more is the ability to shoot 3 1/2″ shells.
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Remington Versa Max Autoloading Shotgun

At the high end of our spectrum is the Remington Versa Max autoloading shotgun. One certainly can’t consider this gun an entry-level shotgun, but it is certainly an investment you won’t regret. This is the only autoloading shotgun on our list, but there are great autoloading models produced by Browning and Mossberg as well. You can almost always guarantee that an autoloading model will cost you more than a pump model, and this is the reason you’ll find most shotguns on this list to be pump models. As a first firearm investment, you can get by perfectly fine without the slight speed advantage that an autoloading shotgun will provide, but if you’re ready to spend more for a versatile and reliable shotgun, you’ll find the Versa Max series on a lot of those lists. There is certainly a lot to like about this shotgun like reduced recoil, a proven track record, and the coveted ability to shoot everything from 2 3/4 to 3 1/2″ shells. Super magnum shells, or 3 1/2″ shells, are popular loads these days, and while they can give you an edge in some circumstances, they are not a cure all for better accuracy or hit ratios. Situations where I’ve seen super mag shells really help are longer distance shots at game like ducks (with steel shot) or turkey, and a few extra pellets never hurts. Three inch shells will get the job done just fine, but for the most versatility possible, a shotgun with the ability to chamber 3 1/2″ shells is the most versatile type available.

versatile-shotguns-5Whatever you choose, be sure to get out to the range as much as possible and throw clays to get familiar with your new shotgun. Also if you find you’re not getting ideal patterns with a chosen choke or shell brand, do some experimentation to find the best combo that works for you.

Thumb image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.