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Fire Away!

Mossberg 500 Turkey & TriStar Viper G2

We thought we’d mix things up a little this issue. Instead of having our gun-maker give us the rundown on a gun’s build and features and then our shooters try out the gun, we went straight to the range with a couple of models that might have once been considered outliers: .410-bore guns crafted specifically for wild turkey hunting.

Granted, we don’t cover wild turkeys in this magazine. While they live in the uplands, in many quarters — and for licensing purposes in several states — they are considered “big game.” But it just seemed right to see how these guns might fare during the “offseasons” for regular upland bird hunting.

We entered the field with some special exuberance, thanks to the folks at Federal Ammo. They provided us with the HEAVYWEIGHT TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) shells we would need in order to see how much of a punch this small bore delivers. Briefly, it was substantial.

In a 2019 paper, J.J. Reich of the Vista Outdoor Group of which Federal is a subsidiary, explained, “Tungsten Super Shot is an incredibly dense shot. A no. 9 HEAVYWEIGHT TSS pellet carries at least as much penetration energy as a no. 5 lead pellet at all ranges. Because of this, Federal Premium was able to greatly increase the pellet count of a payload by using a maller shot size but penetrates as much or more because of the increased density.

“A 13/16 -ounce load of no. 9 TSS has about 295 pellets. When engineers tested the loads using a shotgun with a 24.5-inch barrel and a fixed full choke, they averaged 125 to 150 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. These numbers are capable of killing a wild turkey and even rivaled the numbers produced by some 12-gauge turkey guns using no. 4 or no. 5 lead loads.”

Though TSS shot had its adherents in the world of handloading and boutique ammo companies, in 2018, Federal became the first major ammo factory to produce .410 turkey loads. And this created a demand for development and production of specialized .410 turkey guns, according to Pete Muller, Public Relations Manager at the National Wild Turkey Federation(NWTF).

The components were so new that Federal found itself working with a number of states to rewrite their regulations in order to legalize the use of the smallerbore shotgun and the smaller shot sizes.

Steve Sharp, the NWTF’s former Hunter Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation Coordinator, says a .410 with an extra-full turkey choke is “such a tight-shooting gun. I’ve seen how they pattern, and I’ve seen what happens when they use no. 9 shot TSS. They are amazing and effective.” He is compelled to add, “But not for me.”

Sharp says he’s heard that some hunters proclaim that taking a long shot with a .410 adds to the challenge of wild turkey hunting. But for him, “If I want a challenge, I’ll limit my shot to something closer. It’s more challenging to shoot them at 20 yards.”

In fact, in its original 2018 product announcement of the TSS shells in a .410 size, Federal led off with the fact that hunters could now “kill gobblers at longer distances than ever before.”

Muller also cautions about taking shots that are just too far. In fact, the same advice NWTF gives to any hunters also applies to those who choose to shoot .410s.

“I think from an ethical standpoint, we as an organization still push for people to make sure that whatever firearm they take into the field with them that they still pattern that un, so they know how it fires and its effective range,” he says. “We want all people to know that technological advances allow tighter groups and greater distances for shots. But we still encourage people to wait to shoot until the turkey closes in 40 yards or less.

“If they are going to use decoys, they should set up at a safe distance, put their back up against a tree and bring birds into 40 yards or less. This leads to the quickest, most ethical kill of your birds with less margin of error for things to go wrong than at greater distances.”

And 40 yards seems to be a wise maximum distance. Sharp saw a guy, using TSS loads and a .410, shoot a turkey at 40 yards “and dropped him in a heap.”

Another reason .410s are gaining in popularity is their size and weight.

“We need to get women and kids out in the woods, and this is a way that we can do it. It’s a good way of introducing someone to it,” says Sharp. “A smaller-framed person has a hard time carrying a big gun in the woods or is recoil shy. The .410 is a way we can get them out in the woods. The light recoil and lighter-weight firearms are just easier to carry out in the woods.”

Muller agrees. “My daughter shot her first turkey at age 10 with a .410. She stoned it at 20 yards. She couldn’t have done that with a big load gun. They kick like a mule.”

Almost every shotgun manufacturer produces a .410 model. Fewer, however, offer a model specifically for turkey hunting. As Reich indicated, “There are many .410 shotgun options on the market, but they typically have a fixed full choke and single or doublebead aiming sights which are not ideal for turkey hunting. These scatterguns were designed with wing shooting in mind. They were not intended for stillshooting at the head of a wild turkey that is the size of a tennis ball.” Of the manufacturers we identified, only two agreed to participate in our little test run. We ended up shooting the Mossberg 500 Turkey and the TriStar Viper G2 Camo Brnz/D. BL Turkey, either of which would make a fine addition to your springtime hunting arsenal.

At the Range

Shooters had a simple set-up: hand-drawn and photocopied wild turkey head and neck targets taped to cardboard boxes weighted down by firewood logs. Targets were set at 20 and 30 yards from the shooting spot. Each shooter took one shot at each new target placed at each distance. So, each shooter had two different targets from which he could assess his shooting and the effectiveness of each gun. They each used Federal Heavyweight TSS .410 bore ammo in size 9 shot.

So much for the controllable aspects of the field testing. Now for the variables.

They shot on two separate occasions, so the weather might have influenced how their shots turned out. Shooters didn’t shoot from the same positions. Ed Moore and Gilbert Holt shot from the offhand position. Rick Thomas tried offhand and then two different types of “realistic” shots from a sitting position. Other irregularities introduced themselves. As a result, the shooters felt that only Ed Moore’s pellet location on the targets delivered any reliable information. So we are only reporting data from his targets.

Results

Both guns featured a camouflage finish, an accessory rail for a scope or red dot sight, vented rib and sling studs. Their fiber optic front sights and extended chokes give one the sense of a longer than usual sighting plane.

Once they recorded their shooting scores and compared notes, our shooters came to a simple conclusion: Muller and the NWTF have hit a bullseye with their advice. No matter the gun, to be effective and ethical, one needs to pattern it and learn its tendencies before he can rely on it in the turkey woods.

Mossberg 500

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Trim — would be great to carry for turkey season
  • Pumped and fed shells smoothly
  • Ejector sent shells flying
  • Good camouflage
  • Top tang safety very easy and efficient
  • Very tight pattern at distances
  • By adding more chokes, can easily be used for other small game hunting

Cons

  • A little tough to load in a hurry; not much of a rail to latch onto one shell while you try to load another
  • No additional choke tubes come with the gun
  • One shooter rated the gun as shooting high and to the left; another, low and to the left

Pellets in Kill Zone

  • 20 yds, — 155
  • 30 yds, — 62

TriStar Viper G2

Pros

  • Much lighter in the hand than expected
  • Recoil minimal
  • Pistol grip on stock makes a “rock-solid” rest, feels much more secure than a “regular” shotgun grip
  • Includes three more chokes: improved cylinder, modified, full
  • Finish seems durable
  • Loading port deeper and tighter than on the Mossberg
  • Sweet camouflage pattern

Cons

  • Shot high
  • Pattern seemed less tight compared to the Mossberg
  • Action seemed finicky at times
  • Not sure if a gun with a pistol grip can be adapted for use with other small game

Pellets in Kill Zone

  • 20 yds, — 7*
  • 30 yds, — 8*

*Adjusting the count area for the fact that the gun shoots high, those numbers become 45 and 45.

This photo illustrates the contrast between shots taken at 30 yards by the same shooter. Notice the tighter pattern of the Mossberg (left) hitting at the aiming point. The TriStar put less shot in the aiming point but check out the pellets in the head and neck area of the turkey target. The most important thing these results underscore is the importance of practice, practice, practice so you will know your gun and will take clean, ethical shots. (Photo/Tailfeather Communications, LLC)

Tom Carney

Editor
About author
UA Editor Tom Carney has won over 100 awards for his journalism, books and photography in a career that has spanned more than 40 years. He lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife Maureen and their English setter Jack.