The advancements in sight technology has been staggering over the last few decades and shotguns are quickly becoming some high-tech weapons. But this isn’t precision shooting at a thousand yards. Gobblers have to come in close for a shot. Real close! Maximum range is usually considered 50 yards, 40 yards is a long shot, and under 30 yards is ideal, but I have called them in to literally the other side of the tree from me. Think of it like bow hunting for whitetails, only your target is the size of your fist and your quarry has some of the sharpest eyes in nature. The closer the better. Pulling your trigger on a bird at those distances and sending a spray of shot down range seems like a done deal but turkeys are tough and can be hard to hit. That’s why having the right choke tube, and patterning you shotgun are critical to success, and it all starts with choosing the right sight for your turkey gun.
There are three main types of sights for your turkey gun: electronic, magnifying, and open sights. Each of these are excellent tools but none are without limitations. Knowing yours, your equipment’s, and your environment’s shortcomings will allow you to choose which is right for you.
Electronic sights are any sight that uses a battery to power lights or lasers to manufacture a reticle. Holographic sights are a non-magnifying sight that uses a laser transmission of a reticle. Its “heads up” style appears as a single pane of glass mounted vertically with an illuminated reticle in the middle. It is very similar to a Reflex sight (often referred to as a Red-Dot Sight) which can also be found in a “heads up” style or a tubular style that resembles a telescopic scope. However a reflex sight uses projected light, usually LED, which is less demanding on the battery than a laser to create the reticle. Both sights eliminate the need for perfect eye to weapon alignment. For example, an iron sight set up requires the shooter’s eye to be perfectly aligned with the rear and front sight for accuracy. These “Heads up” style sights retain their fix on the target despite the shooter’s head position. They also allow you to keep both eyes open for fast target acquisition and tracking of an approaching gobbler through the brush.
The drawbacks tend to be the price tags attached. Quality electronic sights are usually significantly higher priced than a telescopic scope reaching in the hundreds of dollars. They also have an inherent possibility for failure in that they rely on a battery to create a reticle. If that bird is coming in and your battery dies, you will be left without a way to aim your shotgun and be going home with only a story to tell about the one that got away. Different models have different battery life which is subject to temperature and use. So should you choose an electronic sight, replace the batteries at the beginning of each season and always carry spare ones with you in your pack.
Magnifying sights will help you see that Tom’s head when he hangs up at 40 yards and you have to take a long shot. These scopes are not so different from a rifle scope in their mounting and adjusting but I would recommend using a scope with a circular reticle. Trying to keep thin crosshairs on a small target that is moving and bobbing through the brush can be difficult. However the magnification can be a double-edged sword. Finding a small, moving, head of a gobbler through a reduced field of vision can be frustrating and create costly movement not to mention be deceptive. If your watching a bird approaching through your scope from a distance, you have a great opportunity to judge the quality of the bird. Just be careful not to forget as he begins to fill your view that he may still be more than a few steps from shooting range.
Open sights is a broad category that I have used to include any sight that is not enclosed in a tubular format. So the “heads up” electronic sights would technically crossover but I felt they were more appropriately placed in their own category. For me, open sights are the traditional shotgunner’s single bead, double bead, or front and rear “iron sights.” A “bead” references the shape of a small round metal ball attached at the end of the barrel above the muzzle. Single bead shotguns are the hold outs from a “point and shoot” era where patterns were wide and close was good enough. But as advancements in choke tubes were made and patterns got tighter and tighter, the need for more accuracy produced a double bead sight. Just as the name suggests, a double bead has both a front bead and rear bead mounted near the end of the tubular magazine or as far back as the breech and are used to promote shooter weapon alignment and better accuracy. You line up the rear bead with the front and the gobblers head and squeeze. The “iron sights” usually still rely on a round front sight or bead and a notched rear sight also mounted near the end of the magazine. Here the front bead is to be placed at the base of the notch for perfect alignment. Despite their name, these sights usually are no longer made of iron but rather in other metals and plastic and from solid black to fiber optic inserts. Whatever the model, they all function as their name sake did over 150 years ago.
Open sights allow for fast target acquisition and a full field of vision. They are by far the least expensive, less bulky than a scope and are virtually fail proof. A drawback is that they rely on your own unaided vision to acquire the target. If you struggle to see items the size of your fist at 50 yards, you may need a sight option that will improve your vision.
Personally, I hunt primarily the hardwood timber in the mountains of southwest Virginia that usually has thick underbrush of laurel, rhododendron, briars, and low understory trees. It’s often steep, rugged, and can be hard on your body and your equipment. So I wanted a sight that would withstand the abuse of raking branches and would not get hung up, bumped, or “knocked off” during the hike which can stretch for miles. I bagged my first long beard after a three-mile hike from the truck. The last thing I would want is to have worked that hard and walked that far only to have a battery die when I got there. So I knew electronics were not for me. Although I have natural 20/20 vision, I also have difficulty picking out a gobbler’s head approaching through the brush. So it was important to me to keep the widest, unobstructed field of view possible. I purchased my Mossberg 835 with fiber-optic “iron sights” and found the rear sight to block my view of the bird’s body when trying to get aligned with a gobbler’s head. This completely hid the bird from my sight at the moment to fire. Call me old-fashioned, but what I have found to work best for me and my hunting style is a simple single front bead. All I need to do is place the top of the bead with the top of the gobbler’s head and its lights out up to 40 yards!
A lot of research and development has gone into shotgun sight technology and many many models have been generated as a result of it. This article has been presented only as a general overview of the types of sights available. Before making your decision, consider their limitations and the environment in which you will be hunting. Then consult with the manufacturer or dealer to choose the right sight for you.