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The 28 Gauge is Taking Over the Turkey Woods

The 28 Gauge is Taking Over the Turkey Woods

Posted 2024-04-11  by  Joe Genzel

The 28 has the perfect blend of light weight, soft recoil, and gobbler dropping effectiveness, especially with new ammunition. Will one of them be your next turkey gun?

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Within 40 yards, the 28 gauge is just as effective at killing gobblers as the 20- and 12-gauge if paired with the right load and choke. Image by Joe Genzel

The 28 gauge might be the trendiest shotgun gauge to shoot at the moment. Upland hunters have used it for years, but duck and turkey hunters are more recent converts to the diminutive shell. The 28 offers lighter recoil than a 20 gauge but is capable of killing ducks, geese, and gobblers at similar distances to the 20 and even the 12 gauge, so long as it’s paired with the proper shot size, shot type, and choke.

Duck hunters began shooting the 28 regularly when non-toxic, 3-inch 28-gauge shotshells became more widely available for the finite number of semi-auto 28s in that chambering. Shotgun manufacturers Benelli and Beretta have added 3-inch 28-gauge autos to their lineup.

In 2023, Mossberg debuted the 2¾-inch SA-28 Tactical Turkey, one of the first turkey guns built in 28-gauge, sparking the interest of many turkey hunters. The evolution and effectiveness of Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) and other tungsten-alloy shotshells, such as Hevi-Shot, have made more sub-gauge shotguns a viable option for turkey hunters. Various 2¾-inch 28 gauge shotguns, including the SA-28, are on the market. And several ammo makers like Federal, Apex, Boss, Rogue, and others are loading 2¾-inch TSS turkey shotshells to fuel the 28 gauge phenomenon.

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The Benelli SBE3 28 gauge is decked out in Realtree MAX-7 camo, making it ideal for the turkey woods. Image provided by Benelli


Benelli’s Ethos Cordoba auto-loader (originally built to be paired with Fiocchi’s 3-inch lead offering in 2017) popularized the 28-gauge, 3-inch platform among duck hunters. Since then, Benelli has added the Super Black Eagle 3 in the same gauge and chambering, and Beretta recently debuted the A400 Upland. Several ammo makers began offering non-toxic waterfowl shotshells for the 3-inch 28.

But no one has been producing the load specifically for turkeys until now. Hevi-Shot debuted two 3-inch 28-gauge turkey shotshells in 2024 with Hevi-18 TSS (18 g/cc) and Hevi-Metal Magnum Blend (12 g/cc). Hevi-18 is offered in No. 7 or 9 shot with a 1¼-ounce payload; Magnum Blend stacks Nos. 5, 6, and 7 Hevi-Shot in one shell with a 1-ounce payload.

Mossberg’s break-action Sliver Reserve Eventide is the only dedicated 3-inch 28-gauge turkey gun currently available, but gunsmiths are converting the SBE3 28 to a turkey auto-loader by adding Picatinny rails, optics, and aftermarket chokes. You can expect to see more production guns — I won’t be surprised if Benelli has a Performance Shop 28-gauge turkey model out by spring 2025 — offered in this chambering soon.

“The 28 gauge seems to be having such a big surge right now,” said JJ Reich, Senior Media Relations Manager for Federal Ammunition. “I think you are going to see many gun manufacturers start going to the 3-inch because it gives you a little bit more of a payload (than the 2¾-inch shotshell).”

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Hevi-Shot’s Hevi-18 TSS (18 g/cc) is offered in No. 7 or 9 shot with a 1¼-ounce payload. Image by JJ Reich


Though the 28 shotshell cannot hold the payload weight of a 12 gauge or even a 20, it has proven to be a capable 40-yard gun when paired with TSS. And it outperforms the .410, which many have proven can be effective on gobblers.

In the past, I’ve patterned Apex Ammunition’s 2¾-inch 28 gauge turkey shotshell at 40 yards and counted more than 280 pellet strikes inside a 10-inch circle. That shotshell, even though it’s 2¾ inches, has a slightly heavier payload than Hevi-18. So, I was interested to see how the lighter — but longer — Hevi-18 offering stacked up. Hevi-Shot sent Hevi-18 loads for 12, 20, and 28 gauge. Regardless of gauge, each shotshell had a payload weight of 1¼ ounces loaded with No. 9 shot (448 pellets) to level the playing field.

For the test, I used three guns: the Remington 870 (12 gauge), Weatherby Element (20 gauge), and Beretta A400 Upland (28 gauge) with stock full chokes. I shot each load five times on 35”x35” butcher paper, then found the core of the pattern, and drew a 10-inch circle around it, counting pellet strikes and averaging them. I also took four more shots with the 28 gauge after swapping the Beretta full choke for a Carlson’s Beretta Optima .515 and a .505 to see how the load performed with aftermarket turkey chokes. The table below shows the results.

ShotgunGaugeLoadMuzzle Velocity (fps)ChokeBest PatternPattern Avg.
Remington 870122¾”1,090.695223218
Weatherby Element202¾”1,200.590226216
Beretta A400283”1,200.528229221
Beretta A400283”1,200.515268268
Beretta A400283”1,200.505277274

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At first glance, the 28 outperformed both the 12 and 20, but remember, both of those gauges are capable of holding heavier payloads, which will increase the total number of pellets. For example, a 12 gauge 3-inch 2¼-ounce payload of No. 9s has a pellet count of 814; the 20 gauge 3-inch 1 1/2-ounce payload of No. 9s equals 590 pellets. With more projectiles being sent downrange, patterns will be denser, leaving room for increased shooter error. So, if you pull the shot to the right at the last second, the 12 and 20 payloads will give you a better chance to anchor a tom than the 28.

That said, the 28 gauge proved itself to be a turkey slayer, especially with the Carlson chokes. Having shot the Mossberg SA-28 last year with Apex, I knew that 28-gauge turkey ammunition was plenty capable at 40 yards, but to see nearly 300 pellets strike inside the 10-inch circle with Hevi-18 was impressive.

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The 28 gauge is a turkey slayer, especially when paired with Hevi-18 TSS. Image by Joe Genzel


Mountain hunters know well the advantages and disadvantages of carrying a lightweight rifle. The less your gun weighs, the easier it is to carry. But it can be difficult to steady yourself when it comes time to take the shot. Recoil can also hammer you when shooting a lightweight gun.

Shotguns are a little bit different because shotshell charge weights vary widely by gauge. And with the 28 gauge, you can get away with carrying a 5.5-pound gun and experience less felt recoil than if you were hunting with a 12 or 20 gauge. The 28 shines in the turkey woods because it’s a platform that just about anyone of any size can take afield and shoot comfortably.

“I think the 28 gauge is the perfect turkey gun,” said Hevi-Shot Shotshell Product Manager Scott Turner. “It’s light enough that you could pack it in if you’re walking long distances, and there is very little recoil. In our testing, we have actually seen the 28 put more pellets inside a 10-inch circle than the 12-gauge at 40 yards with a Benelli Super Black Eagle 3.”

The table below shows the difference in felt recoil from various 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge loads. For consistency, I used the gun weights of the SBE3 in each of those gauges. Felt recoil is measured by calculating a shotshell’s charge weight, muzzle velocity, wad weight, and amount of powder as well as the weight of the gun.

ShotgunGaugeGun Weight (lbs.)Shotshell Payload (oz.)Muzzle Velocity (fps)Felt Recoil (ft./lbs.)
Benelli SBE31272 1/21,19092.1
Benelli SBE312721,19061.5
Benelli SBE3205.91 5/81,17552.1
Benelli SBE3285.61 1/41,20034.5


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The 28 gauge is effective at dropping gobblers, as long as shots are kept under 40 yards. Image by On The Wildside

Because the 12 gauge is so versatile, there are only a few hunting pursuits I consider using a sub-gauge shotgun for. But the 28 has proven to be plenty capable on turkeys, so long as shots are kept under 40 yards. Plus, the recoil of the 28 is far more manageable, and the gun is a joy to carry. In fact, I spent the entirety of squirrel season hunting behind my dog with the A400 Upland, and will never go back to carrying a 12 in the hardwoods. And so where it is legal to do so (my home state of Illinois does not allow the 28 to be used for turkey season), I’m going to chase gobblers with a 28-gauge.

“We think the 28 is going to become the next hot item in turkey hunting,” Reich said. “The reason it isn’t right now is because there aren’t enough guns yet, but if you would have been at the National Wild Turkey Federation show last year, and again this year, that’s all the core turkey hunters were talking about.”

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