Minnesota is on the cusp of allowing wild turkey hunters the option of shooting the birds with a .410 shotgun — a move made possible by new ammunition that gives the lighter guns more pop.
Under regulations already in effect for the spring hunting season that opens Wednesday, Minnesota turkey hunters can’t use any firearm less than a 20 gauge shotgun. The decades-old standard was set to ensure humane kills.
But state Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said the rule is antiquated based on new “power pack” ammunition. The status quo also keeps a lot of youth hunters and some women from getting started in the sport, he said.
The option to shoot a firearm with less kick will help sell more licenses and address the overall decline in hunting, he said.
“A lot of people aren’t interested in getting their shoulder beat up,” Swedzinski said. “This would be a nice little step.”
The House and Senate are each moving forward with bills to liberalize the 20 gauge minimum. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could make the change via rule, but the process would take 18 months or longer. If new language passes the 2019 Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz, .410-bore shotguns could be legal in time for the fall turkey season.
“The tide is moving in that direction,” said Ryan Bronson, public policy director for Anoka-based Federal Ammunition.
Just this week, Bronson was in Connecticut to demonstrate Federal’s new .410 Heavyweight Tungsten Super Shot (TSS). A “bunch” of northeastern states are on the same path as Minnesota in terms of broadening the .410’s use in hunting, he said.
Federal and other ammunition makers introduced TSS last year for wild turkey hunting and Federal sold out of its supply long before the season ended. “We underestimated the demand,” Bronson said.
Nontoxic and more dense than lead shot, .410 TSS shot performs equal to or greater than the loads in a typical 20 gauge round of lead pellets. Bronson said the heavier density of tungsten allows ammunition makers to make smaller pellets (size 9 for turkeys) and cram more of them into a .410 load than you could when packing lead shot.
“You can get more of them in the same payload … and they don’t lose energy at distance,” Bronson said.
But you pay for what you get. Tungsten is far more expensive material than lead and single rounds of Federal Heavyweight TSS go for $8 or $9 a round, Bronson said.
“It’s not a cheap alternative,” he said.
Wisconsin and more than 35 other states already allow .410 shotgun usage for wild turkey hunting. Bronson said Utah was the latest to join the majority, dropping its 20 gauge minimum just a few days ago.
In a typical year in Minnesota, some 50,000 hunters buy a turkey license and about one of every four participants goes home with their limit of one jake, tom or bearded hen. A lottery system governs license sale for the first two weeks of the spring season, but some surplus tags still remain for 2019’s second week.
For the weekly periods open for turkey hunting after April 30, all licenses can be purchased over the counter.
A shift to usage of lighter firearms for turkey hunting would be in keeping with other regulation changes recently implemented or under consideration to improve the sport’s popularity.
The DNR two years ago loosened licensing rules to give firearms hunters a second chance to shoot their limit of one bearded turkey if they fail to harvest a bird in their initially allotted week.
Now the agency is in the field with a hunter survey to measure interest in possibly expanding the fall season bag limit to two birds; possibly freeing hunters from geographical boundaries now tied to permit areas and possibly extending the fall turkey season through November.
“We feel like we’ve got the turkey population available,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager.
“It’s about being able to promote a little more flexibility and a little more opportunity.”