The author traveled to the wide-open spaces of the South Dakota prairie to test Stoeger’s new M3500 Predator/Turkey Shotgun

by Brad Fitzpatrick

Stoeger’s Inertia-Driven semi-auto shotguns set a new standard for value in autoloading shotguns, and this year the company is adding a new 3 ½-inch 12-gauge version of their M3500 shotgun that’s customized with gobbler and coyote hunters in mind. It’s known as the M3500 Predator/Turkey, and while it shares the same simple, reliable, inertia-operated bolt design with other Stoeger shotguns, it offers features that make it ideal for its intended application.

In place of the more traditional stocks found on Stoeger’s upland and waterfowl guns, the M3500 Predator/Turkey comes with a vertical SteadyGrip pistol grip stock that makes it easier to maneuver and control when sitting. The receiver is drilled and tapped for optics mounts, which means mounting a scope or red dot on these guns is simple and straightforward, but if you choose not to mount an optic, the red bar front bead sight works well for most close-range hunting applications. The 24-inch barrel also helps make this gun very maneuverable, and ports in the barrel reduce recoil impact and take some of the sting out of heavy 3 ½-inch magnum buckshot and turkey loads. Overall length is just 46-inches, so this gun handles better in brush than autoloading shotguns with longer barrels. Weight is set at 7 ½-pounds, so this gun is easy to transport but not so light that recoil is overly abusive.

Two extended MOJO chokes come standard (MOJO Predator and MOJO Turkey), and you can easily swap these chokes for standard Stoeger tubes if you want to change constriction. The M3500 Predator/Turkey is suitable for handling heavy loads, but it will also cycle 3-dram 1 1/8-ounce loads. The entire gun is covered in Mossy Oak Overwatch camo, so it blends in naturally with a wide variety of backgrounds. A black adjustable paracord sling is also included with each gun.

Operating undersized controls can be tricky for turkey and predator hunters, especially when wearing gloves. To remedy this, Stoeger has engineered the M3500 with an oversized bolt release and oversized bolt knob, and the trigger guard is large enough to comfortably accommodate gloved fingers. The crossbolt safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard. Without the plug in place, the M3500 boasts a capacity of 4+1 rounds. MSRP for the M3500 Predator/Turkey is $929 — a great deal for a dual-purpose gobbler and predator gun.

The Stoeger Heads to South Dakota

I drew a turkey tag to hunt spring turkeys in central South Dakota, an area that’s teeming with birds. The cottonwood draws and abundant crop and pasture fields are prime habitat for turkeys, and in the spring, it is not uncommon to see dozens of longbeards in a single outing.

Seeing birds and punching a tag are vastly different propositions, though, and with so much open space and so little cover, it’s difficult to slip into range of a mature bird unnoticed. I was fortunate to be hunting with my friend Ken who has spent years practicing the art of “fanning” turkeys — drawing the attention of gobblers with a fan decoy and prompting the turkeys to come close.

Before we could put Ken’s fanning skills to the test, we had to reach the area where the birds were roosted, and that required crossing a river that carved a path between two high hilltops. In dry conditions, the river is little more than a trickle, passable while wearing ankle boots, and in particularly dry summers it runs almost dry. But it had been a snowy winter and wet spring, and the rolling brown river was waist-high and moving fast.

We improvised by transforming a pair of industrial-sized garbage bags into makeshift waders, holding the tops of the bags high on our hips and measuring every step on the uneven ground under the water’s surface. With the Stoeger strapped across my back, I stepped into the water, deeper and deeper, and felt the solid push against the garbage bag waders. But they held, and I emerged on the opposite shore completely dry.

We had scouted the area previously and knew that a gobbler was holed up in a cottonwood hollow a quarter-mile downstream. The day prior to the hunt, I had patterned the Stoeger using Fiocchi’s Golden Turkey TSS 3-inch 12-gauge load, which delivers 1 5/8-ounces of #7 TSS at a muzzle velocity of 1,200 feet per second. The patterns produced by the Fiocchi ammunition were outstanding to 50 yards, and I tweaked my point of impact using the Burris FastFire 4 red dot that was mounted on a rail on the gun’s receiver. Now we simply had to locate the tom and hope that he was willing to cooperate.

He cooperated almost too well, in fact. We watched as a hen crested the hill directly above our position, and though we hadn’t heard the tom gobble that morning, we saw the crest of his caramel-colored tail fan as he followed behind the hen. The decision was made to drop down low along the river, circle ahead of the birds, and walk along the spine of the hill they’d just crested in an effort to cut them off.

And, as so rarely happens while turkey hunting, the plan worked to perfection. I saw the hen’s bald head bobbing just above the hilltop and when Ken raised the fan the gobbler sounded off. He was close — within 40 yards — and soon I saw his fan and red and blue head rising over the hill.

I knew that would likely be my only opportunity at the bird, so I raised the Stoeger to my shoulder. As I did, the bird dropped out of strut, but I already had the bead of the Burris resting at the junction of his neck and breast. I pressed the crossbolt safety, steadied the gun, and fired.

Those who have seen the effects of a magnum load of TSS pellets on turkeys can attest to their effectiveness. The gobbler flipped backwards and landed with his wings spread. I held the bead in position above his breast for a moment (I’ve been burned by “dead” turkeys which suddenly came to life and didn’t intend to make the mistake again), but the TSS had proven effective.

So had the Stoeger M3500 Predator/Turkey. This gun is reliable and well-designed, and it’s a dual-purpose shotgun that possesses the right features to make it an excellent field gun. It’s also a great value. If you’re interested in hunting turkeys or coyotes — or both — and want a single scattergun that can do everything, the Stoeger M3500 Predator/Turkey is a great option.

Stoeger M3500 Predator/Turkey Specifications

  • Action: semi-automatic shotgun
  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3 ½-inches
  • Capacity: 4+1
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • Overall Length: 46-inches
  • Finish: Mossy Oak Overwatch Camo
  • Chokes: 2 (MOJO Predator, MOJO Turkey)
  • Sights: red bead front sight, drilled and tapped for optics
  • MSRP: $929

Rock River Arms’ BT-2 Operator ATR Carbine

Predator shotguns are great for close-range work, but sometimes you want a weapon with a bit more reach for hunting ’yotes and varmints. Enter the BT-2 Operator ATR from Rock River Arms, an AR-15 rifle with all the features you want in a predator and varmint rifle.

The BT-2 comes with a 16-inch chrome-lined barrel with a flash hider and a 6-position adjustable RRA NSP-2 CAR stock. Other features include a low-profile gas block, 13-inch free-float M-LOK handguard, and a RRA Two-Stage Ultra Match Varmint trigger. The BT-2 is chambered in 5.56/.223, the most widely available varmint hunting cartridges today. Total weight is seven pounds, which is manageable when hiking long distances between sets.

I topped the BT-2 with a Burris BTS35 v3 thermal — one of my favorite day/night optics. Not only is the optical quality excellent, but the operating wheel makes this the easiest thermal for new users, allowing quick and easy adjustments in the field without having to click and scroll through several menu pages.

Sight-in conditions were terrible in South Dakota (30 mph winds) but everyone managed to hold three-shot groups close to the MOA mark at 100 yards. When conditions calmed slightly, we hunted prairie dogs with the rifle, and the BT-2 proved to be an excellent rifle for the job. The two-stage trigger is simply outstanding, and Rock River’s low profile gas system operates effectively with a wide range of hunting loads. MSRP for the Rock River Arms’ BT-2 Operator ATR Carbine is set at $1,690.

Brad Fitzpatrick

Brad Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer living in southern Ohio. He's a former collegiate trap and skeet shooter and 4-H Shooting Sports instructor and has authored several books on topics ranging from international hunting to concealed carry.

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