It was only a couple of days before a much-anticipated Rio Grande turkey hunt with Hargrove Hunts in West Texas when I went to my local gun shop to pick up a shotgun I intended to review while testing the new Trijicon MRO HD red dot sight. There was just one problem: the manufacturer shipped the wrong gun. It was supposed to be a model with a rail attached for mounting the optic, but this gun had none, and there was no time to have the receiver drilled and tapped for one. Welcome to the life of an outdoor writer.
That sent me scrambling to find a replacement. After scouring all the gun shops in my area of Texas for a suitable turkey gun, which was no small challenge during the peak of turkey season, I found exactly one gun that fit the bill. It was the nicely designed — and eminently affordable — EAA Girsan MC312 Gobbler 12 gauge shotgun. The fact that the gun was made in Turkey didn’t bother me in the least. Many people would be surprised to learn how many big-brand shotguns are now actually made in Turkey, where many gun makers have upped their game in terms of quality over the last decade. I typically only do one or two turkey hunts a year and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a specialized turkey gun. This “poor man’s Benelli,” as some have called it, fit the bill perfectly.
Equally important, for me, was one feature that the Girsan Gobbler had that set it apart from the pack. A short length of Picatinny rail is machined into the top of the receiver, and that allows you to mount an optic a good inch lower on the gun than most traditional mounting systems. This not only does away with the need to drill and tap receivers and buy mounting bases, but also allows you to get a better cheek weld on the stock and pick up targets fast. Surprisingly, the gun even comes with a Girsan 1x22x33 red dot sight. I didn’t test this optic because I was using the Trijicon sight, but upon cursory examination, it seems quite serviceable. If you choose not to mount an optic on the gun, you can still use its red fiber optic front sight and midpoint bead to line up shots.
I got a lot more out of this gun than I expected for the price, and that’s largely due to the fact that the gun has a Benelli-like inertia-driven action, which has become a go-to standard for shotguns meant to take a beating in heavy use. This design uses fewer moving parts than other semi-auto designs and is inherently more reliable because of it. The gun doesn’t much care what you feed it – it’s chambered for 2-¾, 3 and 3-½ inch shells – so long as the shells have the horsepower the gun is designed for. It may not fully cycle light loads, but it isn’t meant to. Girsan says the gun is designed to handle 1-ounce loads at 1,290 fps, at minimum, and the company recommends starting out with 1-1/8 ounce loads (1,290 fps) or heavier and breaking the gun in with a minimum of 40 rounds for optimum performance.
I didn’t do this, as I only had time to zero the gun using Federal’s 2-ounce Heavyweight TSS No. 7-9 load and Federal’s 1-1/2 ounce Grand Slam No. 5 loads. As I soon discovered once I got the gun set up and zeroed with the TSS load, which I chose to hunt with, it performed flawlessly for me in the field in taking two Rios with Trijicon representative Eddie Stevenson working the magic on his turkey calls to bring two birds within range on the same day.
The Girsan Gobbler is also easy on the eyes. The action and barrel have a nicely executed flat dark earth Cerakote protective finish, and the stock and forend have a camo finish. The camo pattern is closer to being a waterfowl pattern than a woodland pattern, but that matters not a bit. In my experience, turkeys aren’t notably picky about camo patterns on guns – I’ve killed plenty with all-black shotguns. I also like the rubberized pistol grip on this gun, which makes it easier to keep the gun pointing where you want it to, assuming you’re set up on shooting sticks while leaving one hand free to handle other chores like working calls. You can also buy the gun without a pistol grip, which would make it a great option for hunting waterfowl.
The gun comes with a generous allotment of five choke tubes, ranging from cylinder to full, but that collection surprisingly does not include an extra-full turkey choke. Why anyone would offer a model called the “Gobbler” without one is a bit mystifying, but that was easily remedied. The gun accepts choke tubes with the Beretta Mobil choke tube thread pattern. I installed a Carlson’s TSS Turkey Choke Tube, which is specifically designed for turkey hunting with TSS tungsten shot and other small-shot turkey loads. It patterned wonderfully when I zeroed the Federal TSS load at 25 yards on a Truglo turkey-patterning target, and I have no doubt that combination would enable me to take birds at a significantly greater distance than the longest shot during my hunt, which was about 30 yards away.
Controls on this gun are well thought out. The bolt handle is oversized, as are bolt-release button and trigger guard, making it easy to operate the gun with gloved hands. The gun has an enhanced loading port, and uses a standard cross-bolt safety located at the rear of the trigger guard. There are sling swivel studs located at the bottom rear of the stock and at the front of the magazine cap, making it easy to attach a sling. One feature I really like is the magazine cutoff button situated on the bottom of the receiver alongside the front of the trigger guard. You can use this button to lock the action open and swap out a chambered shell for another one without any shell feeding from the magazine tube. The tube itself will hold five shells, but the gun comes with a plug that easy to insert and limits capacity to two shells in the magazine should you need to limit the total capacity to three shells.
The trigger proved to have just a bit of creep in it and a trigger pull that’s a little heavier than I prefer at 6 lbs., 2 oz., but I’m a bit of a trigger snob. In truth, I never noticed these factors while zeroing and hunting with the gun. In other words, while the trigger was not quite perfect, I found it to be perfectly acceptable in the field.
The gun is relatively easy to take down and clean, and easy to reassemble. Once you lock the bolt back, you simply unscrew the magazine cap and pull off the barrel and forend as one assembly. You can then drift out a pin with a punch to remove and clean the trigger assembly, if you wish to do so, and then slowly release the bolt forward, pull out the bolt handle and pull out the bolt. Simply reverse the process to reassemble.
Dimensionally, the gun measures 46 inches overall and has a length of pull of 14.25 inches. It is well balanced in the hands and weighs just 6.75 pounds. Of course, a gun this light is going to have significantly more recoil than heavier guns, especially with no-kidding, hard-recoiling turkey loads. Although I am not recoil-shy, I found the process of zeroing the gun at the bench to be less than pleasant. That was only partly due to the gun’s lightweight, which is a big plus for those who need to hike any distance to calling spots or stands. The real culprit is the hard rubber recoil pad, which might as well be made of metal for all the good it does. That’s my only criticism of an otherwise fantastic gun for the money. To be fair, I never noticed the recoil when shooting turkeys – but I most assuredly noticed it at the bench shooting 3-inch shells.
MSRP of the Girsan Gobbler is just $613, and you may be able to find it at a street price of about $550. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that it comes with five choke tubes and a red dot sight. For that price, you may be willing to tolerate a little more punishment from recoil. I am, but my gun will still be getting a new recoil pad, and after that it will likely become my new go-to 12 gauge gun for turkeys. For that matter, you can swap out choke tubes in the gun and easily use it for hunting with slugs or buckshot or for home defense. The Gobbler may be set up for turkeys, but it’s capable of much more, especially when it’s equipped with a good red dot optic.
EAA Girsan MC312 Gobbler
Gauge: 12 Gauge
Action: Inertia-driven semi-auto
Barrel: 24 inch
Pistol grip: Optional
Finish: Flat dark earth Cerakote
Stock & Forend: Camo
Length of pull: 14.25 in.
Overall length: 46 in.
Safety Selector: Cross-bolt
Capacity: 5+1 (magazine plug provided)
Weight: 6.75 lbs. empty