With over 30,000 bearded turkeys harvested every season since the millennium, Michigan is one of the top states in the country to bring home a wild bird successfully. However, to pull it off, you need to be in touch with your pattern.
The general license season for wild turkey in Michigan starts April 20 and leftover limited-quota licenses go up for grabs this Monday Mar. 16. With that, we are a little over a month away from your shot at a gobbler. Now is the time to make sure you know where your shotgun is hitting.
No matter how much money you invest in your shotgun, load, or camo, it doesn't do much good if you miss the shot or worse, wound a beautiful bird only to have it get away from you and die a miserable death that only does the carrion creatures any good. That's why it's important to be able to know exactly how your gauge and load that you take to the field performs long before you hear that first gobble in the distance.
How to pattern
First, locate a decent target. Besides the NSSF who have a great full color waddles target, Remington has a number of free target downloads including a pretty decent turkey head while DNR has groovy black and white version that includes some seasonal tips as well.
Next, get a backing target, I like to use a poster board or a 4x4 sheet of butcher paper, and affix the gobbler profile to the center of it with about a 30-inch circle drawn around it. Make up a few of these if the time and money allow.
Now, at a safe and secure range and using proper range safety rules, fire three shells from the load you intend to use (remember in Michigan it has to be no. 4 shot or smaller) at your ideal range-- typically 25 to 30 yards. Then, evaluate your target. You are going to want to see most of your shot fall within that 30-inch circle with at least a half dozen pellets in the waddles of the turkey target.
If you don't, vary your distance or your choke until you do. This is where the extra targets come in.
Of course, make sure you understand the maximum ballistic range of your shot as well. Each manufacturer will keep these tables on hand so reach out and if they do not you can always work towards further testing. Typically, 30-40 yards were about the top end with commercial turkey shot but in the past few years heavy tungsten-based shot types such as Winchester Xtended and Federal ATK high-density have extended this a good bit-- but your pattern has to be good to make it work.
This video from the National Shooting Sports Foundation tells you more on working that adequate pattern density on a gobbler profile.
Remember, as with other gun and bow seasons, you have the same 30-minutes before and after sunrise/set rule, and the bag limit on birds is, as it has been for the past several years, one bearded turkey so make its count!
Also, remember to be legal.
Here's the video from DNR that gives a pretty good overview of the basic regs
"Michigan DNR's Katie Keen gives an overview of some basic spring turkey hunting regulations. This video covers some of the more commonly asked-about turkey hunting topics, including hunting hours, bag limit, hunting devices and ammunition allowed, baiting, calls and decoys."