The ever-unique atmosphere of spring turkey hunting

Tom LounsburySpring Fling

Spring of 2023 was a very lucky timeframe for me. I had purchased a raffle ticket from the Cass City Gun Club, for a turkey shotgun. I’ve been none too lucky when it comes to raffles and look at purchasing tickets as generally supporting a good cause and have no expectations of winning anything. However, my ticket was drawn for a Winchester SXP Longbeard 20 ga shotgun, which has turkey hunting written all over it.  Being able to use this specialized shotgun a couple weeks later to bag my largest gobbler ever in over 50 years of spring turkey was frosting on the cake. Yep, folks, it was an unbelievable lucky timeframe for me.

It was also the longest shot I’ve ever taken at a gobbler, being 36 yards, and the “petite” 20 ga and its preferred load poleaxed that big gobbler spurs-up in his tracks and he didn’t even twitch! Typically, I’ve long used a “30-yard rule” for turkey hunting, being sure to bring gobblers in as close as possible to provide a down for the count shot. My longest kill until then was 32 yards using a tight choked 12 ga. However, after patterning the new SXP Longbeard 20 ga on my shooting range, I soon discovered that I could easily extend the range an extra 10 yards with a load which proved to be its preferred “flavor”.

This turned out to be the Winchester XR Longbeard turkey shells in 3-inch “number fives”, which proved right away to be a bread-and-butter combination, not only on the shooting range, but in the field as well (because of related titles, I started with that load and didn’t have to look further). Taking that 36-yard shot was a no-brainer, but it defines the importance of preseason patterning to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the shotgun and selected load before venturing afield.

Last spring, I had originally planned on turkey hunting near Atlanta with hunting guide Gary Morgan (, but he contacted me to let me know he had just gained access to private property near Standish and had champion turkey caller Rodd Little (who is also on the Quaker Boy pro staff) of Standish ready and willing to join us. Well, folks, hunting on good ground with a champion turkey caller didn’t require much pondering about jumping on that bandwagon!

The ground we were hunting on was carefully managed with deer hunting in mind, and wild turkeys, especially when there are a lot of them, can be very destructive to food plots, which the landowner was none too pleased with. I will never forget when Rodd Little first called out from our tent blind as day was beginning to break, and the multiple gobbler-responses from the trees lining the riverbank a quarter mile away was thrilling to hear. Shortly after that, turkeys started doing their fly down, and there were plenty of them, which resembled leaves falling off the trees!

However, we soon lost sight of them due to large earthen berms blocking our view, but we could hear them coming in our general direction as the gobblers regularly responded to Rodd’s calling. Despite my lengthy turkey hunting experience, I’m a “meat and potatoes” turkey caller, and although I’ve been known to bring gobblers in on occasion, I highly doubt I’d last long in a turkey calling contest. Rodd Little proved to be a genuine Pied Piper (I watched, listened and learned some new techniques), and I’m guessing it took less than a half hour to bring in a dandy gobbler, with four jakes in tow. The gobbler separated from the jakes to ease over to the decoy spread which was placed at a measured 36 yards from out blind, and when he lifted his head straight up, I was ready and waiting on the shooting-sticks with the fiberoptic sights lined up for a headshot, and immediately touched the trigger.

The gobbler was a true heavyweight with a 13-inch, full beard and thick and worn-sharp, amber-colored spurs. Yep, folks, the 2023 spring timeframe involving a whole lot of luck on the draw in winning a fantastic turkey shotgun, as well as hunting with a champion turkey caller, will never be forgotten!

The shotgun I had originally planned on using last year, until I won the Winchester SXP 20 ga, was a Reminton 870 Express 20 ga. Equipped with an extra-full choke and topped with Truglo fiber-optic sights (which easily attach on a vent-rib), it has for many years been a favorite turkey gun for me, and it could have handled that 36 yard shot as well. It was around 30 years ago when my sons Jake and Josh got drawn for the first spring turkey hunt held in the Thumb (I didn’t get drawn but was plenty happy being the guide and caller), and I had equipped both boys with 20 ga pump shotguns. It was when I was patterning both shotguns that I discovered a 20 ga made a pretty decent turkey gun, while offering a lighter weight and quick handling package with less recoil. Up until then, I had been strictly a 12 ga fan for turkey hunting.

The specialized “turkey” shotgun ammunition available today is the best it has ever been, which allow the 20 ga to readily perform at ranges once reserved for the larger bores. There is now a tungsten load which allows even the small .410 to become effective for downing gobblers out to 40 yards, which I think is great for allowing young hunters to become involved in the pastime without getting pounded by recoil.

I do have a couple 12 ga shotguns I appreciate for turkey hunting, one is a Remington over and under, and the other is a vintage Winchester Model 97. When the pandemic kept me closer to home in 2021, I used the old Winchester to bag the first gobbler ever on our family farm. By sticking to my 30-yard rule, the shotgun with its 30-inch full choke barrel and using my favorite 2 ¾-inch, “number fives” pheasant load, put the gobbler down on the spot at 28 yards. This proves if you know your shotgun and load, you don’t have to be all that fancy to go turkey hunting. 

The spring turkey hunting opportunities we have available today in Michigan are fantastic. I especially appreciate the unlimited 0234 license available over the counter which allows me to hunt on private land in southern Michigan, as well as on private and public land further north during most of the month of May. I can easily remember when not all that long ago, having to apply and keeping my fingers crossed while hoping I got drawn!

Michigan’s spring turkey season offers a unique outdoor atmosphere. There is something special about being in the springtime woods when trees are leafing out and flowers are blooming, creating a scent of rebirth in the air. Hearing a gobbler respond to calling certainly adds extra spice to the springtime elixir! 

Even after over 50 years of spring turkey hunting, it has never gotten old, and is a unique experience I always look forward to.

Tom Lounsbury
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