After three years in a row of my youth turkey hunting partner taking a bird, last year ended in a miss. I blame myself. My partner was not as prepared for his first hunt as he should have been. I won’t make that mistake again.
Youth turkey season is my favorite weekend of the year. My oldest daughter, who is 12, has developed a love for turkey hunting. This is a special time we share together outdoors. Watching her develop as a hunter over the last few seasons has been the most rewarding experience of my hunting life, and watching her work a slate call is mesmerizing. Almost as amazing has been the privilege I’ve had of serving as a mentor to three young men in recent years. Two successfully took their first turkey.
Introducing a youth to hunting is about so much more than just harvesting an animal. We must invest the time to educate these young hunters on a number of issues. Firearms and archery safety are the most paramount lessons. Learning to become proficient with a firearm is not something that happens in one practice session. Any youth hunter heading out for the first time should have had ample opportunity to pull the trigger. This may not change the impact of the adrenaline rush they’re going to experience when a turkey comes into range, but the repetition of shooting at a target may help them through those nerves. Watching new shooters overcome their fear of firearms while learning to respect the responsibility of firearms operation under proper supervision is rewarding. After the first shot, when they realize it doesn’t really hurt and a smile stretches across their faces, they’re ready to shoot some more.
We must also instruct the youth hunters in calling, judging distance and hunting ethics. A lot of the fun of turkey hunting is the vocalizations made with calls. Be sure to let your youth hunter work a call. Box calls are pretty easy to get the hang of. Also, work with them to judge distance. Before the season, have the youth walk around with a rangefinder. Make them guess the distance of a tree then range it for the actual yardage. With practice, they’ll become better at mentally calculating distance.
Nothing is more important than teaching youth hunters proper ethics. We must teach them to follow all the rules, and even sometimes, to make a decision to act in the best interest of wildlife even if something is legal, but not quite right. Emphasizing ethics should be paramount in every mentoring opportunity.
Last year, my partner fired a shotgun for the first time the day before the hunt. His father was with us. We went over safety in depth and practiced shooting. He was doing really well on the target, but the next morning, when a big old gobbler approached to 25 yards, he was shaking like a leaf and whiffed on the shot. I don’t know if more practice could have helped with the turkey fever, but it may have. From now on, I’ll try my best to work with any youth, or new hunter for that matter, for weeks before the hunt. Time is an issue, but practice is too important to pass up.
While preparing for the hunt, we spent a lot of time talking about turkey hunting. This included talking about calling and turkey behavior. I emphasized the importance of sitting super still because turkeys have incredible eyesight, but also explained the benefit of a blind like the one we’d be hunting from for the benefit of concealment.
This year, Missouri’s special youth wild turkey hunting season is April 7-8. Youth hunters who are age 6-15 on opening day may participate. A youth season bird counts as the youth’s first-week turkey, meaning they may not harvest their second turkey until April 23.
See you down the trail…