The future of any sport or group is dependent on the next generationís interest in it. Hunters have the chance to pass on a time honored tradition and protect our lifestyle and wild places at the same time. Youth hunts protect the future of what we love and itís about time you get involved if you havenít already.
One of my proudest accomplishments in life is becoming good enough a hunter to pass it on. Of my most memorable hunts, the ones that are most fresh are ones in which I was able to help someone catch or harvest their first meal. To me, at the end of the day all hunting and fishing is done to produce food. Hunting and fishing are serious business to some people and sport hunting isnít in their vocabulary. While many dislike it, sport hunting has its place as long as harvested animals are not wasted. The best hunt in my mind to get kids started would be the wild turkey. Itís one of the most interactive hunts you can do, itís hard enough that the ease of it doesnít make it boring, and easy enough to make it happen if you do things right. The proper setup for a new or youth hunter is extremely important, almost as much as understanding how to properly use and determine the effectiveness of their gun at different ranges. Practice before the hunt will pay off big time and there are a few drills you can do that will help.
To those of you that have spent over 20-years chasing and successfully harvesting wild turkey, I have one question for you. How many new hunters have you helped become successful experienced turkey hunters? If the answer is none itís about time you did something about it. Turkey hunting is something done easiest alone. The less people there are for the birds to see the better. Turkeyís eyes are its best defense; this is the first thing you must take care of in order to hunt them. Pop up blinds are the most successful way to be unseen, but also take away from the experience in my mind. Your visibility is limited inside them, which in most cases only allows you to see part of the show. Watching a gobbler strut its way in to a decoy, gobbling every few yards is a sight to see, but if the child canít sit still enough to get a bird in itís all for the show. Donít get me wrong the show is worth the price of admission, but at the end of the day we are trying to produce a successful turkey hunter and Thanksgiving dinner, so a blind may be your best option.
If the youngster is able to sit still, full camo from head to toe and a good set up location, will produce the best experience. Scouting and making brush blinds in heavily used turkey areas will help a lot. Just remember not to spook the birds! Get in and out as fast as possible and try your best not to look like a hunter. Driving machinery in will run turkeys off, but wonít spook them in the way a person sneaking around in camo will. For this reason I recommend driving in, if at all possible, and not wearing camo while working on the blinds.
The next step is to teach when and how to move on a bird. This is easily done by you pretending to be a turkey and setting the child in the blind. Give the child a stick and have him or her sit in the turkey hunter position. Most turkey hunters use this sitting style, in which you sit with your back to the tree. You then start sliding down it until you can rest your gun on your knee and see the sights perfectly. You will be a much lower profile that way and itís easy to switch from one knee to the other and maintain a stable rest, while being able to shoot to the left and right. A seat cushion helps hold you in place in this position and reduces wiggling from a case of TB, better known as tired butt. Have the child point the gun in the opposite position you will approach from and explain their job is to get the imaginary gun pointed at you without being seen. Just like a turkey the child will have to use trees and brush to obscure your vision, while making a move. If all is taught and done properly, the young hunter will be ready to take a shot at this point. Or will they?
At the end of the hunt all that really matters is shot placement. You have to harvest a bird to become a successful turkey hunter, which means you have to be able to hit one first. Teaching proper shooting, safety and yardage estimation techniques are of utmost importance. Make sure to pattern the gun on targets that represent the kill zone of a turkey. The head and neck is the target you will be shooting at and seeing how many pellets hit the zone at different yardages. Start at 10 yards and work your way out until there are less than 10 pellets in the brain and spine. This will be your maximum yardage for that gun. Some guns just outperform others and the ones with removable choke tubes are best. I recommend using a full choke for kids rather than a super full, as the pattern will be super small at close ranges with a super and can cause you to miss. Attempt to call the bird in to 20 yards, which seems to be the sweet spot and most I have seen shot at this distance, took a ride home on someoneís shoulder.
Youth turkey hunting takes place this season on the 23rd and 24th of April. If any parent/guardian and youth hunter teams need help finding an experienced mentor, I have several friends that havenít found youth hunters yet. Anyone interested may contact me by phone at 607-326-2936. Whatever you do, try and at least get the child to hear gobbles. This is all the assurance most kids need to know they had a chance and will keep them in the game long enough to get the job done.
Good wishes never give up and practice till the feathers fly kids.