I was fortunate to have passed Hunter Education the year that New York began having the Youth Turkey Hunt. I was also lucky that my cousin had a boyfriend that was willing to take me even though he had never turkey hunted before.
I had taught myself how to use a mouth call the week leading up to the Youth Hunt and ended up calling in a group of toms by sheer luck. Neither of us really knew how to set up when calling turkeys and we ended up having to let the birds walk away when I could not get a shot at them. The next year I was lucky enough to hunt with one of my friend’s older brothers who knew what he was doing, and I shot my first turkey. I will never forget seeing the red head coming through the woods and the adrenaline rushing as I tried to find the right time to raise my shotgun without being seen.
Next weekend, April 24 and 25, hopefully more youth hunters will have the opportunity to shoot their first turkey and make memories that they will also never forget. If you are taking a youth hunter out for their first hunt, here are some things to think about to help them have an enjoyable experience even if they do not harvest a bird.
Dress appropriately- Nothing can ruin a hunt faster than being cold or wet (or both). Make sure your youth hunter has warm enough clothes for cold April mornings. A couple years ago, it was in the 20s on the youth hunt. Also think about the dew on the ground so tall, waterproof boots are handy in keeping feet dry. If hunting out of a blind, consider bringing a heater. Disposable hand warmers are cheap and effective.
Hide your movement- A pop-up ground blind can be put up in a matter of a couple minutes and is great at concealing fidgeting and other movements that can ruin a turkey hunt. Make sure to have an appropriate chair so that the youth hunter can safely see and operate their firearm if a turkey comes within range. If you do not have a ground blind, use natural blinds like downed trees to sit against to conceal you.
Use some fakes- The eye appeal of decoys can be a two-hold positive. First, they let you put them where you want a turkey to approach your setup, so the hunter gets the best shot opportunity. Second, the decoys keep the focus of the turkey that is approaching and can allow the hunter to get away with a little bit of movement. Remember when using a jake or tom decoy, an approaching tom will circle around to go face-to-face with it to place it facing your youth hunter. This will make the bird turn its back to the hunter as its getting ready to fight the decoy so they can get their gun ready to shoot.
Don’t forget snacks- Waking a youth hunter up way earlier than they are used to and then sitting in a blind or against a tree for a couple hours is draining. Being some fuel for their engines so they do not crash. Pack your snacks ahead of time and remove things with noisy wrappers to allow them to snack while wildlife is around (like deer, etc.).
Keep it about them- Remember that this is their weekend to hunt. Do not push them to go longer than they want to, especially if this is their first hunting experience whatsoever. You want them to want to do this again in the future. They should have fun without feeling pressured to stay in the woods longer. When you call it a day, do something memorable on the way home. Stopping for breakfast is not what it used to be due to COVID but stop for doughnuts or some other treat.
So to every youth hunter and their adult mentors taking them afield on the Youth Turkey Hunt, remember to be safe and to have fun!