If you’re a turkey hunter today, it’s probably because someone years ago—a mentor—took you to the woods and taught you the difference between a putt and a purr. Well, maybe it’s now time to consider becoming a mentor yourself, and paying forward that same favor to the next generation of gobbler hunters. Taking a young person turkey hunting is not difficult, but some pre-planning will ensure that the day is a success whether he or she takes a turkey or not.
1. Keep it fun!
The key to kids enjoying their time in the woods is to keep the hunt short and engaging. If the youngster is relatively young, a hunt of just a few hours is plenty. If they’re a teenager, you might be able to stretch it to half a day. All day? Not so much…
Keep in mind, too, that today’s kids are more plugged-in electronically than any previous generation in the history of the world. They’re used to instant gratification, something turkey hunting seldom provides. That said, if they have a cell phone and you allow them to bring it along during the hunt, ask them to turn it off, at least for the first hour or so. After that, if the hunting is slow, allowing them to text their friends for a few minutes or even play a video game or two will help pass the time.
And kids love snacks (heck, who doesn’t?), so don’t forget to take along a few granola bars/candy bars and a bottle of water for them.
2. Dress for success
Hunting isn't as fun if you’re uncomfortable, and that is especially true for kids. Having smaller bodies than adults they become chilled more quickly, so make sure kids are dressed properly before heading afield with adequate hat, jacket, boots and gloves for the climate.
For instance, in northern states during early season, temperatures may be near freezing at dawn when turkeys are gobbling, so hand-warmers may be necessary. If you hunt in southern states, insect repellent may be needed. Anticipate a child’s needs and have solutions ready and waiting in your hunting pack, not back at your vehicle.
I haven’t seen a kid yet who doesn’t like wearing camouflage clothing; if you can afford to buy them an item or two, giving it to them a few days before the hunt builds anticipation. If you can’t afford kids’ camo, one of your adult-sized camouflaged T-shirts pulled over their outer clothing will suffice. They won’t win any fashion contests, but it gets the job done. (Don’t forget to take a photograph; it will preserve a memory—and be a hoot—years from now.)
3. Hunt from a blind
Expecting kids to sit absolutely still for hours on end while turkey hunting is simply unrealistic and will only serve to frustrate the child. Hunting from a blind, however, allows the young person some movement, which helps keep them engaged longer. Blinds also provide dry cover should it rain.
The disadvantage of a blind is that you are limited to one hunting location. That said, place the blind in a spot where you know for sure turkeys want to congregate. And how will you know that? Scout, scout, scout!
Two decoys—a jake and a hen—is all you’ll need, and place the Judas birds no farther than about 20 yards from the blind. Any gobbler seeing the jake will naturally attack it, exerting his dominance, giving your youngster a chance to get the gun up and on the bird at close range.
4. Use the proper shotgun
One mistake adult hunters often make is assuming that their young hunter can accurately shoot the same shotgun they do. Unless the two people are of similar body size, that is probably not the case. A turkey shotgun must properly fit the young hunter or he/she will not be able to aim it accurately.
One shotgun made specifically for kids and turkey hunting is the Mossberg 500 Youth Super Bantam Turkey. A 20-gauge with a 3-inch firing chamber and extra full-choke, vent-rib barrel, the shotgun weighs just 5.25 pounds and measures less than 40 inches long—ideal for use in a blind.
The main feature of the gun is its adjustable, synthetic stock. A 1-inch removable spacer allows for either a 12-inch or 13-inch length of pull, creating the perfect fit for a kid. The gun is camouflaged with Mossy Oak Obsession, topped off with adjustable fiber-optic sights, and sells for under $500.
Wanting to decrease the size and weight of my turkey gun several years ago, I purchased the youth shotgun model mentioned above for my own use, knowing that my grandkids would use it one day when the time came. That time is now, and the photos accompanying this story show one of my grandsons, 12-year-old Jon Gross, with his first turkey (a jake), taken during the recent Ohio youth turkey-hunting season.
Want to be a hero to a kid? Take a boy or girl turkey hunting this spring. It will be a special time in the woods you’ll both remember.
W.H. “Chip” Gross is the author of the novel Home, At Last, Is the Hunter, a story of a young boy, Jeff Stewart, who learns to hunt the wild turkey from his maternal grandfather. To purchase a copy of the book, make out a personal check or money order to Wordsmith for $23.00 (includes shipping) and mail to: Wordsmith, 6108 Township Road 88, Fredericktown, OH 43019. And please include a note as to whom you would like your book signed. Makes a great Father’s Day gift for the turkey hunter!