Taking Kids To The Turkey Woods

Judy Catrett has helped more than 40 kids kill their first turkeys.

Ainsley Cash Conner | April 6, 2019

Did you grow up loving the outdoors? Did you find a passion for hunting wildlife at an early age? Most children in today’s generation do not have the chance to learn about the importance of the great outdoors and what it has to offer. Judy Catrett, of Marion County, felt passionately about this and decided to do something about it. 

Judy is a huntress of many traits, but what sets her apart from other outdoorsmen and women is her passion for children and teaching them the importance of hunting. 

When Judy first started hunting, it wasn’t until she moved from Thomas County to Marion County that she got turkey fever. Around the time of 1985, after watching a special on television on turkey hunting and visiting a seminar in Americus hosted by the five-time World Champion Turkey Caller Ben Lee, Judy was determined to kill her first turkey. 

“That same year I bought a call, tried to learn and went turkey hunting for the first time and fell in love,” said Judy. 

Judy enjoys hunting turkey the most but also enjoys bowhunting for elk and deer because of how challenging it is and because of the close distance you have to call them in to. 

“What I have learned to love most about hunting wildlife is the interaction with the game, especially an educated gobbler,” said Judy. “Through my own experience, I do a lot of reading from what other hunters have learned, and I like to challenge myself to learn how to call in a gobbler that someone else couldn’t call in.” 

After 24 Grand Slams and a lifetime of chasing gobblers around the United States, Mexico and even New Zealand, Judy enjoys the hunt more than the kill and would rather spend her time helping young kids harvest their first game and showing them how to love the outdoors. 

Over the past 35 years, Judy has helped 40 to 50 kids harvest their first turkey, three of them being young girls (Cassie Young, Erin Wodzinski and Hanna Wodzinski), who have completed Grand Slams. 

“I get really nervous and my heart beats harder when I am with a kid who is excited to learn the importance of hunting rather than hunting by myself,” said Judy. 

Judy’s passion for taking kids hunting started when her son was young and she would take him and his friends. By the time her son had grown up and moved out, her desire was not gone, and she wanted to take anyone that she could. 

Being a nurse practitioner, Judy created a bond with young patients. These patients knew of Judy’s love for the outdoors and would ask her to take them hunting. 

“Even though I worked full-time, most of my patients knew I would not be in until the late morning because I was gone hunting with the kids,” said Judy. “The kids and I would go out and check this place, check that place, get out and call, and if one gobbled, we would hunt him. If he didn’t gobble, we would go somewhere else. If we hunted all morning and didn’t hear a gobble or the kids got tired, we would go get a biscuit—it’s what the kids liked. It’s not about being patient or serious, it’s about having fun and enjoying time in the outdoors.” 

Once word got around that Judy was taking her patients on hunting trips, kids from the local elementary school wanted to go, so Judy formed a relationship with the principal and staff. 

“The teachers knew these kids were learning about being in the outdoors, so no one really questioned it,” said Judy. “Before I would take these kids hunting, I would ask them what their grades were and wouldn’t take them until they had As and Bs. This would give the kids a motive to do good in class and keep their grades up. This wouldn’t have happened if we lived in an urban area, but any way you look at it, life is different in a rural community, especially with young kids involved in the outdoors.” 

The area where Judy lives and hunts is small and rural. Most people know of her, especially landowners who appreciate how involved she is with the local kids, so she usually has no problem finding a place to hunt. Most adults are in full support of Judy and like to see kids having the opportunity to experience the outdoors. 

“If a kid were to kill their first turkey or deer, we would take it to our local store and show it off to everyone who comes out to see it,” said Judy. 

This was a way the kids were able to show-off and be proud of their harvest. 

Cabela Fuller, 13, doubled up in 2018 in Marion County while hunting with Judy Catrett.

“I have fun taking kids hunting,” said Judy. “They have a certain enthusiasm and a will to learn, which makes them enjoyable to spend time with. I used to think to myself when I would shoot a turkey that it looked more beautiful alive, but to a kid that turkey means so much more.” 

Cabela Fuller, 14, is one of the current kids that Judy is mentoring.

“I have turkey hunted with Mrs. Judy a lot, and I swear when I shoot a turkey, she gets more excited than I do,” said Cabela. “The first turkey I ever killed, I was sitting down when I shot and the turkey fell to the ground, and next thing I know Mrs. Judy was already over there at it, and I thought to myself, ‘How did she get over there so fast?’” 

Just as Judy holds these memories close to her heart, so do the kids. Judy hopes that she can not only continue to influence their lives but influence their idea of game and property management, as well. Every hunt is special in some way to Judy. 

“Every hunt I have been on has had their little things that makes them stand out,” said Judy. 

One of the most memorable hunts Judy recalls was with her nephew, Jesse Hoskins, who had spina bifida and was around 12 years old at the time of the hunt. 

“Jesse had difficulty getting around but could somewhat walk short distances, and as he got older, he learned to love hunting,” said Judy. “The principal of the local elementary school, Michelle Vanderloop, and I had taken Jesse on his first turkey hunt behind my dad’s house on the farm. We got him in and out of the truck and sat him up by a tree, and what I usually do is put the kids between my legs when they’re smaller so that I can take a fan and cover them up if they move, but with Jesse it was different. 

Jesse Hoskins, 12 at the time, hunted with Judy (back right) and local elementary school principal Michelle Vanderloop to shoot this bird. Jesse rolled the Thomas County gobbler in 2007.

“After hunting for a while, we heard a turkey gobbling, and normally if we hear a turkey gobbling and he doesn’t come, I am able to pick up most kids and take them closer to the turkey and rearrange our setup so we are moving more like natural hen would. However, with Jesse it was different, and we had to stay sitting with mosquitoes swarming us, but he didn’t care—he just sat there. 

“Finally, after about an hour had passed, the turkey came in, and Michelle said, ‘Judy you’ve got to do something. I can hear Jesse’s heart beating above my own.’” 

Jesse was able to kill that turkey, but it was the challenge of the hunt that made it so memorable for Judy. She says all her hunts, even the ones that don’t end with a dead turkey, are treasured in some way. 

Judy recalled the time she spent countless hunts with BeBe Morgan without killing a turkey. The bad luck continued hunt and after hunt. They finally packed their bags and went to Kansas, where BeBe was able to harvest two gobblers.

Another memory Judy recalls was taking her niece, who was a vegetarian at the time and almost an anti-hunter, to harvest her first deer and first turkey. 

“I took her on her first turkey hunt a few years ago, and we had one come up to her, but she shot and missed it,” said Judy. “She jumped up and asked, ‘Did I hit it?’ I said, ‘No baby, they don’t run away when you hit them.’ 

“That same day, we hunted in a different place, and I called one in for her. The gobbler came in full strut right behind a hen 5 yards away from her, and she was able to kill it.” 

Three happy turkey hunters (from left) Left: Judy Catrett, Hannah Wodzinski
and Erin Wodzinski with a South Dakota tom taken in 2015.

Judy enjoys the fact that she was able to change her niece’s outlook on hunting and eating meat by giving her an experience she never would have had otherwise. 

Even though these stories do not cover a small fraction of all of the memories Judy has had with the kids, she cherishes every single one in some way.

Judy has had the chance to take numerous kids on hunting trips to different places around the United States and expose them to different ways of life through hunting and show them that there is a life outside of their hometown. 

Two of the first kids Judy was able to take on a hunt after her son had grown were Chad and Chelsey Williams. They were both 9 years old at the time, and they went on to hunt with Judy for years. Chelsey hunted in Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Texas, and Chad hunted in Georgia, Kansas and Texas. Today, Chelsey is a junior in nursing school, and Chad has been accepted into a pharmacy program. 

“It’s the little things like this that make me grateful of the time and influences I have been able to have with the kids,” Judy says. 

Most of the kids she has taken are now young adults who are pursuing a college degree or career, and although some of them are grown up, they still want to hunt and spend time with her. 

Judy Catrett has seen a pile of youngsters kill turkeys. Colton Crawford, 10 at the time, of Americus, is one of them. He smiles after rolling this longbeard in Marion County bird in 2018. The bird had 1 1/4-inch spurs and an 11-inch beard.

“I miss hunting with her and all of the memories we have shared,” Erin Wodzinski, who is a freshmen at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and majoring in nursing.

Judy is inspired by how the kids’ lives are turning out and cherishes the bond that she has been able to form with them over the years. 

“Something I now look back on as I have gotten older is the life-lasting relationships I have formed with these kids and that they have with each other,” said Judy.

Judy doesn’t just love spending time in the outdoors, she loves seeing a child’s reaction when harvesting their first animal or experiencing something new for the first time while being in the woods. She has touched many hearts and has had a positive influence on not only the kids’ lives, but the town as a whole. Judy has now taken a break from her career to focus on hunting with the kids more, but she may consider going back part-time. 

The passion that Judy holds is unlike any other, and she’s grateful for all of the many memories made and relationships created.

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