Young Guns Of The Turkey Woods
Tips for introducing a kid to the wonderful world of turkey hunting.
I’ve been fortunate to have tucked away so many memories from the turkey woods. I can still remember my very first hunt in the north Georgia mountains as if it happened yesterday. Some seasons stand out more than others, too. One season that jumps to the front of the line when I think back on seasons past is the spring of 2011. In my circle of turkey-hunting companions, it seemed as if there was an epidemic among us. There was an outbreak of kids dropping the hammer on birds in every direction. Sons, grandsons, nephews and friends’ kids were connecting on gobblers. What a blessing!
Having said that, putting a bird in gun range of a youngster can involve some preparation to pull it off. Below are some details that will help make the turkey hunt a positive and memorable experience for you and the child you’re taking turkey hunting this spring.
Getting Started: When taking a child turkey hunting, there is a good chance they are fairly new to the sport, and they will need to know a few things prior to the hunt. And the child, or you, might not have access to the proper equipment. I’m not suggesting you buy various sizes of child camo or keep a youth gun on hand for the occasional opportunity that arises for you to mentor, but it is a good idea to address these issues from the get-go. The first thing I do is ask the kid’s parent if they have a gun.
If the parent does not turkey hunt, there’s a good chance the kid won’t have a youth gun either, so I will get my hands on a youth gun. Remember, you can’t expect an 80-lb. kid to tote your 12-lb. 10-gauge all over the turkey woods and actually enjoy it. You will also notice the kid will likely have a tough time holding up a big magnum turkey gun for any length of time.
I prefer to fit a child with a youth model, and I want the kid to shoot it before we go hunting. I will shoot the gun myself before the kid does to find out its capabilities and limitations. Then I will “secretly” lighten the load and put a low brass, high shot shell in the gun for him to shoot. The lighter recoil will relieve a lot of fear. When they are ready to shoot at the real thing with a turkey load, they won’t be concerned with feeling the gun kick, which will allow them to make a more focused shot on the turkey.
The gun the kid will be using might be a capable killer at 50 yards, but inexperience tends to cause trouble for a kid when a bird is past 30 yards or so. A kid can’t be expected to shoot a gun at a turkey until he believes the bird is close enough, regardless of the gun’s capabilities. That kind of confidence comes with time, and it is your responsibility to make sure the bird is inside that kid’s comfort zone.
Coaching: If you have the opportunity, have a pre-hunt coaching session with the kid you will be hunting with. Discuss your plans. Tell them about the property you’ll be taking them to. Let them know what they can expect. Tell them if you expect to hear a lot of birds gobbling or if you don’t. Tell them if you plan to cover a lot of ground or if you’re going to be sitting in an area for a long time. If you plan to simply play it by ear, explain to them what that means. Most kids want to know but might just be a little too shy to ask questions. On the other hand, you might find yourself talking to one of the most inquisitive individuals you’ve ever run across. If it is the latter, you’ll have the time of your life talking turkey to someone who hasn’t heard it before.
Go over all the things the kid should or shouldn’t do. Explain why it is so important to sit still and why talking above a whisper isn’t a real good idea. The more they learn about the bird they will be hunting, the better off they will be. You will be surprised at how much they will retain and how it will benefit you both in the heat of battle.
If you think it’s important enough to mention, do so, but I would recommend just trying to focus on a few things you feel are critical rather than covering a lot of things that aren’t as big a deal. You want to be careful not to overwhelm them. At the very least, if the kid’s parent is going to join you on the hunt, I recommend going over the game plan with them.
Setup: The proper setup is critical to all turkey hunts, and picking the right one can be quite a challenge. The best setup will be if the kid’s parent goes along. They can set up together and you can back off 30 or 40 yards and do the calling. Just make sure the parent has been coached prior to the hunt.
Many times it’ll just be you and the kid. During these hunts, try to set up close to the kid. You will need to be able to communicate, especially if a bird is on the way. If the kid is small enough, you may be able to have them lean against you as you lean against the tree. This gives you the most control of the situation, and you might even be able to help the kid move if he has to. This will also allow you to constantly whisper instructions as the hunt unfolds. I will try to always set up at least by the same tree as the kid.
When it all comes together and you get a bird inside the comfort zone for the kid, help him focus and remind him to shoot the bird in the neck where the feathers meet the fatty part of the head. Then turn them loose and tell them to shoot when they’re ready. I will always try to stop the bird and make him lift his head up for a clean shot opportunity.
It was years after I had become a decent turkey hunter before I experienced my first turkey hunt with a child, and I found out I had a lot to learn when it came to pulling it off with a youngster. Fortunately, I adapted and began to win a few battles with kids in the shooter’s seat. I learned a lot by the beatings we took, and the lessons learned have paid off here and there, which was evident by an awesome hunt a couple of springs ago.
My good friend Shane Hill, of Eatonton, called me a few weeks into the season and asked me to do him a favor. I assured him I would do my best but felt a little uneasy when he made his request. He asked me to call a turkey up for his son. I was honored to be the one he picked for the job but felt he was a bit overconfident in my abilities. I had to laugh a little when he explained how “cool” he thought it would be for me to call up his son’s first bird just like I had done for him years earlier.
The day before the hunt I met Shane’s son, Brayden, and spoke with him about our hunt the following morning. He seemed excited, and before I left I went over the game plan with Shane and made sure we had everything we needed for the next morning.
The next morning the three of us headed into the dark, morning woods to our predetermined listening spot. A good 15 minutes passed after daylight before we heard a bird gobble. The bird was down an old logging road, and we quickly headed toward him. We got as close as we dared, and I instructed Shane where to sit with Brayden. I backed up a good 40 yards behind them in some cover beside the logging road. They had a great view, but I didn’t have a clear view of the entire road.
The bird answered my tree call, and when it hit the ground with a thunderous gobble, I did my best fly down. The bird hammered it hard, and I could sense the tom was definitely in the mood for some company. The gobbler held his ground as he eagerly answered nearly every call I threw at him. Believing he was getting a bit too confident in his ability to call me in, I dogged it off and waited.
He was quiet for a while, but after a good 15 minutes had passed, I saw his white head bobbing up the road toward Shane and Brayden. I could catch an occasional glimpse of the bird as he strutted toward them, and soon he was in a place I felt for sure he needed to be flopping instead of strutting. I began to get a little apprehensive, but my concern was short lived as the next sound I heard was Brayden’s gun. I watched the bird as he rocked backward and began to flop wildly in the road.
I passed Shane and Brayden before they could get up and was soon standing on the bird’s head. Brayden had gotten off to a fantastic start, taking a beautiful 3-year-old bird. I was shaking with excitement and will never forget the celebration that followed. I think Brayden was excited, in fact I’m sure of it, but I believe he thought his dad and I had lost our minds the way we carried on.
When we take a kid turkey hunting, we are passing along the tradition as we teach them to hunt, and we are doing our part to shape the future of turkey hunting. If you have never taken a kid turkey hunting, I strongly encourage you to do so. I have seen a lot of birds die from lead thrown from someone else’s gun, but I never get more pleasure than I do when it comes from the barrel of young gun.
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