By David Link
Has your son or daughter expressed interest in hunting this year? Or is there another young hunter out there who wants to get into the sport but doesn’t have anyone to take them under the wing? Well this year is the year to initiate another young hunter into the engaging sport of turkey hunting, and in case you don’t know where to start, we’ve put together this guide so you can make the most of those early hunting experiences without souring the young hunter on the activity.
Shooter Or Spectator?
Generally speaking, the age and skill level of your hunting partner will help determine where they sit and how much you involve them in the hunt. Then as they grow older, you can up their level of participation. Are they good with a shotgun or not quite ready for the challenge of leveling one at a bird yet? If they are younger and not ready to be a shooter, then they should be placed close to you so you can speak to them when there is a lull. This also allows you to whisper tips and reassurances without too much worry of spooking nearby birds.
As they get older, you can make the transition and involve them in the process more. Start with both of you carrying guns while still sitting together. You can instruct them with actual landmarks to help them determine proper shooting range. This provides something for your young hunter to focus on as the bird approaches without them getting too antsy. If the bird ends up approaching your side and a shot for the youth hunter is not possible, plan beforehand whether they want you to take it or if you should wait to see whether or not a shot for the youth hunter becomes possible. Needless to say the more opportunities you give the young hunter to take the bird the better, but some first time hunters can be just as encouraged by a successful hunt regardless of the shooter. It is up to you to find the good balance, but as they get older, make sure they are taking the shot.
At the final step, you can stagger the youth hunter at a different position for maximum coverage. 1800GunsAndAmmo contributor Jason Herbert examines this best in his recent article Tag Team Turkeys. At this stage a successful hunt once again becomes the main focus as you’re both experienced hunters looking to fulfill your permit while acting like a team.
An unfortunate consequence that new hunters encounter is that calling can be very intimidating. Once it becomes clear that turkey can be very finicky when responding to calls, the fear of losing a turkey can force a young hunter to take a back seat in the hunt instead of working on their calling despite the risk of spoiling the hunt. The key here is to stop and remind them why you’re hunting in the first place. It is not to bag the bird exclusively. You are enjoying nature, working on your turkey hunting skill set, scouting for bird movements and most importantly enjoying each other’s company. It is common for a failed hunt one day to turn into a successful hunt the next after you gain intel into how the birds are moving and behaving in the area.
Support and patience is what every youth hunter needs, and it’s up to you to foster that environment. But before you provide that in the field, there needs to be a lot of calling practice at home first. Turkey calling videos and tapes are a great place to start for the first time caller, or you can demonstrate your calling methods and have the youth hunter try to match them. If you opt for manual calls like box or slate calls, ensure you choose quality calls to get a good sound. The last thing you need is a cheap or old call spoiling the hunt because of quality issues. Mouth calls are the next step, and start them slowly at home with these as well. In the early stages of hunting when you sit together, you can trade off calling to get them in the rhythm in a real-time situation. This way they can listen, learn and mimic based upon your calling methods.
Don’t equip your young hunter with an old, broken box call. Get them something that works so they can make a real impact when learning to call.
It’s hard to outfit a growing boy or girl with proper turkey hunting apparel like camo, boots, jackets, etc. It really depends on your climate as well since some turkey hunts will be sweltering while others will be a bit chilly. To start, there are a few things you can get that they won’t necessarily grow out of. The first is a mask. This necessary piece of equipment is key to keeping the youth hunter concealed, and they are relatively inexpensive. One thing to check with masks is visibility. If they keep fighting their mask to keep a good field of view or they can’t see well out of the corners of the mask, then you may need to choose a different model or at least make some alterations to the existing mask. Camo gloves are always a good universal addition as well in case you’re hunting in colder weather. For these turkey hunting purposes, thinner gloves that the youth can shoot with are the best choice since they probably aren’t going to need giant mittens or anything like that. Hunter’s orange is also a must for trips in and out of the field. This apparel doesn’t have to fit that well as long as it is visible and stays on the young hunter.
Adult masks will work just fine for youth hunters as long as they can see out of them without much trouble.
Other camo apparel can be a bit trickier to decide on. For one, you don’t want to spend a good deal on youth model camo just to have them grow out of it a few years later. One approach is to outfit them in old, drab and natural colored apparel that you may have lying around the house. You can then supplement with cheaper camo apparel like a long sleeve shirt. If they are younger and they are only planning on sitting next to you not shooting, then you can drape a camo netting over them like a blanket and they’ll be well concealed. Whatever apparel you choose, just make sure they are comfortable. As they get older and they’ve demonstrated an active love of hunting, then you can upgrade their gear so they feel like a regular hunter.
Make The Experience Enjoyable
Reeling in a turkey can take some serious time and patience, two things that younger hunters aren’t always good at. Be sure to prep for this by bringing a good deal of water so you both stay hydrated, and some bug spray and sun screen to keep you both safe and comfortable in the elements. Don’t forget some snacks either. These can break up the monotony and give the young hunter something to focus on when there is a longer lull in hunting. And finally, this is probably not the time to be a marathon hunter. Give yourself ample opportunity to find a big gobbler, but if the hours wear on or a rain or snow storm blows in, then it’s time to call it a day and come back for more tomorrow. The key is to keep a balance between burnout and ample hunting time. If you can demonstrate that patience will net a bird, then you can help forge a lifelong turkey hunter. Have fun and be safe out there.