As winter gray melts and gives way to the green of spring each year, I find myself looking forward to time spent in the turkey woods with my kids. Hunting with them over the last few years has made me change the way I go about chasing spring birds. The following are a few of the lessons my kids have taught me that can make time afield with young hunters more productive and fun.
1. Turkey hunting is fun, or at least it should be. Don’t get so caught up in the kill that you don’t enjoy the chase. The sighting of a coyote mousing in the tall grass next to our blind one morning last season was a highlight of the spring. Each time the coyote would spring out of the tall grass only to disappear headfirst in an attempt to catch his prey, our entire blind would erupt in laughter. My daughter still talks about it every time we pass that spot on the farm – even more than the longbeard she took there the next morning.
2. Turkey chokes can be too tight. We all love to see shredded paper where the head on our turkey target used to be, but a grapefruit-sized wad of shot sailing an inch over a turkey’s head at a mere 10 yards isn’t fun for anyone, regardless of age. Factory full is tight enough when you are calling the birds in close and the excitement level is mile high.
3. Killing a turkey is more fun if they help call it in. The stories the kids tell after the hunt are even more exciting when they start with, “I yelped three times and the gobbler came on a run.” Even if you do the bulk of the calling, don’t be afraid to let young hunters throw in a yelp or two when you think the bird is heading your way. Spend time practicing with them before the season comes in; the memories made will be worth it to all.
4. Blinds are a young turkey hunter’s best friend. Youngsters aren’t blessed with patience. Old gobblers aren’t very tolerant of movement. The two don’t mesh well. A blind lets kids move around, protects from wind and inclement weather, allows the use of a comfortable seat and provides a few extra moments of “get ready time” when a bird gets into range. Even a short section of camouflage material stretched in front of you helps hide the inevitable movement that comes with young hunters.
5. A snack and a cold drink make a long day in a blind a lot more tolerable. Along the same lines, a book, sketch pad or quiet game makes slow times easier to sit through. The action isn’t always hot and heavy and kids get bored easily. A few things to pass the time help keep young kids afield until the action heats back up. Another tidbit of knowledge? Two bored kids can find enough pockets and folds in a Double Bull Blind to hide an entire bag of M&Ms. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt every time we use that blind now.
6. Turkey decoys work. Particularly during the early youth seasons available in a lot of states. The breeding action is hot and heavy and the toms haven’t been pressured. Having a full strut or passive jake decoy out gives the gobbler something to pay attention to besides the kid with the shaking hands peering out of the nearby blind.
7. Kids dig face paint. Even if you think it looks ridiculous, dab a little on to keep their faces from shining. An added plus is that face paint is cooler than a mask on a warm spring day.
8. Practicing from a bench doesn’t really help in the turkey woods. Practice a lot, from every imaginable position. Sit in chairs, shoot out of blinds, stand, kneel down, sit with your back to a tree and the youngster in front of you; try to make practice as real as possible. When the moment of truth arrives, not having to figure out how to hold the gun and aim takes a lot off a young shooter’s mind. Use light loads when you practice. All you are doing is building muscle memory and learning to aim; save the magnum loads for the field.
9. Red dot scopes work well. It is easy for an excited youngster (or experienced hunter) to lift his or her head off the stock when using open sights or a simple bead. A red dot scope gives a dedicated sighting spot with unlimited eye relief.
10. Take lots of photos. My children are growing at a speed that doesn’t seem possible. I treasure the photos we take each season. My hope is that each of my children will look back at the pictures when they are older and remember our time afield together as fondly as I do now. Take photos in the field under natural settings. Position the hunter and game in several different positions and scan through your pictures before you load up and head home just to make sure you have some good ones.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country.