Into the Fold
The shuffle of leaves mixed with soft yelps grew louder in the crisp air of an autumn morning.
"Stacy, they're coming in!" I whispered excitedly. "Get your gun up!"
As she had practiced, my 11-year old daughter quickly brought her gun to her knee. We sat motionless, both peering in the direction of the approaching turkeys. Seventy yards away a blue head appeared through the fall foliage. Another head appeared, and then another. In a line, 12 turkeys made their way toward our position. At 50 yards, the birds turned and began walking to our left.
"It looks like they're going to walk by us out of range," I said. "Just relax."
The flock covered 20 yards, but they turned and began feeding directly toward us. We tensed with anticipation.
"My gun is pointed the wrong way," Stacy whispered. "What can I do?"
Forty yards, 30 yards-the turkeys continued their approach.
"Stacy," I whispered, "this is probably going to spook the flock, but it's our only chance. Turn quickly and aim your gun at that lead hen."
In one quick move, Stacy turned 90 degrees to face the turkeys. Instead of bolting, the entire flock stood still with stretched necks.
"Aim carefully and shoot that lead hen. She's close enough," I whispered anxiously.
From the corner of my eyes, I watched as Stacy aimed. Seconds passed.
"Now?" she asked.
Boom!!! At the shot, the turkey staggered and disappeared behind a white oak. I jumped up and ran to where the turkey had stood. With turkeys running and flying in all directions, I looked behind the oak, and there lay Stacy's turkey. I grabbed its feet and held the bird high to show it to her.
"I did it, Dad!" she yelled. "I did it!"
I have been blessed with three children, a son and two daughters. With each I have enjoyed memorable times in the turkey woods. All three have tagged turkeys, and all three now say that turkey hunting is one of their favorite sports. If you have youngsters that you hope to introduce to the joys of turkey hunting, here are some techniques that worked for me.
If you are enthusiastic about turkey hunting, your enthusiasm will naturally rub off on your children. Consider keeping a photo album of every turkey you tag, and let your kids be in the photos with you. This way they can be in on the action, even when they are toddlers. Between seasons you can flip through the photo album with your kids. With small children, a photo album makes for great sharing at bedtime. Along with each photo, write a small summary of the hunt to read to your youngsters. They'll enjoy the stories.
This may seem unusual, but many children like watching game animals being cleaned. My kids were particularly fascinated with what turkeys held in their crops. For children, cleaning a turkey can serve as an interactive lesson in biology and nature. Let them watch if they are interested.
By age three or four, most kids are ready to accompany a parent on preseason scouting trips. It is important, however, to remember that the attention span of preschoolers is short, and they tire easily.
Therefore, these first scouting trips are best enjoyed from the comfort and convenience of a vehicle. At dawn, drive around and stop at spots from which you can easily hear turkeys. Listen to a few birds gobble. Maybe call up an owl.
To make these outings even more fun for a youngster, outfit your child in a set of his own camouflage clothing. Take along hot chocolate and donuts. The point of these outings is to make them fun for a kid.
Make these trips short, too. Even if a child says he wants to stay out longer, it's best to head home to save some enthusiasm for next time. When you get home, give your little one a big hug. Tell him how much you enjoyed his company.
Nurtured properly, most children by age 10 or 11 are ready for firearms training as their next step to becoming turkey hunters. Since most children this age are not big enough to handle a full-sized firearm, they'll do best with a youth model. Many are available, but a single-shot, .22-caliber rifle is ideal. Recoil and noise are mild, especially with .22 shorts, and rifle practice instills in a youngster that when hunting turkeys, he must aim a shotgun as if he were aiming a rifle.
Much patience and practice is needed during this stage. Children rarely become good shooters quickly. To keep things fun, make the shooting sessions short, have the targets close, and give plenty of praise for improvement, no matter how small.
Instead of always shooting at paper targets, set up a few aluminum cans for targets. A well-shaken, unopened can of soda makes a dramatic target that explodes when hit, as does an unopened can of tomato juice. As marksmanship improves, raw eggs suspended from a rubber band and string generate excitement when hit. Though it sounds silly, kids enjoy treats. Reward children with a piece of their favorite candy every time they make a good shot.
After establishing proper shooting form, a child must learn to shoot while sitting. That's the position he will most likely shoot from while hunting turkeys. Sit your youngster in your lap. Your line of sight will be close to that of the child, and when actually hunting, you will be able to whisper directions when a turkey is close.
From your lap, have your child shoot at a life-size silhouette of a turkey's head from a distance of 20 yards. Let him shoot groups of 10 shots at the proper point of aim-the turkey's wattles. Stick an orange bull's-eye on the wattles. This will help emphasize this as the proper place to aim at a turkey.
During these shooting sessions with your youngster in your lap, it's fun and productive to pretend that you are actually hunting. Whisper to your child, "There he is!... Don't move!... When the turkey steps behind that tree, get your gun up.... Okay, get your gun up... Can you see his head clearly?... Okay, shoot!" Kids enjoy this kind of practice, and through these simulations a child will learn two crucial turkey-hunting skills: how and when to move in preparation for a shot.
Sometimes, even with an adult's best efforts to make things enjoyable, a youngster will grow weary of shooting practice. At these times a child must understand that if he wishes to hunt turkeys, he must develop strong shooting skills. Killing a turkey with one clean shot calls for good shooting, and good shooting comes from practice.
When your child shoots groups the size of a softball at 20 yards with a .22, he'll be ready to practice with the shotgun that he will use to hunt turkeys. A 3-inch chambered 20 gauge is a good choice, but you shouldn't let a young kid shoot a magnum 20-gauge load during practice. The noise and recoil will be unpleasant.
With your child wearing ear protection, let him watch you shoot a light, 2 3/4-inch field load at a turkey silhouette. He'll see that the gun doesn't kick much, and then you can let him shoot the same load. With all the rifle practice, chances are very good that he will center the silhouette.
Point out how many pellets hit the vital areas. Praise your child, and then put the shotgun away. Too much target practice with the shotgun, even with light loads, will lead to discomfort and flinching problems. Save the three-inch magnum shells for actual hunting. In the excitement of shooting at a wild turkey, your child won't notice the heavier recoil.
Hunter safety class comes next. For a kid, this is a big deal and involves lots of effort-and some worry. Hearts pound in little chests when those exams are handed out. With this important step completed, a gift to commemorate the achievement is in order. Consider something like a folding hunting knife with your child's initials engraved in the blade. Such a present will be a lifetime keepsake.
A couple weeks before the season, rent a few turkey-hunting videos. Watch them with your young turkey hunter. When the camera zooms in on the approaching turkey, have your child look carefully to see the turkey as soon as it is in view. This practice will help your child gain skill at spotting approaching turkeys. As the turkey closes in, have your child point to where he or she would aim at the bird. This will help train your child to concentrate on and aim at the wattles.
Your child is now ready for opening day. Locate a good turkey hunting spot and spend time scouting. If your child's first hunt is during the spring season, find a place where you typically hear several gobblers on a given morning. If your youngster's first hunt is during fall, scatter a flock of young turkeys shortly after they have flown to roost in the evening, and then return to that spot in the morning. Eager to get back together, young birds typically come to calls quickly.
While turkey hunting with your child, never forget what would have made the hunt fun for you as a child, as well as what might have spoiled it. For example, don't drag a kid out in bad weather, don't make him sit in one spot for too long, and don't walk him until he's breathing hard and flush-faced. To keep the hunt enjoyable, let the child set the walking pace.
Use a day-bag to bring along snacks and something to drink. Comfort is important, so bring a cushion for your child to sit on when you set up to work a turkey. Also, keep the duration of the hunt in line with a child's interests. An hour and a half is a solid hunt for most kids.
If a shooting opportunity develops, be conservative. Get a bird in close and in the clear for the best chance of a clean, one-shot kill. Sometimes, regardless of all efforts, a child will miss his first turkey. If this happens, your child will be disappointed, but make the best of it. Focus on what went right during the hunt. Tell your youngster that it was a major feat for him to sit still enough for a turkey to work its way into shotgun range. Praise him for that achievement. Share a story or two about turkeys you missed. Tell your child how proud you are of his efforts.
If your child kills a turkey, celebrate! Carefully lay that empty shotgun aside, then whoop and holler, high-five and jump around. This is a big moment in your child's life, so liven it up! Take lots of photographs and make copies for the grandparents. Call friends and relatives. Brag about your child's accomplishment. Invite family over for dinner when you cook the bird.
A kid's first turkey is a major event, one he or she will enjoy remembering for a lifetime, as will you.