First came the call.
“Clinton got in!” the voice said over the phone. Shelley Parnell of Sugar Creek had just been told her 11-year-old son, Clinton, had been chosen to participate in the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center’s first Youth-Only Managed Turkey Hunt.
That was in 2003, and every year since then 10 lucky youths are drawn for the hunt.
Shelley was mildly disappointed that Clinton’s twin brother, Travis, wasn’t one of the lucky hunters, but Travis didn’t take it hard. In fact, he was extremely supportive of his brother before and during the hunt.
Like all the youth hunters at Burr Oak Woods, Clinton was paired with a turkey guide. The volunteer guides are not only veteran turkey hunters, they also have received special training at the Lake City Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center in Blue Springs in preparation for the managed hunt. Training includes safety, proper mentoring, ethics, area regulations and more.
Drew Larson, a Conservation Department employee who worked at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Conservation Area in Lee’s Summit, was selected to help Clint.
Drew and Clint met on a crisp spring morning at the Lake City Range for a mandatory orientation the weekend before the actual hunt. By the end of the daylong orientation, which covers safety, ethics, what to wear, how to prepare for the hunt, time scouting in their assigned zone and some practice shooting, they had become close friends. Clint’s dad, Jim, also attended the orientation.
The nature center provides Remington 870 youth model shotguns and ammunition to each participant in the hunt. The guns were purchased with money donated to the nature center by the Kansas City Area chapter of Safari Club Inc. The Sables (the ladies chapter of the Safari Club Inc.) purchased a gun safe to store the shotguns. Camouflage blinds, snacks, supplies and lunch are provided by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The generosity of the donors and volunteers makes the special hunts possible for the kids.
On the day of the hunt, guides, youths, moms and dads gathered at the Burr Oak Woods check station at 4:30 a.m. Clint and his guide, Drew, were both excited as they checked their gear and headed out to the field. Clint’s dad went with them while Travis and Shelley wished Clint good luck. Even 4:30 a.m. wasn’t too early for this whole family to share in the adventure.
In the early afternoon, Drew pulled up to the check station with Clint grinning from ear to ear. He had shot a turkey! Shortly after, Shelley and Travis drove up. Clint had called them from the field on Drew’s cell phone to tell them the great news.
After the turkey was weighed, Clint posed with his trophy for many photos. Drew, who ended up in a lot of the photos, showed the family how to field-dress the bird. They then took it home, eager to turn it into the main course of a delicious dinner.
As luck would have it, Clint’s twin brother, Travis, was the lucky one in the 2004 annual Youth-Only Managed Turkey Hunt, and Drew became his guide. That year Shelley wanted to sit in the blind with her son and the guide.
Travis didn’t get a bird on Saturday, but he said he had a good time anyway. About 11:30 on Sunday morning, however, Travis shot his tom. Soon after, Travis, Drew, Clint, Jim and the twins’ grandparents were celebrating another turkey hunting success story with pictures, handshakes and high-fives.
Shelley said the hunts were the high points of the boys’ lives. “They’ve gotten many school awards and sports awards,” she said, “but nothing compares to this hunt!”
A few months later, Shelley Parnell showed up at the Burr Oak Woods front desk with a grand tom turkey that she had called in herself.
Shelley, a petite woman, said she was so thrilled when her boys harvested a turkey that she wanted to try turkey hunting, too.
Drew had helped her find a landowner who gave her permission to hunt on his land.
She prepared for the hunt and went turkey hunting for the first time in her life. When the turkey she’d called appeared, she took aim and pulled the trigger.
After she’d phoned to spread the word, she said the whole family came out to her hunting spot, cameras in hand. Her first gobbler meant more meat for the dinner table and for the family photo album.
The tradition of turkey hunting has now totally taken over the Parnell family. It was almost no surprise that Travis and Clint received shotguns for Christmas that year.
Shelley and the boys go hunting together every season. Sometimes Jim comes along to be part of the group, but he mostly just sits in the blind. “At least we’re all together,” Shelley said with a smile.
The first day of the season, a flip of the coin decides which of the boys gets to sit in the blind with their mom. The loser gets the second day.
Shelley said turkey hunting has helped her forge better relationships with her sons.
“The conversations we’ve had in the blind are incredible,” Shelley said. “I’ve had tears just watching and listening to the boys. Think about how physically close we are together in the blind—and we have four to five hours to just talk and listen and be together.
“You know, I’m a mother with two sons,” she said. “Dads always seem to have something to bond with their boys. It’s a little harder for moms to feel connected. I always wanted to find something to bond us together, and hunting has been that bond.”
As much as Shelley likes hunting with her sons, she also has learned that hunting alone can also be rewarding.
“Calling, taking it all in, listening to the morning all by myself is something I really look forward to,” she said.
Turkey hunting has become so enmeshed in the Parnell family that Shelley has learned to mount the turkeys they’ve taken. The turkey mounts are displayed in their living room, family room and several bedrooms.
“It’s a good thing that Jim’s a good sport about this!” Shelley said with a laugh.
Shelley says she can see the family hunting together until she reaches 50 or 60 years old. “Then I’ll sit in the back of the blind and enjoy my boys, hunting together as men,” she said.
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