Wild turkey hunting is a perfect way to introduce young people to hunting. Unlike the often mind-numbing boredom that can accompany deer hunting, wild turkey hunting is loaded with action and sound and drama.
Typically, I take a couple of young hunting recruits out for the Maine Youth Spring Wild Turkey Day, which normally takes place the Saturday before the official opening of the May season. These youngsters are usually sons and daughters of friends who don’t hunt but have a kid itching to try it. By that time I have done my due diligence scouting and have at least a half dozen gobblers, including Jakes, in my back pocket, and a bead on where the turkeys are hanging out. Finding a band of Jakes for a youth day hunt is a plus. They are much more cooperative than a mature tom, and a kid doesn’t much care about a rope beard or a full fan with their first wild turkey.
Introducing kids to any hunting endeavor certainly takes a bit of finesse, but I am old school in my approach. The common methodology these days is to never let the young hunter get bored. This approach assumes that a kid needs to experience success right out of the chute and can’t be expected to put in much effort. Following this formula, I’ve done all the work scouting, roosting, setting out decoys and calling the bird. All the youth had to do was wake up from a nap when the gobbler sounded off and shoot. That’s a true story, and a sure recipe for a kid that won’t get hooked on wild turkey hunting.
Unlike catch-and-release fishing where a bobber and a glob of worms will produce instant gratification with a slew of sunfish, the relative seriousness of killing an animal should include a modicum of commitment. The youngster needs to be involved in the hunt, and I mean the entire hunt. That includes sessions of shooting and patterning the shotgun of choice. I keep a 20-gauge Remington 1100 Special Field for my first time youth hunters. It is smallish in size, has a short barrel, mild recoil, and with 2-3/4-inch high-brass #4’s and an extra full choke tube will wallop a turkey within 25 yards. If they are unfamiliar with shotguns and recoil I may have them fire off a few light field loads first before slipping in the heavier load.
Kids should get out in the field and scout for birds with you. The best scenario is roosting a turkey together the evening before the hunt. This can be difficult given the busy schedule of activities kids are involved with these days, but their parents should help them make the time. This shot patterning and scouting time allows you to coach the young hunter, not only on gun safety and wild turkey behavior, but also on basics like shooting at the head and neck of the turkey, remaining quiet and not moving when a bird is on the way.
Let them practice with your box call or push pin or slate call, especially when trying to strike a bird. When a bird goes off to a locator call the stage is set. Use decoys. Placing a decoy or decoys at 15 yards from your blind or set up gives the youth a gauge on distance. You should be sitting shoulder to shoulder so you can whisper instructions about being still (they are never still when a tom is rattling the ground with gobbles), when to raise the shotgun and when to shoot.
And sometimes, even often, the birds simply don’t cooperate. And sometimes, after all the prep work brings a gobbler strutting into range, they just plain miss. It’s a good lesson for them to learn that a hunter isn’t always successful. What’s great about wild turkey hunting is you can pack up and go find another bird.
Get youngsters engaged in a hunt, get them invested in a hunt, and you boost the chances of them being successful and enjoying a lifetime of wild turkey hunting.