Soggy and miserable, first light in the woodlands felt less like light and more like a darkening cavern. Mother Nature drizzled rain down the barrel of my little 20 gauge while wind rattled tree limbs above. Only slim minutes stood between being damp and swimming in my clothing. My father and brother sat together a few yards away to my upper right to cover one half of the fallow field, and I to cover the left.
Belting his lustful dominance, one lone gobbler answered my father’s call. Driven by hormones and the looming precipitation, he wasted no time jumping from the roost to court this lonely hen. My father whispered in coarse command
Although he could not see the bird, his sense of timing was impeccable. A solo white head bobbed through the dully lit woodlands, stopping short of the field to inspect our decoys. Left to my own judgment, as a 14-yea- old boy, having the hunt fall on my shoulders was an intense task. I knew the bird was within range, but it was tough to tell. My father couldn't move, and I couldn't ask. Diaphragm call pressed against the roof of my mouth, I was not sure if I should call, shoot, or let the bird walk in hopes my younger brother would have a chance to tag his first bird. Looking now at the fan and beard, stretched in place above my desk as I write this, I still wonder what the outcome may have been if I let the bird walk. My first turkey tested young skills in judgment, nerve and shooting ability.
With New York state's popular youth turkey hunting weekend (for 12- to 15-year-olds) just around the corner, have you asked what you can be do to ensure a successful experience with your youth? Here are a few things:
• Range time: For the love of all things holy, make sure your junior hunter has shot their firearm of choice to their comfort level. Regardless if you think they've shot enough, ask them to be honest with you if they are 100 percent comfortable. If not, ask them why and work on the specific issue. Having junior hunters shoot from shooting rests is an excellent way to build the proper mechanics and confidence in a young hunter.
• Prepare them: Yes, some kids have been around hunting their entire lives. But an alarming amount have not. Either way, going from spectator to shooter is an entirely different ball game. Again, regardless if you think they are ready to kill a bird, talk with them, make sure they understand the significance, the emotion, and responsibility of killing an animal. Having a talk about the power of the trigger is an important mental preparation for any youth hunter and should not be shirked.
• Blinds: I grew up running and gunning for turkeys, chasing gobbles and finding any tree big enough to lean against. At any age, this method forces one to tighten up their personal hunting mechanics and call a darn near perfect game. For the youth hunter, especially if they have not had much prior training, hunting from blinds gives you the chance to keep things enjoyable and get away with a little extra movement during crunch time. You can bring a few more accommodations to ensure the comfort of the young hunter while staying concealed.
• Let them make decisions: After all, this is the mentored youth hunt. Granted there are situations where we will make the calls to ensure a safe and successful hunt. Yet, by including their input to the situation, we open learning opportunities and strengthen the bonds with our kids. What a better way to empower your young hunter and to be able to teach them invaluable lessons than by letting them put their knowledge to the test?
I want you also to think about this as you sit back and plan for turkey season. My friend and founder of the Camp Compass Academy and the 2 Million Bullets campaign, John Annoni, has said many times to me, “Will you give youth a chance? Our kids are our future and if we don’t teach them someone else will.”
Later this month, get out there, get in close to a gobbler, but make the youth hunt successful beyond simply notching a tag.