As New York’s youth turkey hunting weekend fast approaches, I have almost a sick feeling in my gut over it. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I’ll have to sit this one out.
Mentoring new hunters is something I believe strongly in, and whenever possible, I’m happy to share my time and resources with them. I have to say, there is some selfishness here because I like being out there for the youth hunt. It pumps me up for the forthcoming spring season in May and gives me a chance to try my calling out on birds for the first time of the season. Overall, it’s just downright fun.
But not this year. COVID-19 is seeing to that.
My local NWTF chapter has a fantastic youth turkey hunting program that not only teaches new hunters about turkey hunting, and patterning their shotguns, but pairs them with mentors as well. Over the years it has given youth turkey hunters opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
As a mentor, I have witnessed some interesting youth hunts. One morning, I was out with young boy and his grandfather. It had been quiet when all the of the sudden the former golf course we were hunting exploded with activity. But it wasn’t turkeys, it was two guys riding dirt bikes. That hunt was over.
Another year I had a 13-year-old girl in the blind with me and two mornings in a row we had a flock of 16 birds, that included a pair of big toms and six jakes, in the field we were hunting. Do you think I could coax them birds up our way?
It almost happened on the second morning when three jakes peeled off from the bunch and came in for a nervous, but closer look at my decoy set. They stopped about 40 yards out, I had a rangefinder,and I encouraged the young lady to hold off with her little 20 gauge shotgun.
She later explained she remembered what we’d talked about, and what she’d learned in the training seminar, about waiting for birds to separate before shooting. The last thing she wanted to do was break a law or wound a second bird. That made me proud and that was why she never brought the gun to her shoulder.
Last year I got hooked up with a man and his grandson for the young man’s first hunt. The grandfather was an experienced hunter, except when it came to turkeys, and he wanted some help in that department. We did it all: we put the birds to bed on the roost the evening prior, got there early the next morning, set up a blind and watched a good flock of birds work the field we were in. By 7:30 the boy had his first bird, a nice jake.
I don’t know who was happier between the three of us.
And that’s what I’ll miss this year. The COVID-19 pandemic won’t allow for hunters to ride in the same vehicle with someone not from the same household. Not to mention sitting closely in a blind or with our backs against a big tree whispering as a tom approaches. Forget about a hug, handshake or high-five.
At least the hunt goes on for those fortunate to enjoy it, and May 1 is in our sights. We wish all turkey hunters nothing but safety and success.