By Heath Wood
Each year I look forward to kicking off the turkey season by participating in Missouri’s two-day youth season that typically occurs during the first week of April.
I have previously had the honor of taking several youths on their first turkey hunt throughout this two-day season. I have experienced excellent harvests, a few misses, and countless encounters that forever will be stamped in my mind. Yet, one of the most rewarding things I have gained in taking these kids hunting is crossing paths a few years later and hearing that they are still hunting each spring because of being properly introduced to the outdoors. That is what it is all about - Introducing newcomers to the world of turkey hunting and creating impacts that lead them to one day pass it along to someone else.
When introducing children to hunting, it is vital to teach them about hunter safety first and foremost. It is essential to show youth the proper way to carry a firearm, shoot a firearm safely, and always respect the firearm. Another teaching point is respect; it is essential to instill respect for animals being hunted and the hunting land. After safety and respect have been established, it is time to show them why hunting is a lifelong love, that being the fun that comes from it.
To ensure that kids are having fun while hunting, it is necessary to have the proper gear to make the hunt more enjoyable, such as the weapon, which must adequately fit the child. For example, if using a shotgun for turkey hunting, the gun should not have too long of a barrel or be too heavy for the child to hold. When the firearm doesn’t fit, the risk of missing the animal increases, or even worse, the animal could be injured. To prevent firearm mishaps while hunting, find a suitable firearm for the child, and have the child shoot multiple times before the season begins. Practice ensures that the gun is shooting correctly; the child can hit the target and handle the firearm properly. Once the confidence has been established in the child’s shooting ability, it must be transferred to the field when hunting. To make an ethical shot when hunting, the child must keep the gun steady; a stable gun keeps the turkey from spotting them with their incredible eyesight.
A shooting rest is essential to keep the firearm in proper form while hunting. The Swagger Bipods QD42 is the perfect bipod for turkey hunters. The QD42 quickly attaches to the gun when setting up on a gobbler while hunting. Plus, it always keeps the gun in the shooting position. The QD42 also easily adjusts to fit every kid or adult. One of the number one reasons a youth hunt doesn’t end with a harvest is being seen by a gobbler or a missed shot. Using a shooting rest can help with both.
The next item on the must-have list for youth hunting is a ground blind. Using a ground blind allows a kid to sit comfortably while moving their feet or adjusting their body to be more comfortable. Through my experiences, the older kids can stay motionless when sitting without a blind. However, ten and under have a more challenging time. When turkey hunting with a kid, staying quiet and being still for an extended period can be challenging. Turkeys have incredible eyesight and are always alert to unnecessary movement. I also favor using a ground blind when hunting with youth to quietly coach them through the hunt until they pull the trigger.
As for being comfortable, that too can make or break a hunt. If a kid gets cold, or their feet get cold, or slightly wet, it is often game over; they are ready to go home. During the spring turkey season, cool mornings are still a strong possibility. Having youth adequately dressed is essential for them to enjoy the hunt.
Taking a kid hunting is a special event and having the proper gear is vital to enjoying the hunt. The rest is up to the hunter guiding them along the way. Time spent with a child outdoors is remarkable for the parent, grand-parent, family member, or friend who is taking them yet is notable for the kid as well, only if we make it special for them. While hunting with youth, I always try to include them in every hunt aspect. I explain what each call is and why I use it. I try to keep them informed on what I think will happen next - keeping their anticipation high and their curiosity higher. I keep them involved by using a locator call to make a turkey gobble and let them have a turn at using a turkey call a few times when calling in a gobbler. Anything to make them feel involved and want to do it again in the future.
The last tip I can give is to make the harvest a special occasion. If the child can make the harvest, celebrate with them. Let them know they accomplished a challenging task for anyone to achieve. If they do not harvest a turkey, make it memorable for them and let them know there is always the next time.