Photo by Mark Kayser
Mark, Sharon, Katelyn and Cole Kayser enjoy spring turkey hunting long after each of them took their first gobbler.
First turkey = hunter forever
“He’s running right at us,” I whispered in a fever pitch to my 9-year-old son Cole, who was already eyeing the gobbler closing the distance. After hearing my calls, the tom turned to see our tom and hen decoys on the field edge. He didn’t notice the ground blind just yards away from the faux pair.
Seconds later the tom skidded to a halt in a half-strut challenge 9 yards from the end of Cole’s Thompson Center barrel.
Before I could finish saying, “Shoot him,” Cole toppled the big bird.
We traveled to Kansas for Cole’s first turkey and the trip couldn’t have been more memorable. Today, Cole is 16, hunts on his own, and even tagged his first elk — a 7-point bull he arrowed on a do-it-yourself public land hunt. That first turkey put him on track to a long hunting career. If you hope to set your child on a similar course, use their first turkey hunt to start them down that road.
Turkey hunting provides a great first hunt for your child in a controlled setting. Turkeys are plentiful from coast to coast and most hunts can take place minutes from home. Turkey hunting also allows you to take advantage of spring weather. You can watch the forecast and plan your hunt around days with minimal precipitation and maximum sunshine. There’s no need to dampen the spirit of a budding hunter by hunting in a downpour.
Distant gobbles, drumming, spitting and strutting create an atmosphere with more stimulation than you can get from a supersized energy drink.
As you contemplate dropping your child into this atmosphere, evaluate whether or not he or she is ready for the hunt. Begin by checking the law. Today, some states have no minimum age limit for beginning hunters. Some offer mentor programs.
Photo by Mark Kayser
Share the unmatched awe and wonder of the outdoors.
In addition to legal age, you have to consider mental and physical maturity. Although a 9- or 10-year-old can handle a shotgun from a sitting position they still might not be physically able to handle some hunts. Are they emotionally mature enough to handle killing an animal? These are personal decisions only you as an adult can determine. Don’t take them lightly.
Having the right gear puts you on the road to creating a lifetime hunter. Begin with a shotgun that fits them. Make sure the length of pull allows for a comfortable fit and consider a 20 gauge instead of the traditional 12 gauge option. Pattern the shotgun and let the young hunter pepper a few turkey targets for reassuring practice.
Camouflage clothes should fit properly, along with a facemask that won’t slip or impede vision. Add a youth turkey vest and your young hunter will be comfortable and concealed when a turkey approaches. You may wish to use hearing protectors that enhance normal hearing, but compress and shut down extreme sounds.
Footwear should be comfortable and waterproof. Muck Boots are a leader in this category, but look at boots that function in your intended hunting environment. Consider gloves and a hat for protection and concealment. Toss in a ThermaCELL just in case insects invade your day.
The Big Day
On the big day you don’t necessarily have to be out there in moonlight. Sure the gobbling might be spectacular, but if your child falls asleep later in the day you may have defeated your purpose. During the heat of breeding season, gobblers often fire up at midmorning as hens leave them for nesting duties. It’s the perfect window to call in a willing tom and still get enough sleep.
If your child is fidgety, consider hunting out of a blind. Turkeys often visit fields on a whitetail-like schedule. Wait them out and your child can eat a snack, stretch and entertain themselves with a smartphone game. Kids should also have their own calls to use. Ground blind concealment allows them to call and then pick up the shotgun for a shot.
Whether or not you tag a tom, take lots of photos. Images of the hunt add to their enthusiasm for the next one. Don’t show any disappointment if they miss. Smile, re-live the experience and make a new plan. At the end of the hunt you should create a tradition. Get a pizza or grill some burgers, but end the day on a high note. — Mark Kayser