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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Controlling Your Springtime Obsession

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 18, 2009.)

Taking shots at marginal ranges is
the point where obsession gets out of control.
I know a lady who wanted to take her grandson hunting. She asked someone what they should hunt if she wanted to get addicted to hunting. The reply was swift and certain -- hunt spring gobblers. She did, and she was hooked her first time out.

Hunting turkeys is an annual obsession that heats up all across the country, wherever any of the four subspecies of wild turkeys live. The Rio Grande, at home in the southwest, loves an open landscape. The Merriam’s finds habitat in the western plains and mountains. The sleek Osceola with its long legs and sharp spurs calls Florida’s swamps its home. And the widespread Eastern might be the most frustrating to hunt.

The obsession officially began with Alabama’s season opener in March, but it actually started well before that when turkey hunters across the nation began their scouting excursions into the turkey woods to hear the lusty gobbles of tom turkeys looking for friendly hens.

As the obsession heats up, hunters begin investigating the year’s newest call designs, and restocking their turkey vests.

What goes into a turkey vest? Not necessarily much. Some hunters are minimalists, and buy very little. They’ve learned that strategies and techniques rule the day, not the latest gadgets. On the other hand, other hunters seem to have a big budget for new gear.

But new gear catches the eyes of even the minimalists. After all, even minimalists need a new suit of camouflage once in a while -- and there is plenty to choose from.

We occasionally still see the tried and true military camo, but the “calls” that lure turkey hunters with spare dollars are the high definition patterns with photographic realism. They don’t have much visibility to gobblers, but obsessed hunters sure do notice them.

Innovative calls also hit the market every year. All of them use the “new and improved” angle in their marketing, and capitalize on the still-vivid memory of the gobbler that beat you last season. But some have more going for them than just marketing.

One new call that I look forward to trying is the “Ring Zone” call by Hunter’s Specialties. LINK: HS Ring Zone™ Calls. It’s a pot call that comes with a slate, ceramic or crystal surface, and it has a couple of features that promise a more realistic sound.

Then there are decoys. Pretty Boy, B-Mobile, King Strut… the names appeal to hunters, not turkeys, and most hunters know that decoys can hurt as much as help because they stand motionless and make the gobbler suspicious.

One new decoy I’ll be trying is called the “Jake Intimidator” by Countrymen Innovations. LINK: Jake Intimidator. It’s a strutting jake that’s compact, easy to carry, quick to set up, and offers the advantage of motion. It works in tandem with any hen deke to fool adult gobblers into thinking that a young interloper is “hooking up” with his hens.

Plenty of other gear fills the pockets of the hunter’s vest, but the gear that kills a turkey is the shotgun and its payload. Some specialized shotguns and loads can kill a gobbler at distances beyond 50 and even 60 yards.

If your shotgun can kill gobblers reliably at extended ranges, that’s fine. But the game is about calling the big bird to within shotgun range. You owe it to yourself and the gobbler to know what your shotgun’s range is. Shoot when you know you can kill the bird, not when you think you can.

Taking shots at marginal ranges -- or worse, at ranges beyond the known capability of your shotgun -- is the point where obsession gets out of control. Remember, turkey hunting isn’t only about killing a gobbler, but when you pull the trigger, make absolutely sure that’s what you do.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

How Old Should a Kid Be To Hunt?

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 4, 2009.)

Hunting is about more than killing,
so we don’t need to introduce weapons
the first time we take a young person to the woods.
I remember well the opening day of buck season when I was six years old. Dad brought home a 10-point buck. I was ready to begin hunting then, or thought I was.

The question, “How old should a kid be to hunt?” doesn’t have an easy answer. The legal age for buying a license in many states is 12. In some states it’s younger. More and more states have started mentored hunting programs which set no minimum age, but allow a youngster to hunt under close supervision of an adult before he or she reaches the age of eligibility to buy a license.

Mentoring programs are a positive development. I wish we had mentored hunting in Pennsylvania when I first caught the bug. Now we do, and it works this way:

A licensed adult hunter can mentor a young hunter on hunts for antlered deer, spring gobblers, woodchucks, squirrels and coyotes.

The trip to the deer stand, calling location or shooting position is an opportunity for instructing the child. Only one firearm is permitted and the adult carries it. He hands it to the youth only when in a stationary position.

In the case of a turkey hunt, when the gobbler is responding to the caller, the youth takes over the shotgun. The adult keeps him within arm’s reach, coaching as the gobbler approaches.

Mentored hunting will help to cement the bond between parent and child. One of the things that most good dads have going for them is that Junior admires Dad and wants to be like him.

Build on this natural affinity. Make all your trips to the woods interesting, not too long, and explain everything you can. Teach respect for the property owner, the land and the animals it supports.

Hunting is about more than killing, so it’s not necessary to introduce weapons the first time we take a young person to the woods. Lots can be taught before the child is ready to shoot. When he’s ready to begin shooting, do it in a non-hunting situation, and remind frequently of the danger of weapons.

Teach the rules, and “test” the child by asking questions. Ask “Do you remember the rule about where to point your gun?” Also ask the why questions, “Do you know why that’s a rule?” Affirm every correct response, and use wrong answers as a teaching opportunity. Praise him for learning. Correct gently when he shows evidence that he has not learned.

Everyone knows that hunting sometimes involves death, so an introduction to hunting must address issues of life and death. That’s good. I’m convinced that in our modern video-game world kids understand issues of life and death much less than they once did.

My opinion is that video games seem to teach a casualness about death. Maybe that’s why I personally can’t get into video games about hunting. Plenty that is on television also conveys a lack of respect for life. Maybe that’s why I’m not a big fan of crime shows. It seems odd that we have a culture where parents often insulate their children from the concept of real death, yet permit so much gratuitous exposure to digital death.

Some parents want to rush things. Sometimes we want something for our kids that they are not ready for, and we’re doing it for ourselves even more than we’re doing it for them. That can be true of many activities, not just hunting.

There is no age at which every child is ready to hunt, so don’t assume a child of a certain age is ready. When a child expresses an interest in hunting, the parent should evaluate constantly, and bring him along a little at a time.

Don’t overwhelm the youth, and don’t let him take hunting for granted. Intentionally set the stage so that he yearns for hunting, and begins to see it as a privilege and a responsibility, and not just a right.

Maybe I was ready to begin at age six, maybe I wasn’t. One thing is sure – mentored hunting’s answer to the question, “How old should a kid be to hunt?” won’t be the same for every child.