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Friday, April 08, 2011

Benefits of the Youth Turkey Hunt

by Steve Sorensen (Special to the Warren Times Observer, April 8, 2011.)
Ben Morrison with two mature Pennsylvania and New York gobblers he took on the youth day during the 2010 season. (Photo by Jason Morrison)

If you know a kid who might be
at risk of becoming an indoorsman,
put the youth day on your calendar.
Too many kids are at risk – at risk of becoming indoorsmen.

Video games and cable television can occupy way too much time, leaving no time for kids to rattle around in the woods and splash along the streams. The dangers of modern times – we all know what they are – can incline parents to keep kids connected to the apron strings for too long. And even two-parent households sometimes don’t provide the kind of footloose-in-the-outdoors-upbringing they themselves enjoyed.

We hear lots of warnings about one of the biggest threats kids face these days – involvement in the wrong things. But another threat is indolence – or involvement in nothing. The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) Youth Day, which gives kids under 16 a head start in the spring turkey woods, is an answer for both.

The PGC has also created a mentored turkey hunting program for kids under 12. Spring turkey is the perfect hunt for mentoring kids in the art and science of hunting.

What is mentored turkey hunting?
In 2006, the PGC authorized kids younger than 12 to go spring gobbler hunting with a qualified adult, not just as an observer or a tag-along, but as the shooter. It’s an invaluable experience for all the benefits it provides.

I remember when I was younger than 12 – I ached to go hunting, but had to wait. It was one of the most frustrating things I experienced as a kid. Now, kids don’t have to wait – if they have an interested adult willing to take them.

I know what some are thinking. “Isn’t this dangerous?” No. In fact, by introducing kids properly, under a limited scenario where they accept it as a privilege, it may end up making turkey hunting safer in the coming years.

What’s the limitation? The hunting team of adult and child can have only one gun, and the adult must carry it until they set up to call the turkey. That’s when the kid takes over the shotgun under the direct supervision of the adult.

The adult is responsible for instructing the youngster. He can tell him every move to make and nearly every thought to think, so the kid can focus with single purpose. By having this privilege early, complete with moment-by-moment instruction regardless of whether he takes a shot, the kid is less likely to take the kinds of risks later that may result in an accident – and is more likely to fall in love with hunting.

The perfect youth hunt
The youth spring gobbler hunt has many other benefits, too. One is that spring turkey hunting takes place at a time when the weather is less likely to be nasty than it might be in the fall firearms deer season.

Another plus is that spring gobbler hunts can be brief excursions. You can be home by mid-morning if you want, or noonish – legal shooting hours end at noon. So, the child doesn’t have to sacrifice the entire day if he or his family has other plans.

The youth day comes before the general opener, so another benefit is lack of competition from adults. You’re less likely to be calling to a gobbler that someone else is calling, and you’re more likely to find an uneducated gobbler.

Make sure you have a plan before walking into the woods with a novice hunter. Do some scouting. Find a hunting location that’s easy to get to, and doesn’t involve an all-day hike. Go slowly and take it easy.

Ben Morrison takes two!
Thanks to mentored turkey hunting, Jason Morrison’s son Ben is already a veteran in the turkey woods. At age 10, he shot his first gobbler, a jake. Then at age 11 he took a longbeard. Last year on Pennsylvania’s youth day, the father-son team spooked the first gobbler of the morning, but found another, called it in, and 13-year-old Ben scored. The same day was also New York State’s youth day. It was still early, so they headed north and Ben successfully harvested a second gobbler. Not many experienced hunters have taken two mature gobblers in two states on the same day!

To top it all off, Jason is a taxidermist, and he’s almost finished mounting Ben’s gobblers. Will Ben ever forget that day? Not a chance. But better than that, it was a day of father-son bonding that will pay endless dividends.

A lot can happen
Ben’s experience that day brings up another great benefit of spring gobbler hunting – a lot can happen in a short time. If one gobbler beats you, it doesn’t mean the hunt is over. Keep hunting and you have a good chance of finding another to test your skills on.

Besides the hunt, fascinating things happen in the spring woods that will add to the enjoyment. You’ll see melodic songbirds, with thousands of miles under their wings, returning from their time-shares down south. You’ll see shaggy-coated deer trying to gain weight after a spartan winter diet. You might discover a coyote den, a black bear fresh from hibernation, spring flowers poking their heads through the leaf litter, lovelorn porcupines chasing and growling at one another, maybe even a shed deer antler. The spring woods offer much to see and investigate. It’s a great time to be out.

What to tell parents
What do you tell non-hunting parents of a prospective youth hunter? Tell them the truth – that the kid will be within arm’s reach of you at all times and he won’t even touch the gun until it’s time to set up for the shot. Tell them that he’ll get what most kids don’t – one-on-one, hands on experience and training in safety, ethics, responsibility and enjoyment. Tell them that turkey hunting is about much more than turkey hunting. And tell them you’ll bring him home safely, with an experience he’ll treasure for the rest of his life – even if he decides not to become a hunter.

Read up on the rules for mentored hunting – they’re on page 15 of the PA Hunting & Trapping Digest. He’ll need a permit. Beg or borrow some camouflage clothing for him. Take him to the shooting range. You don’t want his first time pulling the trigger to be at a live target, so give him shooting instructions with an appropriate shotgun, and use a paper target to assess his ability to shoot.

If you know a kid who might be at risk of becoming an indoorsman, put the youth day on your calendar – April 23 this year – and plan a spring gobbler hunt. And if his (or her) parents don’t hunt, watch the kid come home and excitedly begin pushing his non-hunting, neutral parents to the side of the good guys.


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