There's no better time to take advantage of the time off we are experiencing than heading to the country with your kids. Turkey season is almost here in the Midwest so I’m getting ready to introduce my youngest daughter to the exciting adventure of hunting long-beards.
The same way I introduced my other three kids to hunting. It started at the base of a tree with each tucked between by legs against my chest while I hid my shoulders against a large tree trunk. Yes, they were young but as soon as they were able to sit quiet and still long enough they earned the opportunity to take part in the spring time ritual of chasing long-beards. With each spaced two years apart it set the stage nicely to go through the steps I feel are important to be successful in the turkey woods.
This is how I introduced my kids to turkey hunting.
If you take any tip away from this list, it should be this one. Turkeys love to roost along creeks, streams and rivers. Take your kids to the woods and listen. Don't call, but get up early before the sun rises and find where they roost. The look on your child's face when they hear the sounds of a gobble are priceless. Not just the first time but many times to follow and still to this day we exchange excited looks when the roosted birds sound off giving away their locations.
2. Roost a bird
Once you consistently find early-morning gobblers, we start watching the field edges to determine where they first appear at daybreak. With the evolution of trail cameras it has become easier to figure out where the birds will be. When reviewing the trail camera photos if you're seeing the hens you'll find the toms. Find where hens are feeding at first light and you're right where the toms are going to be strutting. The trips late in the day are just as valuable to see where the birds are headed for the night. When you can roost a bird, you have a pretty solid idea where to hunt the subsequent mornings.
3. Get your kiddo comfortable shooting a shotgun.
I start them off with a 410 gauge single shot. I like to set ‘em on a bucket, put a clay target on a fence post at 20 yards and go through the sequence we will expect on the hunting morning. Have them shoot the clay to make sure they are on target. When the clay breaks their confidence will boost to improve the success potential when they take the vital shot. On the day of the hunt I have them use a 20 gauge.
4. Use a ground blind.
Blinds these days will set up in seconds with minimal experience needed. The value of a ground blind to hide movement is well worth the purchase price. Unlike deer that need to “get use to” a new blind in their territory I’ve literally popped up a blind before first light in an open field where I knew the toms would fly down into. When the sky started raining down hens and toms I was forced to sit even more still than usual as the hens were craning their necks looking in the windows of the blind. Blinds don’t spook turkeys in my opinion.
4. Plan for Plan B
If the birds are a no show you’ll have to locate the toms. I use shock gobbles to help find toms. There are a few good ways to shock a tom into gobbling, Use an owl hoot or a crow call. Getting a tom to gobble will keep your kid in the game. When learning to use a crow call or owl hoot, plan to practice away from your wife.
6. Don’t over call
This is a valuable lesson to teach your kids that will save them from becoming frustrated in the future. It’s really easy for turkey hunters to get caught up in calling. When you have a responsive tom that gobbles with every call. Practice restraint and minimize your calls. It’s easier said than done, but nothing will rev a tom’s engine like a hen playing hard to get. Let him think his gobbles are being ignored some of the time.
7. Learn to use a mouth call
It's no secret that turkeys rely on their incredible vision. Nothing will spoil a hunt faster than reaching for a call, or using a call that requires movement. Learn to operate a diaphragm call and keep it in your mouth. I like to teach my kids the basic sounds and they like to practice with their own calls. When each was ready they earned the right to participate in calling.
8. Plan for the weather
Calm, sunny days will make for the best hunting. Weather patterns change bird behavior and cold or rainy weather can make a fun hunt go south pretty quickly for the little hunters. We only hope one day they will have the mindset that there’s never a bad day to hunt but until then choose your days with their warmth and comfort as a priority. Keep in mind, cold weather and snow will slow down breeding behavior. Rain will work against a bird's sight, and in my experience rain makes birds seek open fields. Wind will do the opposite, sending the birds to thick wooded areas.
9. Use a Decoy
I like to use decoys to hold the toms attention especially if your hunter tends to make costly movements at key times. Based on your hunting location, make sure you're using the right decoy setup. Where turkeys can see a good distance, use more decoys. Don't be afraid to throw out a tom around your hens in strut zones. In thicker cover, stick to the less-is-more mentality. A seeking Tom in the timber seems to be more in tune with the calls you’re using so if you’re a purring hen and he sees a flock of decoys it will alarm him and send him in the other direction.
10. Move if needed and possible
Be prepared to run and gun if your hunting buddy is able. If the terrain allows you to get ahead of a flock and stay hidden use this opportunity to teach your kiddo how to move swiftly and quietly through the woods to set up on the passing birds. This means dress your hunting buddy as you would dress with tall rubber boots for skirting creek beds and slinging mud if needed.
11. If you strike out in the morning, hunt in the afternoon
The most productive times to hunt are typically first thing in the morning or just before sunset. Definitely hunt these times, but don't miss a chance to get out in the afternoon. As it gets later in the season, hens will be on the nest and toms will be cruising in search of the remaining receptive hens.
12. Finally, It’s all about Making Memories
The most important thing, I can’t stress enough is have fun. As we are losing more and more young hunters to video games and phone screens it’s vital to make every trip as fun as possible to keep them asking for more opportunities. Allow them to invite a friend and teach their buddy how to locate and harvest a turkey. Its memories like these that my kids can vividly recall from their childhood.
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