By Dr. Brooks Tiller
Gobbles boom like thunder, budding blooms fill the air with a fresh aroma and green sprouts break through the forest floor as springtime gives newness to the woods. Turkey season is an invigorating breath of fresh air. It also provides a great opportunity to get kids involved in the outdoors.
To help you get youngsters interested in hunting and the outdoors, we offer the following advice from a trio of parents who’ve gotten their young guns off to a great start.
KEEP IT FUN
In 2019, I took my son, Thor, (age 3 at the time) on his first hunt. My main goal was for him to have fun. I watched the weather for a nice warm afternoon and planned an excursion to the farm. He helped me pack some snacks, toys and a coloring book. He had his own binoculars and brought along his bow.
We set up in a blind overlooking a green field just a few hundred yards away from the truck. As we sat in the blind, we put on face paint and enjoyed a snack. But after less than 10 minutes in the blind, he was ready to explore. He pulled out his markers and a piece of paper and drew a map before we took off on an adventure. I allowed him to lead me through the woods, across creeks and around fields. Along the way, we stopped to look through the binoculars at birds, tested our balance along fallen trees, threw rocks, and drew our path on the map as we walked. As we explored, we came across a few good spots to hang a stand next year.
Sam Phipps, USA’s strategic accounts manager and a member of United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, is taking a similar approach in introducing his two sons to the outdoors.
“If you force them to sit out there uncomfortably all day long, it may actually drive them away from hunting,” Phipps said. “But make it fun, and they will want to get up and go again.”
Phipps suggests packing with the kids in mind. Bring a few toys, books and snacks. Make it comfortable by choosing a nice day and comfortable seats in a blind, so they can move around. Even lay a sleeping bag out and let them take a nap if they want. No matter what, remember why you love it and why you want to pass it on.
“The main thing is to go out there and make memories. Filling your tag is a bonus,” Phipps added.
SHARE THE ADVENTURE
Dan Johnson, USA’s public relations manager, former United Auto Workers Local 879 member and a current member of the Machinists union, said that when his sons and daughter were younger, he encouraged them to help organize outdoor adventures.
“At first, I would plan everything, but as they got older, we figured it out together,” he said. “Eventually, I turned over the planning to them. They would gather their gear and choose destinations for us to hunt, fish and explore.”
Inviting kids to be more involved teaches them responsibility and allows them ownership in the adventure; they graduate from tagging along to being a critical part of the hunt. While immediate “success” rates in terms of game and fish taken may decline, the memories created and long-term benefits far outweigh any such shortfalls.
“The more the kids got involved and took a leading role, the more they anticipated each new excursion,” Johnson continued. “I’m extremely thankful for the fun we had and how it helped foster a lifelong love of the outdoors. And as a bonus, even though they’re grown now, all three are still happy to take time from their busy lives and union careers to join me on hunts, fishing trips and other getaways.”
Turkey hunting provides a unique setting to teach our kids hunting ethics and safety. More than sitting still in the cold, we call and listen for an answer. Then we run through the woods to get in front of a gobbler. All the movement is exciting, but it brings an extra element of danger, so it’s important to both teach and demonstrate gun control and safety to ensure many years of fun in the woods.
Reinforce that we must always identify our target, especially when in pursuit of prey and doing our best to sound like a turkey. Never shoot until we have a clear and ethical shot. This ensures we make a good clean kill shot and prevents any mishap from another hunter being on the other side of a turkey fan. While flattering that our calling sounds that good, we want to make sure we are only pulling the trigger at the real deal.
One of the draws to turkey hunting is blending in with the surroundings and getting the birds to come in as close as possible. We want to be so well camouflaged that the turkey doesn’t know we are there until it’s too late, but that also means other hunters may not see us either. While calling and getting the gobbler within range, we need to teach new hunters to be aware of any other hunters in the area—even on private land.
Sadly, some people chase birds no matter what boundaries or laws they must cross. To decrease the risk of running upon a careless hunter, teach youth not to sneak through the woods behind a full turkey fan. It’s also critical to teach young hunters how to position decoys. Rather than positioning yourself right behind decoys, set them off to the side to improve safety by keeping you out of the line of fire if someone mistakes your decoy for the real thing. That will also increase your success rate by keeping the turkey’s attention and providing you with a better shot as it walks by instead of directly at you.
Gun Safety Tips to Teach Youth
● Do not load the gun until you are set up and waiting on a turkey.
● Unload the gun before scurrying through the woods.
● Always know where your muzzle is pointing.
● Do not shoot until you can clearly see the whole bird.
● Be cautious with calling and aware of other hunters when setting up near a decoy.
DO THE RIGHT THINGS THE RIGHT WAY
Youth look to us for hunting tactics and calling techniques, but they also watch how we conduct ourselves. They pick up on our ethics in the woods even more than any hunting wisdom we impart, so it’s critical that we set good examples.
Bringing snacks is important when introducing kids to hunting, and it provides another opportunity to teach respect for the land. After unwrapping a snack or finishing a drink, teach kids to put the wrapper or bottle into the pack instead of littering the forest floor. If you happen upon someone else’s trash, pick it up and pack it out. Treating the land with reverence and leaving it better than we found it is the best way to make it better for those who come after us.
One of the biggest challenges with new hunters is walking quietly. Make it a game and encourage kids to “be a ninja.” Sticking to the trails and stepping intentionally while looking out for sticks and dry leaves will improve our stealth. This not only improves your chances of seeing wildlife but is less disturbing to the land, wildlife and other hunters.
The way we treat the land and wildlife is one of the greatest lessons we can pass on. Treating both with reverence and gratitude will encourage the next generation to take care of them, and it will demonstrate that it is about the hunt, not the kill. Our ethics and conduct will leave a lasting impression on young hunters and a legacy that can outlive us.