Preparing a Youth Hunter for a First Time Turkey Hunt
Preparing a youth hunter for their first turkey hunt can be exciting and daunting at the same time. For a first time experience that will bring the highest shot opportunity, plan the youth’s first turkey hunt in an area during a time with the greatest chance for success. In many areas, the highest percentage of kills are between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. These results are typically due to hens going to set on the nest during those hours leaving lovesick toms on the hunt for lone hens. Try to find a location to hunt with a good turkey population.
Youth Hunting Safety
Safety is the most important factor any time a firearm is being handled. It is imperative that you not only teach the safety rules to the youth hunter prior to the hunt, but it is also critical to keep reminding them at any given opportunity; repetition is key to instilling firearm safety. If the youth is under ten years old, it may be a good idea for the adult to carry the gun in and out of the field. However, the youth still needs to have a clear understanding as to the safety rules of handling a firearm.
Preparing Youth Hunters for the Shot
Once the youth is well versed on firearm safety, it is time to work on marksmanship. Before the youth ever takes that first shot at a turkey target, a mentor needs to take the time to explain turkey anatomy and the perfect aiming point for a swift ethical kill. It is important that the youth has the opportunity to experience some range time with the weapon they will be hunting with. For safety reasons and greatest results, the equipment should properly fit the youth hunter. It is critical that the youth is comfortable with whatever weapon they will use on the hunt.
A youth model 20 gauge semi-automatic shotgun would be the perfect combination for smaller framed youth hunters; whereas a 12 gauge can be handled easily by larger framed youth hunters. Shorter barreled shotguns will weigh less but have been known for a little more recoil. The shotgun should have a highly visible sight system such as a bright bead system or a red dot scope. Using light loads on the range will result in the lowest recoil and will allow the youth to become comfortable with shooting while building marksmanship. For accuracy and correct sight picture, use life-size, realistic targets such as Primos Shotgun Patterning Turkey Targets.
If they are a young bow hunter by chance, make sure you outfit them and prepare them with the right gear. The Cruzer G2 is the perfect starting bow for a youth hunter. From 5 – 70 lbs, and 12- 30-inch draw, the bow is versatile to supply a tool for any age.
Youth hunters shooting crossbows and compound bows is on the rise and is quickly becoming a “one-size-fits-all” solution for families. Again, it is important that the youth hunter knows the anatomy of a turkey, knows where to place the shot, and is comfortable with shooting the crossbow or bow. This again goes back to teaching them where to shoot in relation to the position and body of a turkey. A real-sized 3D turkey target helps them get dialed in quick, ensuring that they are comfortable with the shot ahead of time.
What to Plan for and Expect
Parents often struggle with deciding what age is acceptable to introduce turkey hunting to youth hunters. Every child is going to be different, but the most important factor is that the youth is mentally and physically ready. Young kids can be restless because their attention span is much shorter than that of an adult. Occupy their mind with as much as possible but not at the sake of the hunt. Keeping the hunts short will be advantageous in efforts of ensuring that the youth has a positive experience. With younger children, hunting in a blind is the best solution for maximum coverage of any movement. The Primos Double Bull Blind has ample room in it for two people and offers a great range of view with maximum window adjustability for shorter shooters.
It is not a good idea to introduce turkey hunting on a day when harsh conditions are in the forecast but often this is something mentors will have no control over. Harsh conditions require adequate clothes and boots and when in doubt take extra layers or rainwear. Comfort is critical to the enjoyment of the hunt. Try to use a route to your hunting spot that is easily accessible and if that is not possible, take extra efforts in assisting the youth on the walk by carrying the gear and providing a low light source.
Not all hunts have to start before sunrise. Younger youth hunters may be fearful of walking in the woods before daylight. It is also easy to get disoriented and harder to get set up properly with minimal movement. The time before daylight added to the time spent in the field waiting for fly-down light will make for a long hunt. If at all possible leave a little later, after sunrise, for those areas that you have scouted and know that the birds will take longer traveling to.
If you can involve the youth hunter in the hunt by allowing them to set up decoys or strike a call a few times, this will not only be memorable for the youth hunter; it will also give them a sense of pride that they have helped in the hunt. The knowledge of hunting must be learned through experience, and this is the most effective way of passing on knowledge to the next generation.
Hunting Gear and Items to Bring
As mentioned, practicing with a lighter magnum load is a good way to improve a youth hunter’s marksmanship, but once in the field, a heavier, denser ammunition will need to be used. On the hunt, 20 gauge 2 ¾” magnum ammunition will be plenty of shot for up to a 25-yard shot. For older, larger framed youth, a 3” 1-1/4 ounce turkey load will give the shooter up to a 30-yard shot max to ensure a clean kill. Using a turkey choke such as the Jelly Head Maximum or Tight Wad will ensure a denser pattern keeping most of the shot within the targeted area. Briefly reminding the youth hunter where to place the shot on the turkey is never a bad idea.
A shooting stick that sticks into the ground, one that attaches to the shotgun, or a tripod such as the Primos Trigger Stick Short Tripod is recommended to steady the shot and can also assist a youth hunter in holding all of the weight of the shotgun up when a gobbler is taking its time coming into the setup.
Decoys are not only helpful in catching the interest of a gobbler and enticing it to travel into the decoy setup, but they can also assist in preoccupying the Tom so that slight movements by the youth hunter can go unnoticed. There are numerous decoys available but it is always good to have at least one hen and one Jake or Tom decoy so you can entice a Tom to your setup. There is a myriad of ways to set up decoys for and effective set. However, the most important factor is to have the decoys close enough to the youth hunter that if the Tom hangs up just before reaching the decoys, it will still be within a comfortable shooting distance.
Make sure that the youth hunter has a pair of quality binoculars. Binoculars are not only good for passing the time, but they will also come in handy for viewing birds and bird activity from a distance.
Passive voice ear protection is important and should be worn by the youth hunter. Passive voice allows the youth hunter to hear your instructions without them removing the protection from their ears. There are a variety of styles on the market, from inner-ear to over-the-ear protection, a youth specific model will ensure that the ear protection fits properly affording the most protection available from the product and doesn’t interfere with the shotgun stock.
Full and complete camo is crucial and must include a face mask and gloves for the maximum amount of concealment. Again, it is important to buy youth specific apparel for proper fit and best performance. A quality pair of boots that fit properly is vital to the comfort of the youth hunter. Waterproof boots are always a good idea turkey hunting because you never know when you will need to use creek lines, cross through ditches, or traverse across a muddy AG field to cut the distance on a gobbling tom. Snake boots or gaiters may be necessary in some areas such at the southern states. A turkey vest is not necessarily needed, but it is a good place for the youth hunter to keep any items they will take on the hunt and often offer a cushion for those times it is necessary to sit on the ground.
As mentioned, utilizing a blind not only gives the maximum amount of concealment, it also offers the mentor the freedom of allowing younger or more active youths the opportunity to entertain themselves with a game, book, or to snack on food to occupy their time. When selecting a blind chair for the youth hunter, make sure it is adjustable to see over the blind windows, and the youth hunter is still able to touch the ground to sturdy or brace themselves for the shot.
It is important for hunters to pass on the hunting heritage and conservation efforts to our youth; they are the future of hunting. As mentors, we should always strive to teach safety and ethics to the youth interested in hunting. Taking a youth on their first hunt is not only exciting for the youth, but it is also something that the mentor will cherish from the experience if the hunt is laid out properly and planned for. Above all things, never hunt a youth longer than they want to be out in the woods or if they are uncomfortable. If the youth is ready to end the hunt, always remember, it is their hunt; end it on a good note and encourage them to return to the woods.