Introducing Youngsters to Turkey Hunting

Preston Hunt collected his first gobbler during last year's special youth turkey hunting season. Photo by author

Each year it never fails. Warmer weather arrives in a mad rush and it seems I’m never quite ready for it. One moment there’s a lone daffodil springing up from the warming earth, and the next, cicadas are calling as the sun reaches the summer solstice.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of our beautiful spring season, even though the weather may prove otherwise. To me, it’s like a new awakening. This time of year provides a rich mix of natural sounds, blooms and outdoor pursuits. Fishing is at its best, song birds return, morel hunting is just around the corner, as is the much awaited wild turkey hunting season.

It was last year during the opening weekend of the special youth turkey hunting season I had to attend an outdoor writer’s convention in southern Indiana. By the time the first presentation ended my phone began erupting with pictures of children who had collected their first birds. Each text brought a smile to my face and the yearning to be out there with them.
During the breaks I would show friends these pictures of smiling children standing over their first longbeard. “Turkeys work perfect for kids,” one writer said. After giving it some thought I realized he was right.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to take a youngster turkey hunting but don’t have a suitable place to hunt. Don’t let that be a deterrent. The Department of Natural Resources offers special youth-only hunts on many DNR properties. This year’s special youth hunt is scheduled for April 22 and 23. Over 20 public properties will be open for these opportunities. Several within an hour’s drive of Kokomo include Winamac and Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Areas, along with Salamonie and Mississinewa Reservoir properties. The complete list can be found on the DNR’s website.

To apply, young hunters must be below the age of 18 on the day of the hunt. Registration begins tomorrow and runs until March 31. Interested hunters or an adult representing them must register in person or by phone during regular office hours for the property they wish to hunt. You can register for only one property.

To insure safety and success, a limit will be placed on the number of youth hunters allowed on each property. If the number of hunters who sign-up exceeds the spots available, a drawing will be held April 3. A youth hunter may be drawn for either or both days, depending on the number of applicants. All applicants will be notified of drawing results by mail.

To register for one of these special hunts you will need the hunter’s name, hunting license number, mailing address, phone number and the parents or guardians name and contact information.

Successful applicants can check-in at any time during the day of the hunt until the end of legal shooting hours for the selected property. There will be no daily “no-show” drawing. Children must be accompanied during the hunt by an adult age 18 or older.

If you too are new to the game but would love to take a youngster, here are a few things to keep in mind. Ground blinds can be a great asset to your hunting arsenal. They cover a lot of fidgeting and let you offer advice while sitting shoulder to shoulder. We all know kids have the attention span of a gnat and can only sit so long. If the action is slow, they can nap, play video games and eat in a pop-up blind.

If you are fortunate in taking a young hunter out this spring, you owe them the greatest chance for success when it comes time to press the trigger. Here are a few things to consider.

When it comes to guns I bet more turkeys have been taken with youth model Remington 870’s and Mossberg 500 Bantams in 20-gauge, but in reality almost any single shot shotgun will work. They are all great choices. But contrary to what most believe, the effective range in full-choke is about 25 yards, which is as far as you want a child to shoot anyway to ensure an ethical kill. Add an extra tight turkey choke and you increase the range by about 10 yards.

All children benefit from some type of optic sight. It’s more precise than peering down a single bead. Red Dot sights fit the bill about the best. Unlike regular scopes, the infinite eye relief on Red Dot sights means there is no chance of the young hunter getting “tattooed” by scope cut and the hunters head can be anywhere on the stock as long as the dot is visible.

Shooting sticks are a great accessory for smaller arms to help hold the gun steady on target as the bird slowly struts into range. Before the big day arrives have them practice shooting a pop can on a stick. Besides being fun, the can closely resembles the size of a turkey’s head and neck region. If the gun is putting 10 holes in the can it will effectively take a turkey at that range. Definitely use low brass field loads for practice so you don’t ingrain a “flinch”. Save the high brass turkey ammo for hunting.

Along with shooting don’t forget to practice calling. Push button or plunger type calls are perfect for children and are so simple to use. Make them feel like they are an integral part of the hunt.

Our beautiful spring season delivers many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Whether it’s bedding bluegills, spawning crappie, fantastic fungi or wild turkey hunting make sure to enjoy them because it will disappear before you know it.

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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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