Last Saturday morning I attended the annual gathering of Hoosier Outdoor Writers from across the state in beautiful Brown County State Park. It was also the opening day of the 2016 youth turkey hunting season. 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 wish that I could have been there enjoying success with every one of them.
During the break I would show other writers pictures of smiling children standing over their first longbeard. “Turkeys work perfect for kids,” one writer said. Then I began to think.
Almost every hunter started out with .410’s and 22’s hunting rabbits or squirrels. That was our only choice because there weren’t any turkeys. Now every Indiana county boasts huntable populations and the Hoosier state, like many others, hold special youth only seasons before the regular season opens its doors. Many adults are more interested in hunting turkeys than small game anyway and that’s how children become involved. This year’s regular season began last Wednesday and continues until May 15.
There is a lot of good to be said about spring youth turkey hunting season. The weather and surroundings are usually beautiful with warm sunshine and the emergence of new growth. Ground blinds cover a lot of fidgeting and let you sit next to your young hunter and offer advice while sitting shoulder to shoulder.
But turkey hunting differs from small game hunting in many ways. Miss a squirrel or rabbit and you can find another in short order. Miss a turkey and your season could be over until next year. I know of one boy who missed a turkey and chose never to hunt again. It was a cruel lesson but one most hunters face one time or another.
If you are fortunate in taking a young hunter out this spring, you owe him or her 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 Mossburg 500 Bantams in 20-gauge. Either are 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 need some type of optic sight that is 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.
If you’re sitting in a chair or blind you can’t rest your gun on your knees like you can when sitting on the ground. Shooting sticks are a great accessory to help youngsters hold the gun steady on target as the bird slowly comes into range.
If possible, have your young hunter practice sitting on a stool with shooting sticks before taking to the field. Use low brass field loads for practice so you do not ingrain a flinch. Save the high brass turkey ammo for hunting only. Have them practice shooting a pop can on a stick . Besides being fun the pop 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.
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.
We all know kids have the attention span of a gnat and can only sit so long. Children can nap, play video games and eat in a pop-up blind. You can also place them anywhere, even in the middle of a field.
Even though hunting our state’s premier gamebird is tailor-made for children, there is one downside. Sooner or later young hunters need to learn to sit motionless against the trunk of a tree. This is something squirrel hunting does teach. We do not want our young hunters to think hunting means nothing more than texting or playing video games until it’s time to shoot.