Column: Preparation is key for youth hunting seasons

Photo Provided by Brandon Butler
Youth turkey hunting requires a lot of practice and preparation before actually heading out for the hunt. Youth turkey hunting season in Indiana will be held on April 21 and 22.

By Brandon Butler

After three years in a row of my youth turkey hunting partner taking a bird, last year ended in a miss. I blame myself. My partner was not as prepared for his first hunt as he should have been. I won’t make that mistake again.

Youth turkey season is my favorite weekend of the year. My oldest daughter, who is 12, has developed a love for turkey hunting. Youth turkey season is a special time we share together in the woods. Watching her develop as a hunter over the last few seasons has been the most rewarding experience of my hunting life and watching her work a slate call is mesmerizing. Almost as amazing has been the privilege I’ve had of serving as a mentor to three young men in recent years — two successfully took their first turkey.

Introducing a youth to hunting has to be about so much more than just harvesting an animal. We must invest the time to educate these young hunters on a number of issues. Firearms and archery safety are paramount lessons. Learning to become proficient with a firearm is not something that happens in one practice session.

Any youth hunter heading out for the first time should have had ample opportunity to pull the trigger. This may not change the impact of the adrenaline rush they’re going to experience, but the repetition of shooting at a target may help them through those nerves. Watching kids overcome their fear of firearms, while learning to respect the responsibility of firearms operation under proper supervision is rewarding. After the first shot, when they realize it doesn’t really hurt and a smile stretches across their faces, the kids are ready to shoot some more.

We must also instruct the youth hunters in calling, judging distance and hunting ethics. A lot of the fun of turkey hunting is the vocalizations made with calls. Be sure to let your youth hunter work a call. Box calls are pretty easy to get the hang of. Also, work with them to judge distance. Before the season, have the youth walk around with a range finder. Make them guess the distance of a tree then range it for the actual yardage. With practice, they’ll become better at mentally calculating distance.

Nothing is more important than teaching youth hunters proper ethics. We must teach them to follow all the rules, and even sometimes, to make a decision to act on the best interest of wildlife even if something is legal, but not quite right. Emphasizing ethics should be paramount in every mentoring opportunity.

Last year, my partner fired a shotgun for the first time the night before the hunt. His father was with us. We went over safety in depth and practiced shooting. He was doing real well on the target, but the next morning, when a big old gobbler approached to 25 yard, he was shaking like a leaf and whiffed on the shot. I don’t know if more practice could have helped with the turkey fever, but it may have. From now on, I’ll try my best to work with any youth, or new hunter for that matter, for weeks before the hunt. Time is an issue, but practice is too important to pass up.

While preparing for the hunt, we spent a lot of time talking about turkey hunting. This included talking about calling and turkey behavior. I emphasized the importance of sitting super still because turkeys have incredible eyesight, but also explained the benefit of a blind like the one we’d be hunting from for the benefit of concealment.

This year, Indiana’s special youth wild turkey hunting season is April 21-22. To participate in the youth season, hunters must be age 17 or younger and the youth must be accompanied by an adult who is at least 18 years of age. Each youth hunter can take a bearded or male wild turkey. Jakes are legal. This bird does count as the youth’s one turkey limit for the season. The youth hunter may use any legal shotgun, bow and arrow, or crossbow. Hunting hours run from the half hour before sunrise to sunset.

See you down the trail…

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