The 2014 Youth Spring Turkey Hunt occurred during the weekend of April 12 and 13. This hunt is only open for youths age 10 to 15 hunting with a mentor, designed to help them learn how to hunt turkeys in a weekend set aside with less pressure and competition compared to the regular hunting season. Turkey hunting is a great sport to introduce someone to hunting. The birds communicate vocally, making for a very interactive experience even if you don’t see them. Scouting and reading sign is fun and rewarding as well. Unlike most other wildlife species I know of, you can tell the difference between male and female tracks, feathers, even droppings. Hunting occurs in the spring, which is usually a very nice time of year to be in the woods, too.
I learned how to hunt turkeys very late in my hunting tenure. In fact, it wasn’t until after I was out of college and starting my part-time natural resource career that a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks colleague gave in and took me out to help me harvest my first bird. I was excited that afternoon, but he seemed almost more excited than I was. Years later, I have mentored a number of first time turkey hunters, including a colleague with the Wisconsin DNR a couple of years ago. Imagine my surprise when she told the students in the next hunting class that she thought I was probably more excited when she harvested her bird than she was.
I have also helped conduct special Learn to Hunt Wild Turkey events through the years for first time turkey hunters. We provide training on turkey biology, scouting methods, hunting techniques, safety and more. We also line up hunters with seasoned mentors who take them out and show them how to put their training to use and develop the skills necessary to become turkey hunters themselves. This year, for the first time in years, I decided not to mentor a novice hunter, because I faced a bigger challenge. My oldest son just turned 10, and I knew I would be mentoring him. I signed him up for the Learn to Hunt Wild Turkeys event in Antigo, hoping the conditions and turkeys would cooperate to get Jay’s hunting career started with a bang.
Jay has always been interested in coming along hunting. His first trip afield with me at the age of 5 was on a youth waterfowl hunting outing while I was mentoring my nephew. He has accompanied me at least once for each turkey and deer season since. It has not escaped his notice that, in all that time, I have never shot anything while he was along. I am willing to take my share of the blame; I am not the ultimate hunter. However, hunting takes on a whole different complexion with a restless, hungry, chatty six year old in the blind. Still, I have been bringing him at his request for five years to give him the time to develop these skills. I decided I couldn’t expect a 10 year old to suddenly come along on a walk in the dark, sit on a chair in a blind motionless and quiet for hours. He has learned across many trips to do these things, and more, and is well on his way to becoming a skilled hunter.
Unfortunately, although we had three birds gobbling for us both mornings, we were unable to convince any of them to approach us. I know Jay was disappointed, but I keep encouraging him. After all, I am teaching him to hunt. Killing is something different; it is part of hunting, but it isn’t everything. If he learns to read and interpret sign, predict the behavior of the game, and woodsmanship, I have done my job. I succeed if he learns his role as the hunter and how he fits in the natural world.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call 715-365-8999.