Taking your youngster turkey hunting can not only provide you both with wonderful memories, but can instill within the child a lifelong passion for a sport that you can enjoy together for years to come. Realistic expectations for your first experience are key to making both a reality. Your frame of mind will determine if your child enjoys his or her first turkey-hunt, but whether or not the child wants to continue pursuing the sport.
Rich Miller, co-host of “The Hit List TV” Online Hunting Show, said the best advice he can give to someone taking a child turkey hunting for the first time is to keep your hunt fun, and keep it short.
“You also should expect failure, as far as taking a bird is concerned,” Miller said. “Your focus should be on your child’s happiness and not on killing a bird. That will come later.”
Miller said to expect young children to be noisy and restless. They’re going to want to explore, talk and play. Let them. Don’t make them sit motionless and quietly for too long. Keep hunts short and active. The long, quiet hunts can come later, when they’re ready.
In addition to fun, safety is a top priority. Hunting with someone who is inexperienced increases the odds of an accident occurring. Before the hunt, go over the safety rules with your child, and continue to remind him or her of the rules throughout the hunt. Don’t just assume your child remembers or understands it all.
“If your child is going to be the one shooting the turkey, make sure he or she is comfortable with the gun,” Miller said. “You don’t want your child to be afraid to shoot when the time comes. Spend a lot of time before the hunt practicing with the gun he or she will be using. Set the child up exactly as he or she will be hunting. If the child will be hunting from a blind with shooting sticks, then have him or her practice shooting from that same blind with those same shooting sticks. The more consistency you can provide, the better. Of course, hearing protection is a must, not only because it protects a child’s delicate ears, but because the gun’s loud boom can be frightening for a child.”
Make sure your child shoots at a turkey only when he or she is ready. Don’t push the shot. Your child will let you know when he or she is ready to take a bird. Having confidence in the gun will help in the process.
Miller suggests starting young children off with a .410 or 20-gauge.
“My son killed his first turkey when he was just 4-years-old with a .410 single-shot, which also happened to be my first gun,” he said. “With these smaller guns, you want to limit the range to within 20 yards. With a limited range, I suggest using 6 shot because they have more shot than 5s and 4s. Once I moved my son up to a nicer 20-gauge, and he felt more comfortable with shooting, we upped his range out to 25 to 40 yards.”
In addition to selecting the correct gun for your child, make sure he or she is outfitted in appropriate clothing and that you pack adequate gear, food and drinks. Nothing makes a kid grumpier than being uncomfortable and hungry or thirsty, so be prepared. Bring extra clothing in case temperatures drop or it begins raining. Food and drinks break up the monotony, so offer your child both throughout the hunt.
Another way to help ensure your child has a good time is to let him or her actively participate in planning the hunt. Let the child pack the backpack full of snacks. Show him or her the map and let the child help you select the route to your hunting local. The more involved your kid feels in the process, the more he or she will appreciate and enjoy the experience.
Another way to keep a child actively participating in the hunt is to let him or her call the turkeys. Sure, you don’t want an inexperienced caller calling when turkeys are hot and responding, but during a lull in the hunt, hand your child the call and let him or her give it a try. Use the opportunity to show your child correct calling technique and form.
With the right preparation and attitude, you can make your child’s first turkey hunts some of the most exciting experiences of his or her young life. As you know, the first few hunts can determine whether or not your child will become a lifelong hunter, so do what you can to make that possibility a reality.