Early wild turkey season in the Midwest can be a gamble. A cold, wet spring prior to opening day can slow the gobblers from searching out hens. Decoys and calls are used to bring in dominate toms looking for love. Without their hopes of amour, they are hard to hunt.
April 15, 2019, started out chilly with clear skies. Marvin Lynch and I slipped into a winter wheat field, close to where two big gobblers were roosted. There were several young gobblers in the area too and we felt immediate concern by not hearing gobbling off the roost – never a good feeling.
The morning progressed with us calling with no responses. About mid-morning a higher pitched diaphragm call brought on a solitary gobble. I tried the same call again to no response.
We decided to move from the field to an adjoining timber strip where the tom had gobbled. I started calling just inside the timbered flat – nothing. We moved after 30 minutes and this time my calls pulled in two longbeards, sneaking in for a closer look. The lead gobbler was between three to four years old and massive, a trophy bird with a huge beard.
They soon turned back the other direction, clearly unsure what to do. That hen sounded good, but they were still in their small bachelor group and just starting to think about breeding. I called a couple more times and they sneaked back down through the creek bottom.
They took the same path and Lynch was face to face with a huge gobbler at about 20 yards. Problem was, a stand of thin brush separated hunter and his prey. His finger touched the trigger and then slipped off. The gobblers turned back into the thick brush and were gone. Two steps the other direction and the big boy would have been harvested.
“That was close,” Lynch said with a sick smile. “I just couldn’t pull the trigger with that brush between us and take a chance on wounding the gobbler. I was tempted, but had to let the shot wait for another day.”
Lynch not shooting was one of the most impressive hunting acts I ever witnessed. He showed the true meaning of hunter’s ethics, exactly what our children should be taught.
I am often approached at trade shows or when I speak to groups about how to introduce a child to hunting. I first recommend that every child takes hunter’s education classes. Then start with rules I have collected over the years for introducing kids to hunting:
When should you start your child hunting? Now! Safety first by enrolling your child in a Hunter Education Class. Hunting teaches responsibility. Degrees of maturity are gained by learning and practicing safety.
Early hunting experiences: How you approach early trips is important. Kids can’t be generalized, all are different. This, too, means they are likely different from you. Did you stay outdoors in chilling temperatures hunting as a youth? Did you hunt for hours? Did you walk miles?
What you did may not work for your child or it may. Observe their behavior and know when to end the hunt, no matter how productive it may be. This is a great opportunity to teach dressing in layers for extreme outdoor temperatures.
A young hunter’s mindset: Hunting should never be a competitive sport or about who shot the most game. Experienced hunters prefer to hunt with someone that takes their time and shoots. Hunters have been killed or wounded by fast shooters.
Deer hunting has become about taking the biggest buck in the woods. I have heard hunters almost apologize for shooting a doe because it did not have a big rack. Harvesting a doe provides healthy meat for the family. Apologizing for taking any fine animal is wrong.
Many of us silently thank the bird or animal for becoming part of our soul – an old Native American belief. You would be surprised how many hunters do something similar to this private ritual, including thanking God.
Equipment: Children shooting a firearm too large for their small body may result in a wounded animal – the biggest nightmare of hunting besides accidentally shooting another human. A gun that kicks too hard for a young child’s shoulder makes them flinch or even close their eyes while squeezing the trigger. Bruised shoulders are common when children are overmatched by their firearm. The best accuracy results from hours of practice with a gun that matches the child.
Girls hunting: Many take their boys hunting and leave the girls at home. Let your girls take Hunter’s Safety and decide if they want to hunt. Hunting is not for everyone, but a lot of girls and women are talented hunters and great shots. The experience often builds self-confidence.
Conservation tool: Seasons are set to control wildlife numbers. Deer are a good example. Ending deer season would over populate herds. Disease or starvation would eventually kill huge numbers. Some hunting seasons may be closed to protect a species from numbers going lower or even to extinction.
Explain harvesting wildlife: Youth often ask, “Why would anyone want to harvest a beautiful bird or animal?”
You can’t white-wash this, harvesting is part of hunting. This is why we encourage beginning hunters to only shoot a bird or animal they plan to eat and then create meals to offer a better sense of purpose about the harvest. Hunters should discuss this with youth before a hunt, allowing time to think it through before entering the field or marsh.
Wounded animals or birds: Teach your child to hunt for an animal they wounded with a poor shot. Every hunter should practice the all-important one-shot kill to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Hunting guarantees: Future hunting guarantees do not exist, there are politicians and organizations that would eliminate our hunts. Brazilian hunters woke up one morning to find hunting made illegal by law. Hunting in America is a privilege, not a right, meaning an individual can lose their hunting license. Every generation must insure this privilege is always protected.
What should hunting be: Good dogs working, teal buzzing an early-morning marsh, walking into a timber enhanced in fall colors, a tom turkey gobbling from the roost in answer to a barred owl’s hoots, spider webs covered by frost and illuminated by early morning sunlight, a deer walking across an open field, the scent of a spring woods and a thousand other beautiful moments afield – exactly what hunting should be.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.