MONTHS AGO, I told my 12-year-old son, Josh, that I was comfortable with his ability to shoot our 12-gauge shotgun from a sitting position. It didn’t take him long to complete hunter education, and then it was time to get ready for turkey hunting!
I was excited to take him out. I had a great hunt back in 2005 and knew of some turkeys that often spent time in a central Utah canyon. Josh was a little unsure about the turkey hunt. However, I knew he would absolutely love it — as long as we saw birds, and he didn’t get too frustrated.
Turkeys are peculiar birds. Sometimes, a tom will immediately respond to a call. Other times, they run in the opposite direction. Decoys are similarly unpredictable: sometimes they bring birds in, and sometimes the turkeys are afraid of them. I explained this to Josh and shared a few other tips I had learned over the years.
Before heading into the field, we practiced. Josh worked on using the turkey box call, and we practiced sighting in the shotgun on a silhouette of a turkey. After explaining where to shoot the bird (to avoid damaging the breast meat) and discussing many other safety tips, we were finally ready!
Even though the weather was rainy and snowy, we were both excited that Josh had a three-day headstart over older turkey hunters because he qualified for the youth hunt.
I found him enough camouflage clothing so that he could blend in with the vegetation. I also brought a sturdy camp chair to make the hours of sitting and waiting more tolerable. (Sitting on the ground makes your legs fall asleep and is not very comfortable.) Finally, I brought the box call and some turkey decoys I’d won in a sportsman’s banquet raffle.
To make a long story short, Josh has yet to bag his first turkey. However, he is now completely nuts about turkey hunting. We saw birds every time we went out. I let him know how lucky we have been just to see some birds. Many hunters only see an occasional dropping or track. One day, we saw only one hen from about a mile away. He has learned some good lessons about when to call, when not to call, and how loud and soft to call.
The best lesson Josh learned was about patience. On one trip, we sat for two hours with no sign or sound of a turkey. He pleaded with me to quietly go for a walk up the trail so that he could stretch his legs. I consented, and after about 10 steps we were face to face with about eight birds that were trotting down the trail. He knew that it would be unsafe to take a fleeting shot at the birds as they scurried through the brush (because there wasn’t time to identify a bearded bird accurately and then safely position and aim the shotgun). We didn’t see any birds the rest of the day but have had many discussions about “if we had only waited a few minutes longer!”
The highlight of our hunt was the one time a tom responded to my box call down the trail. That was the first time Josh heard a “gobble.” His eyes lit up every time the big tom responded. We stalked the tom because he wouldn’t come to us. We finally saw him, but unfortunately, he saw us as well.
It was a great turkey season. Josh had fun, learned a lot and is now a turkey hunter for life. He’s also looking forward to his first upland game hunts. He has accompanied me on several pheasant hunts and can’t wait to have the dogs flush his first rooster. The shotgun is still a little too large for him to comfortably swing on flying upland game birds, but it won’t be long before we head out on his first pheasant hunt — probably within the next year or two.