“He was dead set on shooting that turkey,” said Cory Loeffler from Thief River Falls. “What a blast!”
The person he was referring to was 3-year-old Isaak Johnson from East Grand Forks. The young hunter had recently shot his first turkey, just shy of his 4th birthday.
“My cousin had contacted me and asked about the laws regarding the youth turkey hunt,” Loeffler said about a conversation he had back in March. “I told her that there was no minimum age, the kid needs to shoot the gun and they need to be accompanied by an adult.”
Isaak’s mother, Britteny Johnson told him that Isaak was “very serious” about shooting a turkey and that with some practice, he’ll be ready by the time the season comes. The young soon-to-be hunter watched turkey hunts on tv, shot his nerf gun at targets around the house and even spent time pulling the trigger on a real gun.
“With assistance from his Grandpa Pete, Isaak shot targets with smaller caliber guns leading up to the big 20-gauge that he’d be using on his turkey hunt,” Loeffler said.
With a heavy dose of practice and mentorship from family and friends, Isaak was ready for the hunt and while sitting on the lap of his father, Tom, hidden in a ground blind, he made the shot on a big tom at 4 yards.
Judging by the smile on the youngster’s face, I’d say this kid will be spending more time in a blind than he will on the couch as he grows up.
For years, state game managers, gun safety instructors, and fathers everywhere have been scratching their heads as they search for an answer to reverse the decline in hunter participation. The new turkey regulations, along with programs like the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and the Clay Target Leagues, seem to be making a difference.
In 2014, regulations in Minnesota changed to allow more youth hunting opportunities during the turkey season.
“There’s a reduced price license,” said Mike Kurre, the mentoring coordinator at the Minnesota DNR. “And they can hunt all zones and all time periods until they harvest a bird.” Previously, kids would have to pick a short season to hunt in, same as the adults.
“Before (the regulations changed) with school obligations, they may only have one or two days to hunt,” said Jamie Dietman, a guide from Brainerd, MN. “Now they’re able to hunt during the whole season as time allows.”
The time of year makes this an easy choice for involving kids.
“One thing that turkey hunting can provide that other hunts can’t is the warm weather,” Loeffler said. “It takes the rugged elements out of the hunt.”
Safety is the number one rule in youth hunts and no matter what age the kid is, make sure that they are well-rehearsed in gun safety before stepping into the field. Also, make sure you are well-read in the regulations regarding youth hunts.
The cost for a license is only $1 for youth under the age of 13 and $6 for those aged 13-17.
If you’d like to introduce a kid to turkey hunting, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help.
USE A GROUND BLIND
“Definitely have a ground blind,” Dietman said. “In a ground blind they can move around. After about an hour most kids can get a little fidgety.”
“Blinds help eliminate the moving factor, especially when acquiring your target,” Tyler Scott said. Scott recently held another successful mentored turkey hunt near Pelican Rapids with the Heart O’ Lakes Whitetails.
“Keep the hunt short, use a blind to mask movement and let them scratch on the call,” said Kurre.
GET THEM INVOLVED
Like Kurre suggested, let them try the call, look through binoculars and be a part of the pre-hunt strategy.
Get lots of target practice in, but don’t start out right away banging away with the big guns. Work your way up like Isaak did with calibers and then you can even take it to the next level with shot size.
“Target practice with light traps loads instead of magnum turkey loads,” Scott said. “Helps to avoid the anxiety of recoil.”
Make sure they’re accustomed to all aspects of the firearm they’ll be using in the field. Basics like how to use the safety, how to aim, what it will feel like to pull the trigger to proper ways to carry, handle and case the weapon as well.
“Hearing protection is a must,” Loeffler said. Using technology that amplifies sounds might make the experience more interactive.
MAKE IT FUN
The most important aspect of bringing kids out for any type of activity is to make sure that they have fun. It’s not always about bagging a bird, but make it an experience they’ll want to do again.
“Bring snacks,” Loeffler, from the DRC Call Company, said. “Take them scouting and hopefully watch the birds put on a show from a distance. Then get to that spot early the next day. Bring comfortable chairs and snacks.”
If the turkeys don’t cooperate, many times there will be other wildlife to watch. Squirrels, rabbits, and even deer might help enhance to experience. But if all the distractions disappear, it might be time to pull the plug.
“Don’t make them sit too long,” Loeffler added. “When they’re bored, they’re bored. You should wrap it up. If you drag it on, it could push them away from the sport.”
Like any other activity your child engages in, they’ll find their own way to enjoy it. They will sponge the details from you, so go about your business the right way. Teach proper safety procedures, offer hunter etiquette lessons and preach conservation — even if it means brushing up with a refresher course for yourself. You are, after all, passing down an important tradition to the next generation. Hopefully that generation will pass down what they’ve learned to the generation after. It’s events and education that is learned today that lays a foundation for the outdoors of tomorrow.
“Your goals shouldn’t revolve around a punched tag,” Loeffler said. “The whole goal is to create a spark or some passion. A successful hunt is measured by the kids eagerness to get back out there again.”
For more regulations and license requirements, visit the Minnesota DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us