If I had to pick the perfect critter for introducing kids to the incredible pastime of hunting, it would be the wild turkey. They are interesting, challenging and so many of the activities associated with hunting turkeys fit right into a kid’s idea of a good time, like painting your face, hanging out in a fort (blind), saying silly words and making funny noises. I think it’s safe to say, turkeys are just plain fun!
Kids love to repeat words and phrases they think are silly, and when it comes to turkeys, we can certainly find some words that fit that description. Using a picture of a turkey or a decoy, point out the “caruncles, waddle, snood and beard.” Describe the “gizzard” and what it does. Do some turkey talking – challenge kids to “gobble, cluck, putt, cackle and kee-kee.” They’ll be well-versed in turkey speak in no time.
Sitting still is not something most kids willingly do, so turkey hunting from a blind reduces the chance that movement will spook the birds. A blind provides that fort or tent-like feel kids love. It also allows for whispered chatting, eating snacks, even reading a book or playing with small toys until the time comes for everyone inside to be still and quiet.
Make the hunt all about the young hunter. Include them in decision making. Ask them where the blind should be placed, when to call, which vocalization they want to mimic. If their decisions aren’t the ones you would choose, it’s okay. Go with it. Turkeys, like kids, don’t always do what you think they should.
There’s no set minimum age for taking a child with you on a hunt, and in Nebraska there’s no minimum age for hunting turkeys. But there are important considerations such as being able to handle a firearm/bow, comprehending what is taking place and the all-important concepts of hunting safety. If your new hunting buddy is too young for a shotgun, or bow, that doesn’t mean it can’t be “their” hunt.
Teach them to use a call. Yelping, clucking and putting with a box or slate call is fairly easy. Introduce the call to them in advance of the hunt so they have time to practice. remember, even if their calls aren’t perfect, they’ll be excited to try and a single response from a tom will get their adrenaline pumping. They will want to do more. Give the child jobs to do like carrying the binoculars, setting up decoys and let them know their job is important.
If the youngster is old enough to handle a shotgun or bow on their own, you may want to leave yours at home to make it even more about them. It important to maintain a “no-pressure” attitude. Don’t let the child get caught up in the goal of filling the tag. Your top priority is to make it fun as the priority and something they want to do again.
A general rule, the younger the child, the shorter the attention span – and thus the shorter the hunt. Limit sitting hunts to 45 minutes or an hour the first few times out. If kids are unhappy about not being in the field long enough, that’s a good thing – it keeps them hungry to come back for more!
Many kids don’t hunt simply because no one has asked them to go. A single invitation might be all it takes to foster a member of the next generation of hunters. And when you live in Nebraska, with no minimum age requirement for turkey hunting, an apprentice certificate for only $5 and a youth permit for just $5, what’s your excuse for not asking?
Nebraska Hunter Education Coordinator