"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." - Bruce Lee
I don't have any problem admitting I have made a lot of mistakes. My faults and vices are legion (that means I have a lot of them), and for some reason I don't have any problem confessing it to you. Maybe it is because I figure all of my shortcomings are so obvious to everyone, it is just better I go ahead and come clean about it. I don't know.
The mistakes I am talking about have spilled onto all parts of my life, including turkey hunting. If you have been reading these pages and paying any attention, you may have picked up on the fact that turkey hunting has been a part of my life for the last 40 or so years. (Not really sure if that is good or bad.)
While I am in the confessional here, I want to fully admit that when I started my son turkey hunting, I did almost everything wrong. This was a few years ago, and it is probably true I hunted turkeys with a fervor akin to a crazed weasel. Getting out of bed while the chickens were still snoring, getting in the woods in the dark, taking long, strenuous hikes and then spending lots of time sitting at the base of a tree moving nothing but your eyeballs.
Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn't it? Yeah, I know. He didn't think so either.
So maybe to help some of you who will be taking young hunters to the turkey woods this spring, and maybe to atone for some of my past sins, I have put together some tips for starting kids on turkey hunting. If you decide not to follow this advice, you do so at your own peril.
Believe me, I wish someone would have told me some of this back then (if I would have listened).
Rule No. 1: It's got to be fun.
Here is a news flash for you: Kids may not see everything the way you do.
If you are a rabid turkey hunter, you are going to have to learn to chill a little. The young hunter you are guiding may not have the desire to become the super ninja turkey hunter that you are, or at least not yet. Relax, take it easy and think about how to make this an experience the young hunter will want to repeat. Is it really necessary to jog up the next ridge just so you can listen on the other side? If the turkeys are shut down for a while and are not saying anything, maybe you just want to look for morel mushrooms and deer antlers sheds or take a nap! Ask the young man or lady what they would like to do.
This is supposed to be fun, remember? (You do remember when hunting was fun, don't you?)
Rule No. 2: Let them be part of the hunt.
Kids (and all beginner hunters) want to be part of and participate in the hunt. Too often, many of us know-it-all hunters want to do everything for the beginner. Instead, teach them to call, give them a box or slate call and let them be a part of the calling process. It's not hard to learn a simple yelp on a friction call. If you let them call to a gobbling turkey and he answers, they will be thrilled.
Now I know what you turkey professors out there are thinking: You only trust your wonderful calling to bring in a gobbler. Sorry to burst your bubble, but turkeys often sound pretty lousy themselves. A simple yelp from a kid on a slate call may bring him strutting right down the gun barrel. The new hunter would rather do some of it on their own at the risk of making mistakes than have you do it all for them.
Rule No. 3: They don't have to suffer.
This is not about being tough. You are not as tough as a wild turkey on your best day, so we don't have to prove anything here. Plan a little ahead of time and bring some things so the young hunter will be comfortable in the woods. Let them bring a small day pack or stow these things in their turkey vest if they have one. Cookies, crackers or whatever they like for a snack is absolutely necessary. You get hungry, too, don't you? An extra pair of gloves or another jacket if it gets cool might be good as well.
Now on this next item, I admit I have mixed feelings. You will have to decide if you want your young charges to bring their electronic devices to the woods. If you are going to spend a lot of time in ground blind situations, watching for a gobbler to show up, you may want to let them play a game or be on the smartphone, but I will leave this up to you.
Rule No. 4: Use equipment to make things a little easier.
Again, we are here to have fun and have a good experience, so what can we do to make this happen? For starters, don't saddle a 10-year-old kid with a 12-gauge shotgun that some NFL linebackers might be leery of shooting.
Invest in a 20-gauge turkey gun and look at some of your ammo options. Even better, now with the advent of .410 bore Tungsten Super Shot shells, the little .410 has become a favorite for arming young hunters. You don't have to arm yourself with a nuclear shotgun capable of taking birds out at 65 yards. In fact, you may want to set your limit at 25 to 30 yards to start with.
A ground blind makes it easier for a young hunter to sit and watch and not worry so much about moving and fidgeting. Turkey decoys are a good bet to keep the gobbler distracted so the young or beginning hunter can get lined up on him a little easier.
Well, I know this does not cover everything, but maybe this will help you and your youngsters.
And maybe my son can forgive me for some of those days I wore him out in the turkey woods. I hope.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.