I have always said shooting a turkey is like hitting a knuckleball. A gobbler’s head dances around like the specialty pitch of Major League Baseball’s famous Niekro brothers.
How can a youth hit such a target? That was the question weighing heavily on my mind as I prepared to take my daughter Claire on her first wild turkey hunt. Opening day was Wednesday, and we hit the woods well before dawn on this beautiful spring morning. The hunt came one day after Claire’s 13th birthday.
I had done some scouting, and put up a blind in a good area. It was at the top of a ridge where a picked corn field and cow pasture meet, right on the edge of the woods. Back in the woods were some good trees for roosting.
I was hoping a lonesome tom or two would be there come Wednesday morning. I had taken Claire out to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she would be using, and she hit the paper turkey target just like she was supposed to.
But, a real bird is a far cry from a stationary one. That was my biggest concern going into the hunt. I had a feeling she might get a shot opportunity. The question was: Would she connect?
I was about to find out. We got there extremely early, like about 5:15 a.m. because I thought birds might roost close by and I wanted to get there in the dark to avoid spooking them.
Turns out I was right on. Two gobblers were roosted no more than 50 yards away, maybe closer. They started gobbling hard, then I made some calls. They flew down pretty quickly and only had to go about 20 yards to be visible. I saw them through the trees to the left of the blind. They were going in and out of strut. I think they were between 25 ad 35 yards away. If I had been hunting, I would have dropped one of them easily.
But, Claire had trouble picking them up through the trees, and she couldn’t get a good sight picture. I thought they would keep coming our way and work toward the decoys we had set up in the corn field in front of us. Instead, they veered off and walked just inside the woods to our left. Claire got a better look, but the birds were now out of range, and they kept going away from us.
Eventually, they crossed the cow pasture and came into the corn field. They started working toward us, and then I heard a hen. She would whistle and then yelp. It was an odd sound. Then we saw more hens. I mimicked this hen, which I think was the boss, and she started coming toward me. Eventually, six more hens appeared and they all came into the decoys, which were only about 10 yards in front of us.
Perfect! The toms hung back, but eventually worked closer. I thought they were about 20-25 yards away, so I got Claire set up for the shot. One of the birds stopped and ran his head up. I asked Claire if she had a good sight picture and she said yes. So, I told her to shoot, and she did.
But, she missed and the birds took off. Later, we got out of the blind and I went to where I thought the birds were standing. I think it was more like 30 yards. That’s makable with the 20-gauge, but not an easy shot. I think the real problem was Claire was nervous and wasn’t holding the gun steady, even with the shooting sticks she was using. She said she felt pressure and was struggling with the shot. I told her it’s no big deal that she missed. At first, she thought I was disappointed with her, but I said I wasn’t at all.
We went over to an adjoining property after that and set up in a spot I thought would be good. Just after we set the decoys up, we heard gobbling close, and hustled to sit down. It went quiet for a while, then I yelped on my box call about 10 a.m. A bird gobbled right away farther away than the first ones.
Then, I heard what I’m pretty sure was a jake (young tom) yelping. It got closer, then we saw two birds step into the field. We had some brush in front of us, so I had trouble identifying them. One was a hen and I think the other was a jake. I also think there may have been more birds in the woods that didn’t come out. These birds milled around for about 20-30 minutes and never came close enough for a shot. Then, they went back into the woods. Claire wanted to be done at that point. She didn’t want to sit any more.
All in all, it was a great morning as far as action goes. I’m hoping I can talk Claire into going out one more time, but as of right now, she doesn’t think she wants to. She wanted to try it, but doesn’t seem to have interest in continuing to go out. We’ll see.
Of course, I wanted Claire to be able to get a bird, but in the end, I know turkey hunting is very hard and it’s common for young hunters to miss their first shot at a bird. I sure hope she’ll try again. I think if she sticks with it, she can hit a bird eventually. The nice thing is Minnesota changed the rules for youth, and now kids under 18 can hunt the entire season across the entire state. They no longer have to pick a five-day season and specific zone to hunt.
That opens up a lot more opportunities. I support this because it’s important to be able to have good opportunities to introduce youth to hunting. Stats suggest fewer kids are doing it, so we need to do what we can to get them out there.
It’s a tougher sell, as hunting competes with things like sports and video games. And, it’s much harder than things like that. My knuckleball theory was proved true once again on Wednesday.
And, that’s what keeps me coming back for more!