Turkey season perfect time to mentor
By: John Martino
Spring is one of the most celebrated times of the year. Crappies are biting, succulent morels are sprouting from forest floors and the door to turkey hunting season swings wide open. But for now let’s focus on turkey hunting which runs April 24 to May 12.
If you’ve never helped someone become involved with this spring time hunting activity you’re missing one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the sport. And what better time. The weather is nice and who wouldn’t enjoy time spent afield after a long drawn out winter.
Archibald Rutledge wrote that “Some men are mere hunters; others are turkey hunters. There is something special about this bird and the rituals woven into hunting him that gets inside you and then won’t leave.”
For something with a brain the size of a walnut they have been known to grant beginners with instant success, while dancing seasoned sportsmen around the woods like it was a joke. That’s part of the allure. But unfortunately, the ill perceived degree of difficulty prevents many folks from staying with it long enough to catch the fever.
Every year I try to take someone new. For some, just hearing a gobble is enough to make their day. Then there was a day like last year, after calling in several birds to my friend who had never hunted before, the excitement of watching them strut their way across the field became too much. Although he squeezed the trigger, we watched the birds sail into the adjoining woodlot. “Oh my God!” he said excitedly through deep, drawn out breaths. “I have never experienced anything like that,” he added, his knees still visibly shaking. Even though he didn’t notch his tag, turkey hunting is now in his blood and he eagerly waits this year’s season.
The secret to getting someone involved is taking the time to be a mentor. Don’t think for a second you have to be an expert hunter to be a good mentor. Nobody ever masters this stuff and if they say they do, don’t believe it. There are way too many factors and too many ways to screw things up. YouTube videos and TV shows paint a poor representation of turkey hunting where gobblers come galloping in within minutes of scratching a call. This is where a good mentor comes in. This isn’t TV, it’s the real stuff.
If you decide to take someone under your own wing, regardless of age or gender, there are a few things to keep in my mind. If possible, have them take a Hunter Education class. Besides learning valuable information it helps start building the excitement. If not, Indiana has apprentice licenses for beginners. Next, before taking to the woods, have a series of conversations with the beginner. Talk about the importance of walking softly in the woods, not speaking above a whisper and the importance of sitting still and making slow, deliberate movements, especially when birds are in view. These are things ingrained in experienced hunters but not the novice.
I mentioned earlier that videos paint a poor reflection of the actual hunt but they can have a benefit as well. The average video shows a condensed version of what more than likely was a long hunt, but they do have some value as teaching aids. Point out the positioning and posture of the hunter, the body language of the birds and the timing of the shot. Explain the action taking place on the screen.
Next comes familiarity with the gun. If your student is experienced with a shotgun then this may not be as crucial. But for someone who hasn’t done much hunting, especially children, this can make a huge difference.
By all means, make sure the firearm fits. Several years back I took a young boy who was using his father’s long barreled Mossburg 12-guage. Not only did it not fit, it was large and unwieldy. He struggled even carrying it. The next day I had him scale down and loaned him a 20-guage youth model. He instantly became more comfortable and confident. With some of the new, high performance turkey loads, using a smaller shotgun is not the disadvantage it once was.
Always have the newcomer shoot a few light loads through the gun to become familiar when the moment of truth does come. If possible fit the gun with some type of simple sight. A low power scope or glow-dot sight helps. Even veteran hunters are prone to look over the barrel rather than along it.
One of the most important items to take for beginners is a comfortable seat cushion. If they are not sitting comfortable they will not sit still. Take that to the bank!
During the hunt don’t make the mistake of doing everything. Let them participate. Calling is a prime example. Learning to use a box, plunger or pot-and-peg is simple and even the newest of beginners can handle the basics in a few short minutes.
Always discuss ahead of time what you want the beginner to do well before a gobbler shows up and have them go through the motions. Even actors rehearse their scene for a reason. Failure to do this can be a recipe for disaster.
Use a blind if you’re worried about your hunter being too wiggly or impatient. Blinds can cover a multitude of mistakes, personally I don’t like using them.
If taking children it’s important to not stay too long if action is slow. Remember it is supposed to be enjoyable and your student will not have the reservoir of patience that veterans have.
Mentoring is not for everyone. It’s a simple fact that some men are just not cut out to play the role of advisor or teacher and that’s ok. But one of the most satisfying things is to watch the excitement of someone who has just collected their first wild turkey. Not only have you just created a friend for life, and memories never forgotten, you have also provided our hunting tradition and environment with another steward for life. If you’ve never mentored someone before maybe this is the year you should give it a try.