By Kevin Tate
Sitting still, confident gun handling, knowing where to aim and basic turkey identification are key points to cover in advance for mentors taking a youngster turkey hunting this season.
The best teachers remember what it was to be small and to see things from a child’s point of view. All of the critical subject matter is best introduced at home in the living room or in the back yard, anywhere but in the turkey woods with the game underway.
Turkey shotguns, even youth models, don’t generally fit young shooters exactly, so enough handling practice to allow them to be comfortable enough and familiar is critical. Seated on the ground with your back to a tree, or on the floor with your back to a wall, have the young hunter sit in your lap or just in front of it so you can help maneuver the gun.
Monopods are good to help steady the gun and shooting sticks are better if less maneuverable, but the ideal solution for this is a rest like the Caldwell Dead Shot, which is a tripod topped with a bench-style cradle that holds the gun fore and aft. Once set up, this sort of rest will keep the gun safely in the ready position and still without the mentor or the child having to support it.
Whatever rest you use, work on getting into position and, with the gun unloaded needless to say, have the child practice aiming at things that are about two feet above ground level, about where a turkey’s head would be. You may want to take charge of turning the safety on and off, but work at this with them until they understand how to use their hands to turn the gun and where to keep their trigger finger until they’re ready to shoot. During all of these practices, show them how to move slower than slow. Cover the difference between quiet and turkey quiet. Talk about moving their eyes without moving their head and the necessity of full camo.
Using a photo of a gobbler, show the youngster exactly where they should aim. Help them understand how a shotgun pattern spreads and explain why the spot where the turkey’s wattle meets the feathers is the ideal target. This is also the time to make sure they understand how to see the difference between a gobbler and a hen. Pointing out a longbeard in a greenfield from a shooting house during deer season is one thing, making sure they know which one you mean when a mixed flock of hens, jakes and longbeards mingle by in the spring woods is quite another.
Make sure you’re clear on the point of sportsmanship covered in the idea that, if they can’t see a beard, they can’t shoot the bird. Help them understand that, when it comes time to shoot, they are in control and responsible. If they’re not comfortable with any shot, they shouldn’t take it, even if dad is whispering, “Shoot! Shoot!” in the most urgent way.