Over the last three decades I have conducted a dozen or more youth turkey hunting camps, most through the JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) program of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Additionally, I have enjoyed taking individual children on one-on-one youth season turkey hunts.
|Youth turkey hunting camps prepare youngsters for that first exciting day in the turkey woods.|
Several common denominators among students appeared consistently over the years. Youngsters, usually 11 to 15, who participated in turkey camps, exhibited keen interest in learning new skills associated with turkey hunting.
Always, the nervous anticipation of adolescents surfaced in the form of nail biting and giddy laughter and poking fun at one another. Their initial jostling for attention usually turned into a key teaching point later in camp. Students laughed, some frowned, as I compared them to young turkeys in a flock going through their regular social day struggling to improve their position in the pecking order. It never failed, once the youngsters grasped the pecking order idea that some of the anxious young hunters would actually peck on other group members. What a great way for them to remember a lesson in turkey behavior.
I have also taught numerous adult courses in turkey hunting. Adults are too serious to enjoy the fun of the pecking order routine. What a shame. Adults could and do learn a great deal about loosening up from kids in turkey camp.
Despite their fun-loving antics, turkey camp students consistently exhibited the ability to transform from a bunch of seemingly out-of-control tease freaks to serious, want-to-learn turkey hunting aficionados when class time arrived.
Despite long training classes on gun safety, game identification, gun and shell selection, camouflage choices, outdoor cooking, archery, muzzleloading, clays shooting and various other outdoor related subjects, students never complained.They seemed to recharge their batteries between classes with more laughter, joking and generally having a good time. Their abilities to absorb large amounts of new information, in an enjoyable manner, obviously had connections to their abilities to relax and have energetic fun when the opportunity arose. Most adults could benefit from interaction with these types of kids.
Daily news reports are flooded with reports of drug usage and violence from adolescents. I could never imagine any of the kids who participated in turkey camps being involved in either scenario. I attribute much or their good behavior to the fact that every student was required to successfully complete a Hunter Education course before attending turkey camp, or Hunter Apprentice School, as it was called.
Additionally, their parents were members of the National Wild Turkey Federation, an organization which promotes God, country and family through a myriad of functions and activities that bring families together with others with the same interests. The message that hunting is a perfectly normal and enjoyable family activity is reinforced continually. And the positive behavioral results gained from children of families who hunt speak for themselves.
Kids copy the actions of their parents, even in a hunting situation. Safe gun handling techniques, respect for others, respect for personal property, game animals and respect for themselves are a few of the quality traits which children who are exposed to hunting acquire. For these reasons, we insisted that one parent or guardian accompany each student to turkey camp. A shared experience is one that will be remembered.