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Versatile Hunter

Help a kid go hunting this fall

Sun, October 21, 2012

I can’t describe the feeling achieved by taking a young person hunting.  The sights, sounds, and excitement in their voice is unforgettable.  Whether the hunt ends in a harvested animal matters not, although it’s always a welcomed end for all involved.

So how does someone even get involved in such an event?  There are many ways to find these events and plant yourself right in the middle of one.  And the volunteer opportunities can range from actually guiding the hunt, to preparing the food, to simply offering up your property for a hunt to take place.  It really doesn’t matter how you help out, just that you do.  If you own property on which a youth hunt could take place, offer it up to a neighbor or friend if you don’t have kids yourself.  Offer to guide them—it’s a wonderful experience and will get you out to the places you so love—and with added value.  There are youth events and opportunities in all realms of hunting—from upland to turkey, waterfowl, and deer.

Some of the local events in the central Illinois include youth pheasant hunting events at various state-run sites such as Mackinaw SFWA, Sand Ridge, and Clinton Lake.  Guides with good hunting dogs are always needed for these events, as well as food and drinks for before and after the hunt.  People to simply hold guns and help coordinate hunting areas are also needed.  A good ratio is one adult for each kid involved, plus a guide.  Approximately two kids per guide are ideal.  Too many more and things can get a bit hectic in this fast-paced hunting style.  Pointing dogs are excellent as they allow for less of a surprise and allow the adults and kids to get set up in order to shoot before the flush.  Slightly dizzied birds can also allow for a more controlled environment for first timers.  12 or 20 gauges with open chokes (youth models are great!) will work wonderfully.  One thing I’ve noted on previous trips—the old single shot shotguns that parents think are so safe also kick like mules and the young one typically hates pulling the trigger after awhile.  If you’re worried about them being able to shoot too many shells, only give them one shell at a time to shoot. 

Opportunities for youth turkey hunting are available during the youth season and throughout the five turkey seasons in Illinois.  A good place to meet potential landowners for a youth hunt are at your local NWTF banquets.  On average years, this youth season may come a little early for the traditional turkey hunting season expectation of hot gobbling action.  Be prepared for potentially cooler temps and rain.  Tents are the way to go.  Turkeys, even with their excellent eyesight, do not seem to notice a tent in the least.  Black interior is a key.  Typically, we hunt birds off the roost and then move to the tent when the action slows during mid-morning.  The tent is the perfect spot for young folks to relax in a comfortable chair and snack while waiting for a bird to enter a field for a shooting opportunity.  A good flock of decoys works well in this situation.  Hens in various positions and a single jake seem to do well for us.  Big gobblers get jealous and jakes seem comfortable with the setup as well.  Think about allowing them to shoot any legal bird for their first opportunity.  After that, you can teach them the value of holding off for that big gobbler—same goes for a first deer hunt.  As with any hunting—setups may need to change based on weather and timing of the season.  A full or extra full choked 12 or 20 gauge will do just fine.  And don’t be afraid to ask friends and neighbors if they’ll let you take your son or daughter hunting on their ground—it’s awful hard for people to say no to this request, and for good reason—these are the hunters and conservationists of tomorrow!  If it’s your property, this is also a great time to be out scouting for your upcoming season.

Duck hunting youth events are plentiful here in central Illinois and are one of my favorites.  Kids and adults can talk at normal levels and move around between working ducks.  Asking a kid to sit quietly for hours on end (as in deer and turkey hunting) can be a challenge.  Several of the state-run sites such as Banner Marsh, Rice Lake, and Spring Lake, among others offer youth hunting days.  IDNR also coordinates a private club youth goose hunt each year—contact them for more information. Go to a DU or Delta Waterfowl event and meet people that may offer up their blinds during the youth season.  And get your kid enrolled as a Greenwing or other youth membership to teach them the importance of supporting conservation.  Volunteers to help coordinate, call ducks, and well-behaved dogs are always welcome.  Show up and offer your services, or coordinate ahead of time with a neighbor and his son or daughter that perhaps have never hunted waterfowl before or just don’t have a place to go.  This time of year is usually a blast with local woodies and mallards, as well as the other early migrants (such as blue winged teal) often being around in decent numbers.  And best of all—they haven’t yet been educated!  The kids usually get a lot of shooting in and get to see some amazing sights.  Remember though that for a young person to hit a 60 mile per hour duck isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  Bring a bunch of shells, snacks, drinks, and coffee for yourself.  Put a very open choke in the gun and work the birds in close for the kids to shoot.  Water shots are okay, especially for the young person’s first bird.  Otherwise, they are going to do a lot of missing and we want to teach them early on that long shots aren’t a good thing.  Take the time to teach them some of the etiquettes of hunting ducks (not shooting birds working another blind, allowing the birds to get close, etc. . .).  Teach them about the biology of the birds you are shooting at—migration patterns, species, weather, wind direction for setting decoys, blind brushing, etc. . .  They love to learn about these kinds of things and it will make it all the more interesting while in the blind.  Again, a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun will work just fine, depending on the size and experience of the youngster.  Don’t give them too big a gun as they will be shooting magnum loads for this experience, as is typical in turkey hunting also. 

Deer hunting can be accomplished much the same as turkey hunting, although it is extremely important to dress them extra warm for this time of the year.  Although, youth shotgun season usually falls during decent weather and can be done from an elevated stand or ground blind/tent (elevated double stands work great for this so you can be right next to them and get a great view of the other animals that roam our woods).  Never forget safety harnesses, of course.  We all know slugs can kick hard so be sure and size the gun appropriately.  A 20 gauge will do the job just fine.  Again, be sure you’re teaching them to take appropriately shots and make sure they are familiar with the gun and kick well ahead of time. 

As with any youth hunt, be sure to stay positive regardless of the situation and don’t be afraid to call the hunt if the young person gets bored or is uncomfortable—you want this to be as much a positive experience as it can be.  Always bring a camera and take lots of pictures!  A photo of their experience (and a mounted bird or shadow box) will ensure they never forget how much fun they had.

If you are looking for a place to take your young ones on a hunt here in central Illinois, I’d be happy to point you in the right direction and/or assist in finding property and guides for the event to take place.  Connecting outdoors-minded folks for these kinds of events is a passion of mine and something I take very seriously.  Getting today’s kids outside is an honorable effort worth doing for so many reasons.


Shae…really enjoyed your article and you have several great suggestions and ideas.  This brought back many fond memories of taking my son and daughter on hunts. As you indicate in your opening paragraph, there are many personal rewards to taking a young person on a hunt. I introduced my kids to hunting by taking them dove hunting. If the birds were flying my job was to just keep the shells available (lots of them) and to encourage and make the whole experience fun and without pressure. And if the birds weren’t flying, then I always had my clay pigeon thrower in the back of the truck to ensure the kids got to shoot and have fun.  When it came to deer hunting with my kids, our ground blind was always decked out with most the comforts of home.  We had comfortable seats, Ready Heaters, food, drinks, favorite snacks, and I always let my kids bring their DVD player with favorite movies.  I think the key with my kids was that I never expected my kids to have the same passion, intensity or patience that I had when it came to hunting, so I always tried to make the hunting experience comfortable and fun for them.

Posted by Cooper on October 22

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