Young Guns: Turkey Hunting with America’s Youth


This story is all about the kids, hunting with young guns, America’s youth. With more than 30 years of experience with organized youth hunts, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to hunt with kids all over America. It gives me a wonderful feeling to share what I know about hunting with them.

I have short youth hunt stories this month along with three youth hunts on video that will be posted to the MidWest Outdoors website. Our first hunt is with a little girl named Maggie Brown; our second hunt is with an awesome girl, Jessie Connor, who asked me to take her turkey hunting during my Kansas NWTF Jakes seminar, which was her first-ever turkey hunt and outdoor adventure; and our third young gun, Coulter Bean, winner of the 2016 Youth Hunt-of-a-Lifetime drawing.

Young guns
Just over a slight rise of a steep Ozark ridge, the gobbler’s booming love call startles my young hunter. Little Sarah—facing the wrong way—is sitting on a small seat. I quickly pick up the seat, Sarah included, and turn her to face the oncoming feathered thunder gut. She doesn’t end up getting the turkey, but that becomes the least important aspect of the day. Getting that close, hearing and seeing that gobbler, makes a memory that will last forever.

Eye has volunteered his time to mentor young hunters for more than 30 years.

Sarah and I are part of an organized youth turkey hunt in southern Missouri with a group of great kids, not only experiencing turkey hunting, but the outdoors for the first time. I feel it is important for the youths attending my hunts to be part of the entire experience.

At around 9:30 a.m., I load them all up in my truck and we drive over to the local café for a big breakfast. This youth hunt has a variety of kids in attendance, some from broken homes, without dads, some without either parent, and some with physical handicaps. During this event, these kids do not have to deal with crowded schools, peer pressure or a lack of anyone caring about them.

It gets tougher and tougher when it comes to involving kids in hunting, or to even find youths to take hunting. There is just so much competition for their time including computer games, malls, television shows, the movies and theme parks and more. It’s sad what many kids experience in life, but by giving them your time, paying attention to them and taking them outdoors to hunt, it really seems to revive them and get them excited about life. Through these hunts, the kids can build positive, wonderful memories.

The gift
Let’s go back to yesteryear—to one of my early-day youth hunts with these “young guns” This is a short story titled, “The Gift,” one about a little boy and his first turkey:

As the first streaks of morning sunlight filter through the trees, I strain my eyes searching the thick cut over for a strutting gobbler I know is there. I hear the unmistakable reverberation of drumming and the sound of wings dragging in the leaves of the forest floor.

Suddenly, less than 15 yards away, I catch a slight movement at the base of the steep spur ridge.

A glowing head is floating through a small opening, but disappears just as quickly as it appeared.

I assist my young hunter to raise his single-shot 20 gauge and pull back the hammer. I yelp like an excited hen with my voice as a booming, throaty gobble rattles directly below us and echoes across the mountains like springtime thunder.

Then, less than 20 yards away, a shadowy Ozark Ghost appears, stepping quickly in and out of sight from left to right. A bobbing turkey noggin is quickly coming straight up the vertical ridge on his way to the top and straight at us. The sound of crunching in the dry leaves grows louder.

The little boy follows the sound with his gun barrel.

I’m guiding the youth on his first turkey hunt in these remote Ozarks Mountains. He’s never had an opportunity to go turkey hunting and has never experienced anything quite like this. My helping hunter hails from a family with five boys and one girl; his dad works two jobs to support and feed his growing family with little time to take his young son hunting.

This boy suffers from the hip ailment Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCPD), a form of osteonecrosis of the hip only found in children. For the past three years, his small leg was strapped in a sling device pulled tight up against his body. Earlier, he was only able to walk with crutches, but now he is much better and on his first hunt.

The odds are certainly stacked against us on this morning, as turkeys are very difficult in late spring with little green up to hunt, and these Ozark hills are extremely wide open. With little gobbling at daylight and showing little interest in calling, very few hunters are killing turkeys.

In the early morning darkness, we drive about 15 miles out on the hardtop road to a very remote region, “Peter Cave Hollow.” After driving an additional 5 miles down a rough logging road, I park close to a deep valley where I scouted several gobbling turkeys before the season opened.

We quietly make our way through the pre-dawn to this ridge edge to listen for gobblers. As we wait for first light, my hunter begins shivering from the cold morning air. I give him my hunting coat to warm him. Then, he lies down in the leaves and falls sound asleep.

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Later, as the last of the whippoorwill’s song fades away and the first songs birds of the first light begin to sing, I hoot like a barred owl—a gobbler has responded, but a long way off far on the mountain side all the way across the deep valley a mile away.

As the only bird within hearing distance continues gobbling, I have to make a quick decision: These Ozarks hills are extremely open with a late-arriving spring with little green up to hide our movement, and with a small boy not capable of walking in this steep rough country I have to decide whether to stay right here or not.

We decide to remain at this spot.

The gobbling starts to grow even louder as the bird gets closer. That old turkey gobbles to every sound I make as he marches down the far mountain, into the valley and straight toward us.

I don’t bother to wake my hunting partner, but I still call very aggressively to this bird.

That crazy love-struck turkey only stops once as it reaches the base of our steep ridge. I then shake my hunter awake and tell him he must sit up to get ready. I do this even though I’m doubtful this gobbler will actually climb the steep vertical hill in front of us.

I shift my young hunter to the right and whisper to him to follow the crunching sounds of the turkey walking in the leaves with his gun barrel. The sound grows ever louder now as the Ozarks Ghost walks back into view, from left to right and straight up the steep hollow rim.

With his gun up and his hammer cocked, I support his frail trembling body as the sounds turn into a gobbler in a half strut.

Then, the tom abruptly turns toward us as it tops the crest of the ridge. He is now in our faces, 10 feet away! I then putt loudly—the turkey stops, craning his neck looking for a hen he knows should be right here.

Excitedly, I whisper to the youth to steady the front bead on the turkey’s neck and pull the trigger.

With the roar of the gun, the gobbler collapses into a wild frenzy of flopping, all the way back down the steep embankment from which he came.

Then, everything turns quiet with exception of squirrels barking and the echo of the gunshot still fading away in the distance across the mountains and valleys. We carefully make our way down the ridge using small saplings to keep us from tumbling all the way to the bottom.

The magnificent, 4-year-old gobbler is now lying still at the very base of the ridge with a trembling, giggling little boy standing it. I tell him he will have to carry his turkey back to the truck. This is quite something to witness—a small, thin turkey hunter wearing a coat that hangs to the ground, wrestling with a turkey bigger than him.

I really believe this gobbler is a gift. It’s something very special that was meant to be. We are the only hunters in this entire area this morning to take a gobbler. Yes, that old bird with razor-sharp long spurs and a double paintbrush beard is a gift.

I tell the boy I will wait here and hold his gun. He needs to take those first steps with his first gobbler all by himself so he will not see the tears welling up in my eyes. As I watch him struggle as he begins his climb with the turkey, the early morning sunlight fills the valley and reflects multiple colors from the bird’s feathers.

This was a special hunt for me as well, one I will always remember as one of my most cherished youth hunting memories. I really didn’t mind taking the time to help that boy on a turkey hunt. There is another reason this story is so special. You see, that skinny, shivering little boy on his first hunt that day in 1973 was my little brother, Marty.