"How the youth turkey hunt changed our life" - Mark Waters

Growing up in Lower Michigan I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors playing as kids in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s would. We played marbles, baseball, and basketball, built go-karts out of wood, and put baseball cards in the spokes of our Schwinn bikes to make the cool motorbike sounds. We had contests jumping the curbs pretending we were Evel Knievel jumping the Grand Canyon or Caesars Palace. During my childhood my only experience with guns was my Daisy BB gun, where my friends and I would pretend we were sharpshooters and shoot soup cans or little green Army men, and try to shoot an occasional squirrel and act like big hunters. My first real hunting experience wasn't until after I met my wife. She was from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and came from a hunting and outdoor family. I never got into the “hunting camp” experience as that was never for me but I deer hunted for years and more often than not never saw a deer but continued to head to the woods every deer season because it was time spent outdoors. It was relaxing to me being in the woods all alone with nature for hours at a time with no phone or computer. It was my time to recharge my mind and body.

My life has not only been blessed with a wonderful wife but also with two boys who also seemed to enjoy the outdoors as much as I did as a kid. Although raising children in the 21st century was definitely different than my childhood and the challenges are more difficult. The technology we have today is great but it is also pulling children inside to play on their Xbox or PlayStation, greatly reducing the wonderful experiences the outdoors can provide.

It was 2009 when my boys were 10 and 8 years old that we moved to the little town of Prescott, Wisconsin nestled where the mighty Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers meet and began our journey of revisiting the great outdoors. We began our journey with hikes in the woods and visits to local parks and riverways, occasionally doing a little fishing along the way. Then one day the boys showed an interest in shooting guns and possibly hunting so we asked around town and found a hunter’s safety course being taught by Prescott Sportsman Club member Dave Hovel. I sat through every class with my boys, just as a refresher for myself as I had hunter’s safety back in the 1970’s. What a great class this was and I highly recommend hunter’s safety to everyone, whether you are a hunter or not. It is a great class on how to properly handle, carry and store a gun and is important information for every person to know and learn.

It was through this class that we heard about the Learn to Hunt programs and youth hunts that have forever changed our lives. We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, organization, and presentation of the Learn to Hunt program when my boys attended during the spring of 2011. During the program, the kids learned about habitat, sportsmanship, turkey calls, turkey behavior, types of hunting blinds, hunting techniques, and proper distances when shooting. All kids present were able to shoot a shotgun and see the pattern that is produces from varying choke tubes and distance. The local Game Warden was present during a few classes to discuss and answer questions on hunting licenses and regulations.

The spring turkey youth turkey hunt followed the Learn to Hunt program that year and volunteers from the Prescott Sportsman’s Club took my boys out hunting. Since I had never been turkey hunting they let me tag along with my youngest and I setup in a blind next to theirs to watch and listen to the conversation they started with the lonely Tom seeking out companionship that day. Both mentors that my boys had for their hunts, picked them up at our house early in the morning to head to the woods. While sitting in the blinds they discussed their strategy for the day, went through the process of how and when to call a Tom and when and where to shoot, all the things they learned in the Learn to Hunt program were now being put into place. It was a chilly morning that Saturday when the sun came up and we started to hear the gobbles from off in the distance. The mentor helped worked the box call to strike up a conversation and soon we had a response. Soon after, the adrenaline was going full bore and the chill seemed to disappear. We heard the gobble again, this time he was getting closer. Our hearts were racing, trying hard to remember not to over call. Be patient. We called back and the gobbles were farther away this time. We lost him, he found something more appealing. Then, after a few minutes, we heard him gobble again. This time he sounded like he was right behind us, just over the ridgeline. A few calls back and forth and we knew we had him. He was coming in loud and fast so my son had to ready his gun, safety on, until he could get him clearly in range and has a clean shot. He has him now, the mentor is instructing him to relax, take a deep breath, remove the safety and take the shot.

That was one of the happiest and most exciting experiences that my son has had outdoors in the woods. The look on his face and his body language showed the great pride and joy that he just by providing a nice meal for the family that day. His first turkey was a nice 24 pounder with a long beard and big spurs and the fan is proudly displayed on the wall in the “man cave” at home. It was an experience that he, nor I, will ever forget. My other son was not quite as fortunate during his youth turkey hunt that year, but came back with equally exciting stories about the land they hunted and the conversations and chase they had to get a Tom. It has been four years since that first youth turkey hunt and we still talk about the hunts that day and remain friends with both mentors from the Prescott Sportsman Club that took the boys out. Every year after the boys and I go out hunting they continually tell me how much fun they had getting up early, eating breakfast at the wee hours of the morning and spending time together in the woods, whether we shot sometime or not. To me, that is a successful hunt and memories that will last a lifetime.

Those experiences from that first hunt not only had me but also my boys hooked from that point on. Not only do we look forward to both the spring and fall turkey hunts every year but we also deer, pheasant, and duck hunt and fish year round for all types of fish, whether its bass fishing, fly fishing, ice fishing, salmon fishing, or fishing from a kayak. These fishing and hunting activities not only get the kids outdoors but have provided multiple freezers full of delicious and healthy meals for our entire family for most of the year. And thanks to the Prescott Sportsman’s Club which helped start, run and sponsor these youth mentoring programs and hunts, my boys have become better people and stewards of the land while promoting a healthier habitat for the wildlife for all to enjoy. In fact, my oldest son has already determined that after high school he wants to attend college and earn a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management because he loves the outdoors so much.

The Prescott Sportsman’s Club also helped start and fund the high school Bass Fishing Team and the newly formed Ice Fishing Team, which in the last year sent multiple teams to the Wisconsin high school State Championships for both bass and ice fishing. The club is also looking forward to starting a high school trap shooting team sometime in the near future and continues to sponsor special needs hunts for kids with disabilities. The Prescott Sportsman’s Club had such an influence in not only my life but also my boys’ lives in just a few short years. As a result, I joined the Club and have been an active member for several years now and will continue to be an active member to help promote these activities and the great outdoors.

It was that initial youth turkey hunt that has forever changed not only my life but the lives of my boys, all for the better. So, if you have not exposed your children to the wonderful world of outdoors through hunting and fishing, I would highly recommend such an experience and to look to your local Sportsman Club for help in getting started.

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