My Daughter’s First Hunt, My Great Friends and My Old Kentucky Home
It was April 30, 1997, and the night before turkey season opened in New York. I was 12 years old. I had just arrived at my grandparents’ house. As I walked into the living room, I noticed a box on the piano bench. I immediately knew what it held: My first shotgun.
Papa had purchased me a 20-gauge pump shotgun to start turkey hunting the next morning. At this point in time, things like TSS didn’t exist for the turkey hunter. Decoys were made of foam, and they didn’t even look like a turkey. The selection of turkey calls was limited to a handful of mouth calls, a few slate calls and big paddled box calls; and most hunters had just one. I don’t know that my grandfather had ever turkey hunted in his life, but none of that mattered. We were going hunting first thing in the morning, and that time with my grandfather is something I remember to this day.
As an outdoorsman, becoming a parent holds a special meaning. The day you can first share a deer stand or a turkey blind with your child is something you dream about before your child even arrives in the world. Considering that my livelihood revolves around the outdoor industry, it’s an understatement to say that my kids have an interest. So, I found that as the winter of 2022 progressed, so did conversations with my daughter Madelyn about hunting and her desire to turkey hunt this year. Since she was eight years old, I had to wrestle with a few questions. Was she ready to shoot a gun? Where could I take her that allowed hunting at that age?
Our Kentucky Home
After a few discussions, our good friends at North Fork Outfitters in Kentucky invited us to take part in the youth season in Kentucky on April 1 this year. My buddy Matt and I had hunted with Cameron and Mike from North Fork Outfitters for many years. In fact, we often refer to their place as “our Kentucky home.” I couldn’t think of a better place to take Madelyn for her first turkey hunt.
Kentucky offers a youth season that allows hunters up to age 11 to hunt as an “apprentice.” Hunters ages 12 to 16 are required to obtain a hunter’s safety certification and purchase the appropriate turkey hunting license. The youth season is often set two weeks prior to the opening of the regular season to allow young hunters to have the field to themselves to increase the odds of success.
Programs like this allow parents to decide when they believe their child is ready to begin hunting. Often, waiting until a kid has reached the age of 12 or 14, such as some states require, means the kid may be so tied up in other activities by then that they may not have time for an experience like this. Many states run similar programs to get younger hunters involved in the sport. This information can be found on most state wildlife department websites.
Choosing the Right Gear
After the destination was decided and the date was set, we had to get Madelyn set up with the right gear. Choosing the right shotgun for a small-framed shooter, who is also new to shooting in general, is usually a tough decision. However, with the introduction of TSS turkey loads and several manufacturers increasing their efforts on providing guns that will grow with young shooters, we were able to set her up perfectly.
The Mossberg Mini Super Bantam 510 shotgun in .410 allowed a perfect fit at its smallest stock length (10.5”-11.5” adjustable with stock spacer). Making sure Madelyn was comfortable in the fit of the gun was extremely important. This Mossberg did the trick. The .410 caliber offered reduced recoil and the lightweight frame of the gun allowed her to manage small movements in preparing for a shot.
After shooting for a few days, we quickly realized that we needed an optic to keep Madelyn’s consistency in check. With a quality optic—whether that is a scope or a red-dot sight mounted on the gun—we were able to keep her cheek in the right place and she was able to consistently hit her target. Recently, Hawke Optics released a new turkey scope, the VANTAGE IR 1-4X20, which has the Turkey Dot reticle. Since Madelyn wears glasses, this scope was the best option. We decided to have her shoot without her glasses on and use an eye patch to alleviate her not being able to close one eye at a time. The clear-sight picture and eye relief of the Hawke scope was the perfect match.
On this hunt, we opted for a TSS load from Verdict Ammunition that provided a deadly pattern on the fixed Improved Cylinder barrel, out to 25 yards. With the AccuChoke barrel with interchangeable choke tube options, I’m sure this would have been a 45-plus yard turkey gun with this combination. However, for her at this age, I was more than comfortable limiting Madelyn to 25 yards and under.
With the setup and practice completed, we were on our way to Kentucky!
The Hunt Begins
Matt arrived the day before. He started the scouting process the next morning with his boys, Mason and Lane, who would also be hunting this youth weekend. After a long, rainy drive to Kentucky, we rolled into camp in the late afternoon. We immediately started discussing the best places to set up for the hunt the following morning.
After dinner, we piled into the truck with Cameron to check one last farm where he was certain there would be birds. As we drove up the hill into the field, we noticed two longbeards and a hen. They were making their way across the field to the corner where Cameron had heard them gobble on the roost. After quickly setting up the blind, we had prepared the stage for the following morning.
Candy bars, chips, breakfast bars, juice boxes and all the essentials were piled into Madelyn’s backpack for the day, and we were on the road to our blind. So many thoughts and feelings go through your mind when you take your child on their first hunt. I think I experienced every possible emotion on the 200-yard walk to the blind! I was holding Madelyn’s hand as we walked across the field in the dark, just as the wild began to wake. I couldn’t wait to get there, yet I wished that walk would last forever.
At 5:25 a.m., we heard the first loud noise of the morning: The water bottle crashing to the ground from Madelyn’s chair. That happened when she reached to open the loudest bag of mini-muffins I had ever heard in my life. I couldn’t help but laugh while also thinking: It doesn’t matter if she just scared away all the turkeys; I’m having the best turkey-hunting morning of my life.
At 5:28 a.m., the first gobble sounded off down the valley. For the next 30 minutes, we listened and guessed their location. We talked about what would happen if they came to the decoys, where to shoot, when to shoot and everything else.
At 6:16 a.m., the field was light enough to see across. The gobbles of the two toms we roosted the night before began echoing louder. Within minutes, the longbeards were on the field and cutting off the lightest purrs of my slate call.
As the gobblers closed the distance I could see and hear Madelyn’s nervousness set in as she stood ready for a shot. What happened next was something that so many turkey hunters only get to experience once every few years, if they’re lucky. Both toms dropped their fans and ran full speed from 200 yards to 12 yards, then proceeded to attack the Avian-X HDR Jake decoy for eight full minutes.
The sound of gobbling happening multiple times at 12 yards is a sound that even as a seasoned turkey hunter I have heard only a handful of times. Madelyn was getting the show of a lifetime!
During the next eight minutes, Madelyn touched every color on the emotional color wheel. In Kentucky, you can only shoot one turkey per day, so she had to wait for the toms to separate long enough for her to put the scope on one and take the shot. She is a very cautious person to begin with, so choosing to shoot took her a long time. The two gobblers weren’t giving her much of an opportunity.
After eight minutes of total decoy annihilation, the toms separated, and Madelyn was able to squeeze the trigger. When the sound of the gun dissipated, she looked at me and yelled, “Did I get him?”
The answer to that question set off a flurry of screaming and crying and laughing in celebration, with the purest level of excitement I had ever witnessed. Her screaming the words, “I just killed a turkey!” are still echoing across the hollers of northern Kentucky even two months later, I think.
Bringing Memories Back
As we took the 30-minute drive back to meet Matt and his boys (who also each killed big toms), I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather and that first hunt we shared 25 years ago. Although he couldn’t be here to witness this hunt in person, I’m sure he watched Madelyn and me as we celebrated her success this beautiful spring morning.
Not only did Madelyn connect on her first turkey, but the beautiful tom also sported a 10-inch paintbrush of a beard and 1.25-inch spurs. He weighed in at 21.6 pounds. Matt’s sons Mason and Lane each also killed great longbeards. Their birds weighed 20 and 22 pounds and had over 10-inch beards as well.
I can’t begin to thank Mike and Cameron from North Fork Outfitters enough for their friendship and hospitality over the years. Being able to share this very special experience with my daughter and my great friend and his boys far outweighs the moment that Madelyn shot her first turkey. That’s because this weekend at hunting camp is something that Madelyn and I will remember for the rest of our lives. Thankfully, though the memory won’t fade anytime soon, we will always have the video to look back on and recall the moment when Madelyn screams, “I got him, I just killed a turkey!”
You can also watch all three youth hunters on Struttinbuck TV on the Pursuit Channel this fall.
Mossberg Mini-Super Bantam Overview
The Mossberg Mini-Super Bantam 510 in .410 is a versatile and reliable shotgun specifically designed for turkey hunting. With a compact and lightweight design, it is ideal for younger or smaller-framed hunters who seek a firearm that offers manageable recoil and ease of use.
The Mini-Super Bantam 510 features a durable synthetic stock with adjustable length of pull, allowing the shooter to customize the fit for optimal comfort and control. This is particularly beneficial for young hunters who are still growing, ensuring a proper fit as they develop.
Equipped with a 20-inch vent rib barrel and a fixed modified choke, the shotgun delivers tight patterns at moderate distances, making it effective for turkey hunting. The .410 gauge offers reduced recoil compared to larger gauges, contributing to improved accuracy, especially for less experienced shooters.
The shotgun incorporates a manual safety and a dual extractors system for reliable shell ejection. Its top-mounted tang safety provides easy access and quick operation, ensuring safe handling during intense hunting situations.
Additionally, the Mini-Super Bantam 510 features a single bead front sight, allowing for quick target acquisition. The compact size and light weight of the shotgun make it maneuverable in tight spaces, such as dense woods or brush, where turkeys are often found.
Overall, the Mossberg Mini-Super Bantam 510 in .410 provides young or smaller hunters with a dependable and adaptable shotgun for turkey hunting, combining comfort, control, and effectiveness in a compact package.
Hawke Vantage 1-4×20 IR Turkey Dot Reticle Scope
The Hawke Optics Vantage IR 1-4×20 turkey scope is a game-changer for turkey hunters. With its versatile magnification range of 1-4x and a compact 20mm objective lens, this scope offers exceptional clarity and precision. The illuminated reticle with multiple brightness settings ensures optimal visibility in varying lighting conditions, making it easy to acquire targets quickly. The scope’s wide field of view allows hunters to scan the surroundings effectively, while the durable construction and shockproof design ensure reliability in rugged terrains. Whether you’re stalking through dense woods or aiming at distant targets, the Hawke Optics Vantage IR 1-4×20 turkey scope provides the performance and reliability needed for successful turkey hunting.
Turkey and deer hunting with North Fork Outfitters in Kentucky, as offered by www.kentuckywhitetailhunting.com, is an exhilarating experience that combines the thrill of the chase with the natural beauty of the Bluegrass State. With a rich hunting heritage and vast expanses of wilderness, Kentucky provides an ideal setting for hunters seeking trophy-worthy game.
North Fork Outfitters is renowned for its professional and knowledgeable guides who have an intimate understanding of the local terrain and wildlife behavior. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or a beginner, their team is dedicated to ensuring a successful and enjoyable hunt. They offer guided hunts for both turkey and deer, providing expert guidance and support throughout the process.
Turkey hunting in Kentucky is a popular pursuit due to the state’s robust population of wild turkeys. With their keen senses and elusive nature, bagging a wild turkey requires skill, patience and a strategic approach. North Fork Outfitters provides access to prime hunting locations, increasing the likelihood of encountering these majestic birds and successfully harvesting one.
Deer hunting with North Fork Outfitters is equally enticing. Kentucky boasts an impressive deer population, including some of the largest bucks in the country. With meticulously managed hunting grounds and carefully selected stands, hunters have excellent opportunities to observe and harvest trophy-sized deer. North Fork Outfitters employs techniques such as baiting, calling, and spot-and-stalk to maximize the chances of a successful hunt.
In addition to the thrill of the hunt, North Fork Outfitters prioritizes safety, ethical hunting practices, and conservation. They adhere to strict guidelines and regulations to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations and the preservation of the natural environment.
For those seeking an unforgettable hunting adventure in Kentucky, North Fork Outfitters and www.kentuckywhitetailhunting.com are the perfect choices. From the beauty of the landscape to the thrill of the chase, their expertly guided turkey and deer hunts provide an immersive and rewarding experience for hunters of all skill levels.