Three-thirty in the morning is not exactly "bright and early." It's plenty dark yet. Nevertheless, this was the first day of the "Learn to Hunt" weekend, and I was really looking forward to it. Getting out of bed for me was not a problem that morning. I have looked forward to this every year for the last five years now, especially the last two, when I've been a mentor.
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My student this year isn't what you would call a typical student. Hunter Kuester, 11, is the son of a good friend Jim, who I have been friends with for roughly 25 years. Hunter has been exposed to the outdoors most his life, taking numerous fishing trips with his dad, as well as tagging along while his dad hunted smaller game like squirrels and rabbits, and even sitting along with his dad during bowhunting over the years. He even watched his dad bag a deer this past fall from a ground blind. After having to just watch the last few years, it was now his turn to actually handle the gun, and have us watch. Let's just say getting up early for him was not a problem.
About a week or so before the hunt, Jim and I set up a blind where we knew there was an abundance of turkeys. On April 2, we arrived at the blind, at about 5 a.m., a good 40 minutes before shooting time, got situated and waited and listened for the gobbling to start. We weren't disappointed. Shortly before 6, the toms started their morning serenade, and right away we knew we had birds all around us, with a couple roosting within 100 yards of us.
However, the gobbling was short-lived, and it got quiet faster than we hoped. A bit after 6 we started actually seeing birds, but way too far across the field we set up on. Not a problem. This was cool, and Hunter got more fired up each time we saw birds. In all, we saw about a dozen birds, and confirmed a couple of them to be toms, but they disappeared, and the woods seemed void of life until about 10 a.m. We then saw five more turkeys working along a wood line across from us, with one tom in the mix, but again, they disappeared to parts unknown.
At about 11 we decided to take a break and head on over to Winooski Bowmen where the Learn to Hunt event was taking place to get some lunch and see how the other hunters were doing.
The reports were that action was pretty slow. A lot of guys at that point were in our boat. Saw a bunch of birds, heard some gobbling, but only four birds had been taken from about 50 hunters, with a couple of others getting shots but missing. After talking with some of them, and having some lunch, we headed back out at 1 p.m.
The weather in the afternoon was much better than in the morning with temps climbing into the high 40s and the sun shining. Quite a difference from the snow/rain combo and temps in the mid 30s earlier that day. For three hours we saw and heard nothing at all, but at 4, things changed so quickly it was hard to catch our breath.
Hunter and Jim were both facing the field side straight in front of us to the south and I was facing more to the right, looking west. I caught some movement, and saw a jake and a nice tom walking by the blind at about 10 feet. Neither bird made a sound. Rather excitedly, and as quietly as I could, I tried to point the birds out to both of them, because at their particular angle, they couldn't see them right away, and they thought I was joking. The look on Jim's face was priceless when he saw just how close they were.
The bigger of the two marched right over to the jake decoy we had set out and proceeded to give it an incredible thrashing. At the same time, we scrambled to get the gun in Hunter's hands, and hoped he could get a clear shot. It seemed like an eternity before the gun went off, but he made the shot count, and before you knew it we were high-fiving each other and admiring Hunters first turkey, a 23-pound, 9-inch bearded specimen, with three-quarter inch spurs.
In all, from the initial sighting to the shot, it took roughly 45 seconds. It went from nothing happening at all to a dead turkey in that span, so you can see why it was so hard for us to get a grip on what had happened.
While Hunter was the obvious star of the weekend from my perspective, this is why I decided to become a mentor. It may be selfish, but I get as big a thrill when my "student" scores, as I do when I get one, if not even more.
If you see how excited these first-timers get when they do this, you'd know what I mean, even if they don't score.
The Learn to Hunt program is one of the best things hunters have been doing not only in Sheboygan County, but around the state. It is one of the brightest things to ensure more hunters take to the field each year. The Hermitage Sportsmen Club located near Elkhart Lake is now running the program, and it did a fantastic job.
As I mentioned, the Winooski Bowmen located near Plymouth hosted the lunch and bird registration. Both clubs and the numerous volunteers work like animals to make this a success each year, and it is a proven way to get kids and even adult first-time turkey hunters out there to experience what many of us have known for years.
If you would like to know more about it, and want contact information, go to my facebook fan page (search Shawn Clark and outdoor) and I will have the information posted there. Or contact the DNR office in Plymouth at 920-892-8756.