Spurring On a Great Tradition: Youth Turkey Hunt at Pymatuning WMA

On Saturday, April 24, Youth Turkey Day in Pennsylvania, the Northwest Region hosted the first-ever turkey hunt at the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area.  A lottery application process helped to select the seven lucky junior hunters, who then took part in an educational training session on April 17 to prepare for the hunt.  After scouting and setting up the day before the hunt in their designated hunt zone, the young hunters were guided and mentored by their parents, in a traditional manner familiar to many hunting families.  These are the stories of the hunt experience shared by the hunters, in their own words.

David, parent of youth hunter:

The area we were assigned was beautiful with swampy areas, marsh, rolling fields and a stand of forest surrounding us. Friday was our scouting day. We had six hours and used every minute to our advantage. While trudging through the swampland, I came across the thickest shed deer antler I had ever found. This area is a sportsman’s dream come true. Signs of turkey were everywhere:  feathers, scratches and droppings were prevalent. Throughout the day we changed our hunting location three times. We settled on an area near a patch of marshland, with the field to our front, tall grass to our right and woods to our rear. This would be the magic spot. We set the blind up, paced off distances and set up our fields of fire.  Now came the anticipation of the next day! 

We live in Butler, which is around an hour away. Wake up was at 3:30am and headed out the door at 4:00am.  We were greeted by a heavy frost as we pulled into our parking spot at Zone 7. While retrieving our gear, a beaver splashing in the pond behind us scared us half to death. The moon was bright and made it easy for our trek to our stand. Once we got to the blind, we set out the decoys, loaded the shotgun, set up the monopod, arranged our calls and prepared for our hunt. As we sat in anticipation of daybreak, I pulled out my owl call and gave a hoot. The response was overwhelming! Turkeys responded with gobbles all around us.

David and son Nathan, surveying the scene at their turkey hunting spot at Pymatuning.

That took me back to my first hunt and those morning gobbles, I think I was more excited than Nathan. Now we know they are near, and Nathan needs to be ready. Daylight had finally come so I put out a few clucks and performed my fly down cackle. We watched a few birds fly down from their roost about 200 meters away.  Unfortunately this would be the only time we saw turkeys the rest of the day. The morning was spent calling with great results. We would hear the birds get close, then move away in the distance. The process would be repeated all over again the remainder of the morning. Seemed like they had circled our position at least three times.

At times we found ourselves paying more attention to the eagles flying overhead than hunting. Such an awesome sight, with these huge raptors hovering and sounding off above our heads. The time was coming for us to begin packing up and calling it a day when we heard a gobble. We had to give it one last shot!  I gave a few soft purrs and cutts. Alas the tom had eluded us again. Even though my son did not bag a turkey during his first hunt, we still had a lasting experience with great memories and lessons learned. 

In closing this was a successful hunt overall. The beautiful sights and sounds of nature can never be forgotten.  Just being out hunting with my son was priceless. I believe this made him a lifelong turkey hunter!

Nathan, youth hunter:

I would like to thank everyone for putting this hunt together and making it possible for my dad and I to participate.. We heard a lot of turkeys, but didn’t see any. I had a lot of fun and it was my first time turkey hunting.  I didn’t care that I didn’t get anything— I loved the experience and my time in nature. 

Wyatt and his father Lonny outside the blind they hunted from during the Youth Turkey Hunt.

Wyatt, youth hunter:

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to hunt at Pymatuning.  Although I didn’t get a turkey, I still enjoyed the experience and I had a lot of fun.  We heard one gobbling early on, and it got quiet after that. We were close to the lake, so we heard geese honking all morning.  They were so loud that we could hardly hear the turkey gobble!

The annual Youth Turkey Hunt in Pennsylvania takes places each spring on the Saturday before the Saturday opener for the regular Spring Gobbler season.  Each year thousands of young hunters under the age of sixteen head afield in pursuit of bearded turkeys, guided by their mentors who may be family or friends with a passion for passing on this traditional form of hunting.  According to hunter survey data, the harvest success rate for this one day hunt is around 20%.  This figure is similar to that of the regular turkey season, where each year on average only 1 out of every 5 Spring Gobbler hunters harvest a turkey.  As any turkey hunter will tell you, the harvest is just a small part of the overall experience and the challenge of bringing a thunder-gobbling bird into range is what keeps them coming back time and again to participate in this traditional hunt.

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