By Todd Holmes, Shooting Sports Outreach Coordinator
I was born into a Pennsylvania hunting family. My great grandparents, grandparents and parents all were avid outdoorsmen and women in Penn’s Woods. So when I was old enough to take hunter education (age 11) it was like a rite of passage for me. My first success was shooting a hen turkey during my first hunting season with my father also taking a fall bird the same day. I spent the next few years having good success with the turkeys, but the whitetail deer proved to be more difficult. I was drawn to the challenge and placed my focus on taking my first deer. Over the next fifteen years I kept that focus on deer, even after successfully harvesting several respectable specimens.
During that time, I had lost my desire to chase the wild turkey. Many other distractions had taken priority and it had been close to ten years since I had even carried a shotgun in the woods during the spring season. That all was about to change. On June 30, 2012 my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world and he was of course wrapped up in the hunting lifestyle our family embraces. With the addition of the mentored youth program he was able to start hunting at a much younger age. He spent many months practicing and was able to harvest several deer prior to his 7th birthday.
Our son spends a fair amount of time with his grandfather (Pap) who is a turkey hunting wizard. So I wasn’t surprised when our son came home wide-eyed one day in February, asking if he could hunt turkeys in the spring. Seeing the look in his eyes reminded me of the excitement that I once had for the turkey. Thus began a course to have him prepared for the youth turkey opener a few months away. Those months seemed to fly by, but I found myself growing more excited about taking my son for his first turkey hunt.
The eve of the youth turkey opener was upon us and we had a bird put to roost, gear all laid out, departure and arrival times were set. The plan was perfect. The morning was cool and the rain the night before made for a silent approach to our location. We were set and ready well before light. Before daylight broke we had gobbles echoing off the ridge and birds strutting in trees within sight. Everything looked to be in our favor.
When the first bird hit the ground, it was a flurry of activity with other birds landing all around us and calls ringing out from all directions. Before long, we had long beards making appearances to our right, left and behind but none wanted to cooperate with our setup. Over the next three hours my son was able to watch and hear a half dozen gobblers and even take the safety off and put the bead on a bird, but it wasn’t meant to be that day.
What really happened that day was much bigger than any bird being harvested. I watched my son’s eyes wide with excitement all morning and that spilled over into me. The whole next week my son and I talked non-stop about the hunt and were looking forward to the following weekend. I found myself with a renewed energy for the turkey but in a different way.
Becoming a mentor has been one of the most rewarding and exciting things I have ever done in my hunting career. The ability to pass your knowledge on to others and see their excitement brings a new meaning to a successful hunting experience. Mentoring rekindled the fire for me to take to the woods and it could do the same for you. If you know someone interested in trying hunting, jump at the chance to take them. It may be one of the best experiences you ever have in Penn’s Woods.
Todd Holmes is the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Shooting Sports Outreach Coordinator and all-around outdoorsman from Perry County, PA.