DNR Holds First Youth Wild Turkey Hunts

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held its first youth-only wild turkey hunts, April 17-18. There will be more youth wild turkey hunts in future years according to agency officials.

Twenty first-time turkey hunters and their parents went afield before sunrise in pre-assigned hunting areas throughout the lower Minnesota River Valley.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the DNR, in opening portions of the federally managed Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the state owned Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area to the youth hunters.

The public lands utilized in the hunt, which stretched from Belle Plaine to Savage, are generally closed to spring turkey hunting, but were opened specifically for the special youth hunt.

"We are trying to increase access at the same time we are giving kids an opportunity to hunt turkeys for the first time," said Ryan Bronson, the DNR's Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program coordinator. "Opening additional places to hunt, even if it is only for these special hunts, helps us recruit new hunters without displacing our existing ones."

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) also partnered on the hunt. The Southwest Metro Chapter of NWTF put on a picnic lunch in Chaska during the hunt. Volunteers from NWTF served as mentors for several hunt participants. Additionally, NWTF volunteers put on a pre-hunt turkey clinic to emphasize safe and effective turkey hunting techniques for the beginning hunters.

"Our chapter places a lot of value in serving the community as a whole," said Tom Redman, a volunteer with the NWTF. "Introducing kids to conservation through turkey hunting is one way we are happy to help improve Minnesota."

Good weather greeted hunters Saturday morning. Most participants reported seeing and hearing birds. At least one young lady successfully harvested a bird Saturday morning. Several other hunt participants took turkeys Sunday.

In the north metro, another special youth hunt is taking place utilizing a slightly different format. The Wildlife Science Center, a Forest Lake based research and education organization, opened up its' property in northern Anoka county for a group of first time turkey hunters. Their parents and volunteer mentors will accompany two young hunters per weekend for five consecutive weekends.

Hunters were recruited by the Wildlife Science Center. A firearms safety class was held for participants who had not yet received the mandatory Firearms Safety Certification. The NWTF conducted a turkey-hunting clinic at the Forest Lake Gander Mountain. The store also outfitted the participants with camouflage clothing and turkey calls. Double Bull Blinds, a Monticello based manufacturer, donated two blinds for the hunters to use.

The DNR worked closely with Wildlife Science Center staff, the Center's director Peggy Callahan, and firearms safety instructor Dan Porter in organizing the hunt. Volunteers from the NWTF conducted a pre-hunt orientation and safety clinic. They will be accompanying hunters to teach them the skills needed to become successful turkey hunters.

Both young hunters on the Wildlife Science Center property successfully bagged birds on the opening weekend. Seven more hunters will be going afield over the next four weekends hoping to maintain that streak.

"Actually taking birds is a great experience for the kids, but these hunts are successful regardless if they get to squeeze the trigger or not," Bronson said. "They are learning first hand all of the good things involved with hunting, from being in the woods at first light, to sharing a sandwich in the field with friends and family. Hunting experiences involve thousands of sights, sounds, smells and emotions that you can only understand fully by being there."

Youth turkey hunts are the latest addition to a series of initiatives the DNR is undertaking to increase participation in hunting by young people. Nationally, hunter participation rates are declining, particularly among young people, and the DNR has made a strong commitment to preventing that trend from taking hold in Minnesota.

According to Bronson, the public should expect more special hunts and regulation changes aimed at getting kids away from the video games and out in the field.