The Monocacy Valley Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation recently sponsored two youth orientated events promoting outdoor recreation, hunter preparation and conservation. The first event was the annual JAKES Day held on March 28 at Catoctin Fish and Game Protective Association in Myersville. JAKES Days are an important outreach program for the NWTF. A jake is a young male turkey and JAKES is an acronym for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship.
A total of 78 youth attended the outdoor event despite the wet weather conditions. They were divided into small groups that moved to a variety of stations throughout the day with social-distancing protocols in place. The morning session began with fishing in the stocked pond located on the club property. Hundreds of hungry rainbow trout were purchased for the event and fortunately the fish were eager biters.
Afternoon activities included an archery range hosted by the Tuscarora Archers, shotgun patterning on the gun range and turkey calling demonstrations. In addition, a Woods Walk station was led by expert turkey hunters to help prepare young hunters for the upcoming spring turkey season. The station featured plenty of practical hunting advice with an emphasis on hunting safely. Turkey calls, camouflage, guns and other gear were discussed.
At the end of the day, winners of the bucket raffle were announced that included a new .410 shotgun for turkey hunting. Names of young hunters who had successfully completed a hunter safety course were randomly drawn for the upcoming mentored turkey hunts.
A total of 23 names were selected that included eight females. Twelve of the kids had no previous hunting experience, and nine had no previous turkey hunting experience. Mentors were provided the contact information of their prospective mentees in preparation for the hunt on April 17, the first day of the Junior Turkey Hunt. Hunting locations in Frederick, Washington and Carroll counties were assigned to each mentor that included mostly private farmlands where permission to hunt was granted.
Preparing for the Junior Turkey Hunt
As an active member of the Monocacy Valley Chapter and an experienced turkey hunter, I volunteered to mentor a junior hunter. I contacted Scott Taylor, the father of 16-year-old Colby who was my mentee. Since Scott was taking Colby’s younger brother hunting on the Junior Turkey Hunt Day, he informed me that Colby’s grandfather, Ron Markline, would be the guardian present on our hunt.
I scouted the property several days before the hunt and was fortunate to see several turkeys and observed their movement on the property. I chose a location for a natural blind along a fencerow between two fields. The location was positioned at the crest of a hill above the wooded root site. Two days before the hunt, I met with Colby and Ron and took them to the location. We also saw turkeys on that visit, which solidified our confidence about the location.
As an older JAKES member, Colby was not new to turkey hunting. He had a few years of successful turkey-hunting experience with his grandfather. That made my job easier. In my mind, this was their hunt, and I had a nominal role to play as their guide.
Maryland Junior Turkey Hunting Day April 17
On the morning of the hunt, we met on-site at 5 a.m. In the darkness, we forded a small stream and walked quietly across the large field to the blind site. Colby brought three decoys that included two hens and a jake. The decoys were positioned approximately 25 paces from the edge of the fencerow. I brought a shooting stick for Colby to rest his gun as well as providing the stability for a steady shot. Once we were set, we anxiously waited for the sun to rise and hoped a gobbler would sound off.
The first gobbles we heard were far off in the distance and not on the property we were hunting. Fortunately, at 6:07 a.m. a tom gobbled from the woods below our position. A second gobble followed about 10 minutes later. That was the extent of the gobbles we heard that morning. The lack of gobbling meant that we needed to be prepared to expect a bird to appear quietly at any moment.
We waited for a time before calling to allow the birds time to fly down from the roost. It was a chilly morning with light winds. The rising sun brought welcoming warmth on our backs as we waited patiently for turkeys to enter the field. Ron and I took turns calling softly, even Colby gave a series of yelps, imitating a hen looking for company.
At 6:45, a hen turkey walked quickly across the field about 100 yards from our blind. She seemed to be on a mission, and although she heard our calls and looked our way, she never changed direction and soon was out of sight.
We expected a gobbler to be following her, but that was not to be the case. As time went on with no gobbles or turkeys in sight, I began to wonder where the tom we heard sound-off earlier had gone. I decided to call a bit more aggressively. Soon after, the gobbler appeared from the wood line below. The tom saw the decoys and went into a full strut. He was a beautiful sight as he approached the decoys in full strut with his wing dropped and his tail fanned. On his blue head he wore a white crown and bright red neck waddles. His iridescent feathers were shimmering in the morning sunlight.
We could see this bird was a jake as the center feathers in his tail were longer than the others. He worked eventually his way slowly but steady into the decoys. At his grandfather’s signal, Colby fired his 20-gauge shotgun, and the gobbler dropped like a stone. The perfect ending to a well-prepared hunt. Colby was thrilled with his prize that actually sported a double-beard!
Later that morning the mentors and all of the participants met at Thurmont Conservation and Sportsman Club for lunch provided by the Monocacy Chapter. At that time, three turkeys had been taken by junior hunters Colby Taylor, Garrett Leatherman and Wyatt Zylka. I was told that two more birds were added to the daily total on the afternoon hunt as well.
Both of these events are designed to help pass on the traditions of responsible hunting, while teaching the principles of conservation, hunting ethics and safety. The Monocacy Valley Chapter of the NWTF welcomes new members. For more information, contact Russ Leith at email@example.com.
(Contact Dan Neuland at firstname.lastname@example.org.)