The sound of footsteps crunching leaves and breaking twigs seemed to echo throughout the stillness of the woods. The birds were just now waking up, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like sleeping in until the sun was making its appearance above the horizon.
I strained my ears, hoping to hear a turkey gobbling in the open field before us, but instead all I could hear was the thudding sound of my two-year-old daughter jumping off a rotten log.
And yet, despite the absence of gobbles, the morning felt perfect. Finding the perfect balance between being a hunter and being a mother was everything I had ever wanted.
Many people will throw back their head with laughter at the mere mention of hunting – especially turkey hunting – with anyone under the age of 8. Yet, having hunted with my daughter Isabella since shortly after she was born, I wasn’t deterred by the naysayers. And I not only enjoy hunting with my toddler, but I recommend it to any parent who hunts.
Turkey hunting with a toddler won’t be like any turkey hunt you have ever been on before. When it comes to filling a tag, you’ll want to set low standards for yourself. Will you enjoy yourself? Absolutely. Will you fill a tag? Definitely possible, but it shouldn’t be your first priority.
Hunting with a toddler means seeing the world anew through their eyes. They will remind you of all the things you noticed as a child, and often forget to notice as an adult. It can be simultaneously frustrating and rewarding and end up being some of the best hunts of your life.
Safety - Being safe has always been my top priority when hunting with my daughter. For years I turkey hunted public land without giving it a second thought, yet once I started bringing my daughter along, I chose to stay off public land unless it was archery only. Private property seemed like it made more sense.
Comfort - I carried my daughter in a backpack carrier for most of the time turkey hunting, although last year she also walked a fair bit of our hunts. I made sure she was comfortable in her backpack carrier, as well as having suitable camo or natural colored clothing and a good pair of boots that were appropriate for whatever temperatures we were hunting. I also highly recommend a good all-natural bug spray, or a Thermacell to help keep mosquitoes and flies at bay. If you’re gun hunting, don’t forget ear protection in the event you get a shot at a turkey.
Sustenance - Snacks and water are ultimately what I have found to make or break a hunt. I kept a pocket full of crackers and lollipops to hand to my daughter at opportune moments, usually when I thought a gobbler was going to finally close the distance. Snacking almost always equals a quiet and happy kid, both of which is desirable when you’re trying to get a gobbler within shooting range.
Change How You Hunt - Think outside the box – and outside the blind –when it comes to hunting with a toddler. Some kids love blinds, and that’s great. Ground blinds are a great way to muffle sound and block movement from the sharp eyesight of a wary Tom. Unfortunately for me, Isabella hated ground blinds from day one. She would start crying as soon as I zipped up the door and would immediately try to climb out of it. She has since improved somewhat, but vastly prefers staying out of the blind…which is fine by me. I have always preferred the “run and gun” method, even with my bow, and it’s something you shouldn’t rule out. Take advantage of natural cover, and it’s easy to stay tucked up along the backside of a big oak tree – the roots make a fine seat for a two-year-old.
Make Your Own Schedule - Although many people will tell you the best time to turkey hunt is at sunrise, that’s not always the best time if you have a toddler in tow. I learned quickly that it doesn’t always make for a great hunt when you wake your child at 5 a.m. On the contrary, letting them sleep in a bit and heading to the woods as the sun is coming up is often your best bet. If they’re cranky, don’t be afraid to call it a day. Not every day will be perfect, and it’s more about enjoying the adventure than anything else.
It's Their Hunt - This is something many adults will struggle with, but making the hunt more about an enjoyable time for your toddler than killing a gobbler will help ensure that your kid wants to go again. Slow down and let them walk if they want. Notice the birds chirping, the rabbit hopping through the Mayapple, the Box Turtle slowly crossing the path. Take a minute to sit on a tree stump and watch the sun come up while steam rises from the thermos of hot chocolate. Let your child try out the slate call and your binoculars, and remember that this is what they’ll remember the most. These are core memories, and it’s what will make them want to hunt again and again. I know that’s how my story started.
Take the time to teach your little ones about hunting and set an example. They are, after all, the future of turkey hunting and the outdoors.