Teachable Moments about the Nature of Life Abound when Hunting or Fishing with Children
Updated: Nov 9
Note: This article was also published in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star daily newspaper.
Young William Martel is no stranger to outdoors experiences. His dad Andy and his mom Kristi have been bringing the youngster up in a way that regularly exposes him to hunting and fishing and the outdoors lifestyle. Just seven years old, the King William County youngster has been on many hunting trips, usually as an observer. Last Saturday, though, he got to pull the trigger on his first wild turkey.
“I told him if he was going to be the hunter, he’d have to carry his own shotgun,” said Andy. Armed with the single-shot, break-action .410 shotgun and pockets full of goldfish snacks, William followed his mom and dad quietly through the woods to the pop-up hunting blind Andy had erected the day before.
“Blinds are indispensable when you’re hunting with fidgety young kids,” Andy said. And, fidgety old(er) men I might add.
William barely had time to make a dent in the bag of goldfish crackers. Almost as soon as the sun rose, a young tom turkey cooperatively marched himself right toward their decoys. With his dad coaching over his shoulder, William settled the gun into the rest they had brought into the blind and waited until the turkey was perfectly positioned. By 7 a.m., they were packing things up and posing for pictures.
It was a moment shared by many kids and their parents during last weekend’s early hunting opportunity for kids and novices, officially called “apprentice” hunters, in Virginia. Kristi captured a photo of father and son spontaneously, enthusiastically hugging moments after the shot. It is bound to be an image William someday shares with his grandkids.
Andy, a medic firefighter, explained that William’s anticipation had been building for months. There had been the verbal coaching about the hunt, what to do, how the turkeys behave and then there was some range time to practice shooting. Andy wasn’t sure if he wanted William to use the .410 or a 20-gauge, knowing the 20 gauge can fire a lot more pellets, which might help should the shot be a little off the mark.
Targets were placed at 30 yards, the distance Andy determined would be the maximum range for William to take a shot.
“He kept shooting high and right with the 20 (gauge),” Andy said. “He was flinching. With the .410, all of his shots were perfectly on pattern.”
They loaded the shotgun with BOSS TOM shotshells. These are some of the new, expensive tungsten pellet shells – versus copper plated or lead - that are finding favor across much of the country. The density and knockdown power of the tungsten lets shooters downsize their firearms, routinely taking big birds with size 7 or 9 shot. The shells in William’s .410 had size 9 pellets, the only size made for that small gun.
As I said, the shells are expensive, about $40 for a box of 5. But there is no denying their efficacy when it comes to killing turkeys, even in guns such as a .410, usually considered a gun for kids or small-framed shooters that might have trouble with recoil. Even seasoned turkey hunters are switching to .410s and 20-gauge guns using the newer turkey loads. Veteran turkey hunter Jim Spencer of Arkansas told me last fall that he was always a “bigger is better” guy, shooting 3.5-inch magnum payloads out of a 12 gauge only because they didn’t make 4-inch loads. He recently began using Federal’s new Tungsten Super Shot in a smaller gun and says he’s never going back to the cheek-rattling magnums.
But I digress.
William helped Andy clean the turkey. He regularly helps his dad clean wild ducks and he likes to use pliers or tweezers to remove feathers when needed.
“We opened the turkey up and took a look at what he had been eating,” Andy said. “I explained to William that, just like people, wild turkeys can eat a lot of different foods. We found at least 10 different types of seeds and insects in that turkey’s craw. There was even an earthworm.”
Next up, was finishing the meat for storage and cooking. The breasts were packaged for the freezer while the legs and the thighs were destined for a hearty turkey-vegetable soup the next day.
There is something powerful about a child knowing he or she was a big reason for a main dish at a family meal. “I did this,” is a commanding statement when it refers to awareness about helping a family sustain itself. Whether it be eating fish, game birds, red meat such as venison, or vegetables grown in a family garden, that sense of being a provider creates lifelong values.
When you take a youngster hunting or fishing and then follow it through to the natural endpoint of letting them participate in using that fish and game for food, you share a broad lesson about life. I believe the child who kills that turkey or catches a fish and then gets to partake in its transformation into food learns more about the nature of things – the “web of life” as it’s sometimes called - than a kid watching dad unload sacks of plastic and Styrofoam-packaged supermarket meat into the refrigerator. It reinforces that food can come directly from their own effort and skill.
That comparison between store-bought food and self-procured food can be explained as the fish and game is being cleaned. As Andy knows, every step in the process represents a teachable moment for William. When filleting a fish, skinning a deer or breaking down a turkey, you can explain to the child that the meat they see in in the supermarket all had to be processed into the cuts they enjoy eating, the food so important to their body’s development and sustainment. When you buy the fish or meat from the store, though, you have paid others to do the toughest work.
William briefly lent a hand in making the soup, helping cut up vegetables, picking turkey meat from the bone and stirring in seasonings, before joining his dad in outdoor chores.
“He’s always extremely helpful in the kitchen,” Kristi said, “but this time we talked about how important it is that when we take an animal’s life we need to respect and honor our harvest. One way to do that is by feeding our family; while the hunting is fun, it’s also serving a purpose.”
So, how was the soup? “William ate three bowls,” Andy said with a big laugh.