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Max Konickson, 6, Red Lake Falls, Minn., shares a laugh with his dad, Dan, as they get ready for an evening turkey hunt April 21 north of Red Lake Falls. (Brad Dokken photo)

Minnesota turkey regulations break down barriers in an effort to promote youth hunting opportunities

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PENNINGTON COUNTY, Minn. — Max Konickson had been in the blind all of three minutes when he asked his dad the question kids inevitably ask on hunting trips.

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“Did we bring anything to eat?” Max whispered.

They’d only be out for a couple of hours before dark so there were no snacks, but if all went according to plan, Max, 6, and his dad, Dan, would have plenty to eat by night’s end — in the form of a wild turkey. The father and son from Red Lake Falls, Minn., had joined friend Cory Loeffler of nearby St. Hilaire, Minn., to try to get Max his first turkey.

Loeffler already had helped four kids shoot turkeys since the season opened April 16, and the goal on this spring evening was to keeping the streak going. Minnesota allows kids of any age to hunt turkeys as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or other adult guardian. Kids 12 and younger can get a license for a $1 issuing fee, and the license for hunters age 13 through 17 is $6, including the issuing fee.

Unlike adults, who are limited to specific permit areas and time frames, youth hunters can hunt anywhere in the state for the entire season or until they shoot a turkey — whichever comes first — and there’s no lottery.

“I’ve never shot a turkey,” Loeffler said. “It’s more fun taking kids out and letting them shoot.”

There was reason for optimism. During a scouting trip the previous evening, Loeffler had seen more than 30 turkeys in three groups within a short distance of the area they now were hunting. He’d gotten permission from the landowner to take Max, a Red Lake Falls kindergartner, hunting; now, he just had to convince a wily tom turkey to strut in on the two decoys they’d set between the blind and a plowed field just past the edge of the woods.

But there was a problem.

“Ah, shoot,” Loeffler whispered to Max, trying to keep a straight face. “I forgot my turkey watch. I’ve got a turkey watch, and it tells me when the turkeys are coming. Now what are we going to do?”

The look on Max’s face said it all: He wasn’t buying a word of it.

After a winter too long in ending, the woods were alive on this April evening. The wind that howled from the northwest most of the day had finally subsided, and the sounds of sandhill cranes, chorus frogs, Canada geese and other birds threatened to overpower the clucking and purring noises Loeffler made with his turkey mouth call.

Turkeys have a keen sense of hearing, though, which quickly became apparent when the sound the crew was waiting to hear emerged from the field to their left, just past the edge of the woods.

Loeffler started the conversation with his mouth call, and the turkeys replied every time.

“Gobble-gobble-gobble,” in rapid succession.

“Gobble-gobble-gobble.”

Then they appeared through the brush, two toms walking across the plowed field just past the edge of the woods.

Thoughts of being hungry were quickly forgotten. …

Recent development

Turkey hunting is a relatively new development in northwest Minnesota. In 2006, the Department of Natural Resources released 80 eastern-strain birds from southeast Minnesota at sites southwest of Thief River Falls and northeast of Red Lake Falls.

Turkeys also were released near Fertile, Erskine and Bagley, Minn., and East Park and New Maine wildlife management areas east of Middle River, Minn. All told, the DNR released 206 wild turkeys in northwest Minnesota from 2006 to 2008.

From what he’s seen, Loeffler says the turkeys are doing great.

“They seem to spread out a mile or two each year,” he said. “I have talked to a couple of guys that are hunting almost 10 miles away from where we are. These kids sure have a blast with it. The temperature is nice, not much hard work and the birds put on quite the show once in awhile.”

That’s a perfect combination for introducing kids to hunting.

According to Mike “Cold Front” Kurre, mentoring program coordinator for the DNR in St. Paul, Minnesota has promoted youth turkey hunting opportunities with reduced license prices and no age limits for the past three or four years.

New this year, kids can hunt the entire season in any permit area or until they shoot a bird, whichever comes first.

 The Minnesota Legislature approved that provision last year, Kurre said, and the DNR and National Wild Turkey Federation supported it. He said the change has been well-received by parents and other adult mentors.

“The one thing I’ve heard is they really love the flexibility” of allowing youths to hunt the entire season, Kurre said. “If you’re limited to just one time on a weekend or one day, and the weather goes bad and the turkeys aren’t cooperating or kids are whining or just plain cold, you’re hunt’s over with.

“This opens up the whole season for multiple opportunities, and that’s the key — multiple chances to get kids hooked on the outdoors.”

Adult discretion

Because turkey hunting generally is confined to the controlled environment of a blind, there’s no minimum age for young hunters to receive a license in Minnesota. That’s different from other hunting seasons, in which the rules are more stringent. The only requirements for turkey hunting, Kurre said, are that the parent or guardian be “within arm’s reach” at all times, and the kid physically pulls the trigger.

Beyond that, he said, it’s at the parents’ discretion.

“There really have been no issues whatsoever,” Kurre said. “As long as the parent uses good judgment, and the parents are responsible, it works out just fine.”

The efforts to promote youth turkey hunting opportunities appear to be working, Kurre said. As of Tuesday morning, the DNR had sold nearly 7,400 youth turkey licenses, compared with slightly more than 5,500 at the same time last year.

Conceivably, that’s almost 2,000 new hunters who might not otherwise be going afield.

“The parent or guardian still has to get involved,” Kurre said. “It’s nothing the kids can do by themselves. It really takes a hunter to make a hunter.”

Dan Konickson had prepared Max for the boy’s first turkey hunt by helping him hold the shotgun and shooting at milk jugs and 2 liter pop bottles set about 20 yards away.

“I’d hold the stock of the gun against my shoulder, and he’d still line up and pull the trigger,” Dan said. “I had ear muffs, too. One thing kids are worried about is the kick of the gun, but he didn’t really have any issues with it.”

Score one for the turkeys

For whatever reason, the two toms that had so eagerly responded to Loeffler’s call had a sudden change of heart and refused to turn toward the decoys and the young hunter waiting in the blind just beyond.

Instead, they continued walking across the field and out of sight.

And that was how it ended.

“Usually when they’re that responsive, they just come running right in,” Loeffler said. “I thought that was a sure deal.”

Sitting in his folding chair with a panda head backrest, Max looked up at his dad.

“Dad, there’s no turkeys coming up to us,” he whispered. “Now what are we going to shoot?”

“We’ll just have to shoot the decoys,” his dad joked. “Or shoot the breeze.”

There’s plenty of season left, though, and with a little bit of luck, Max will get another crack at the turkey that eluded him on this spring evening.

Max was disappointed, his dad said, but at the same time, he learned one of the lessons hunting teaches.

“I told him, ‘Look at it this way,’” Dan said later. “You know Cory will keep taking you until you get one. Look at it as more opportunities to go hunting.

“Maybe it’s a good thing not shooting them right away,” he added. “It’s like taking a kid out deer hunting and they shoot a 10- or 12-pointer (buck) the first time out. They think, ‘this is pretty easy.’ It’s the exact opposite.”

And as any outdoors lover will attest, there are worse ways to spend a spring evening than listening to the sounds of nature and watching a pair of big tom turkeys walk into view, even if they don’t come quite close enough.

That’s what it’s all about, the DNR’s Kurre says.

“You have to spend that time with the kids, and this whole new set of regulations has really opened up the opportunities,” Kurre said. “The opportunities are there — you’ve just got to take advantage of them.”

Youth Turkey Regs

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s youth turkey hunting requirements and the benefits the regulations provide, according to Mike “Cold Front” Kurre, mentoring program coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul.

  •  Must be 17 or younger.
  •  Must purchase license.
  •  $1 issuing fee for youth 12 and younger.
  •  License for hunters ages 13 through 17 is only $6, which includes the issuing fee.
  •  License is good for the entire season in the turkey hunting range until they harvest a bird or May 29 — whichever comes first.
  •  An unlicensed adult can assist in the hunt but can’t pull the trigger — so the adult can focus on the youthful hunter.

Kurre said he’s hearing a lot of positives about the season-long youth hunting opportunity, including:

  •  If the weather is poor, they still have a season.
  •  If there’s a school function, they can just hunt around it.
  •  Lots of flexibility.
  •  The price is right.

More info: mndnr.gov.

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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 
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