Youths get first crack at turkey hunting

NEAR BRAINERD, MINN. -- It isn't that Amber Reinking doesn't have any experience with turkeys. She raised three of them last summer at her Rice Lake Township home.

Amber Reinking
Amber Reinking, 16, of Rice Lake Township keeps an eye on a clearing outside her turkey-hunting blind while making her first-ever turkey hunt near Brainerd on April 17. (Sam Cook /

NEAR BRAINERD, MINN. -- It isn't that Amber Reinking doesn't have any experience with turkeys. She raised three of them last summer at her Rice Lake Township home.

"I held them in my lap when I watched movies," said the 16-year-old Duluth Central sophomore.

But when it came to hunting wild turkeys, nobody in her family had any experience. That's why, early on April 17, Amber and her brother Dalton, 14, were sitting in separate blinds with turkey-hunting mentors listening to gobbler calls ring through the woods.

They were hunting in Minnesota's mentored youth turkey hunt sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

The sun had not yet eased over the horizon. Amber sat fully camouflaged in a portable turkey blind with her mother, Lisa Reinking, sitting just behind her. Amber cradled her 12-gauge pump shotgun and peered out an opening in the blind at a green field of young rye.


One gobbler was calling from somewhere over her left shoulder a good distance away. Another one was sounding off to the right. Soon, a third gobbler joined the chorus from behind.

About every 15 minutes, I scratched out a few furtive hen yelps on a box call. I was filling in for a mentor who had been called away on the eve of this mentored hunt.

Statewide, 305 first-time turkey hunters were in the field that Saturday morning, said Mike Kurre, mentoring program coordinator for the DNR. Here in the Brainerd area, Dan Zimmerman of the Central Minnesota Gobblers chapter of NWTF had rounded up seven mentors and plenty of private property for the April 17-18 hunt.

The Brainerd area has plenty of turkeys, said Zimmerman, who has been president of the NWTF chapter for 12 years.

"The population is almost to the point of explosive," Zimmerman said.

Wild turkeys were first introduced in the area in 1998.

"They've really established due to the mild winters," he said. "There's a certain amount of agriculture, and plenty of heavy cover."

On that Saturday morning, Zimmerman was on another rye field, serving as mentor for Dennis Saathoff of Hibbing, who was accompanied by his dad, Todd Saathoff. They, too, were hearing turkeys.


Dalton Scores

The gobblers cut loose every few minutes, and the bird to Amber's left was definitely moving in our direction. The woods were alive with other sounds, too. Sandhill cranes rattled their resonant trills from a lowland. An American bittern performed its "slough-pumper" call behind us. A barred owl oboed from a hollow. A ruffed grouse drummed in the woods.

The urgency of perpetuating the species seemed to be on every critter's mind.

About 6:30 a.m., a single shotgun blast shook the woods. By 6:45 a.m., Lisa Reinking had received a text message from Dalton, along with a cell-phone photo of the 20-pound turkey he had killed.

Later we would get the full story. He had been in his blind with his mentor, Jeff Weaver of Anoka, Minn., and Dalton's dad, Les Reinking.

"They started gobbling," Dalton said. "He [Weaver] called back to them. At first they were on their roost, but we heard him get closer. The last time we heard him, Jeff said, 'Get ready. He's coming.'"

"He came in on a rope," Weaver said.

"He was running head-first, like, 'Here I am,'" Dalton said. "I had the gun up and ready."


The gobbler never got close to the hen decoy Weaver had put out in a clearing. Dalton shot the gobbler at 15 to 20 yards. It had an 8-inch beard.

If the purpose of this mentored hunt was to get a kid hooked on turkey hunting, it worked.

"Oh, yeah," Dalton said. "I want to do it again."

Waiting Game

Meanwhile, Amber played the waiting game as we tried to interest two long-distance gobblers in a visit. Amber and Dalton come from a hunting family.

"They used to fall asleep at my feet in my stand when I was bear hunting," Lisa said.

Amber shot her first bear two falls ago. Dalton shot his first one last year. Amber said she's been deer hunting "for as long as I can remember" and has a big nine-pointer to her credit, among others.

She can tell you what she loves about hunting.

"I like that it's quiet and you're anticipating the animal to come," she said. "And the excitement when your heart starts beating real fast when you get ready to fire."

As required by this hunt, she and Dalton and their parents attended a turkey-hunting seminar in Duluth. Lisa had seen a notice about the mentored hunt in the newspaper and had called to sign up her kids. They had hoped to hunt in Carlton County, but mentors there were booked. So, the DNR arranged for the hunt near Brainerd.

The mentored hunt ran until noon, and Amber held out all morning. Amber tried her hand at the box call and picked it up quickly. We called about every 20 minutes, but could persuade no gobblers to check us out.

She didn't seem discouraged. She knows that a big part of hunting is waiting.

Still, she had brought the same confidence to turkey hunting that she had to her other hunting. She had been so bold as to make a $20 bet with her brother that she would get the first turkey between them.

Amber could only shake her head at the way things turned out.

"Usually, I get the animal first," she said. "I don't know what went wrong here."

Turkey hunting
Dalton Reinking (left) and his sister, Amber, show off the gobbler that Dalton, 14, shot on April 17 near Brainerd. The bird weighed 20 pounds and had an 8-inch beard. Both youths were taking part in a mentored youth turkey hunt. (Photos by Sam Cook /

What To Read Next
On Valentine's Day 1942, the war was less than three months old, but children were already in the fight.
The Touchdown Pepperoni Cheese Ball features a medley of popular pizza flavors including mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, olives, jalapeños, onion, garlic, crushed red peppers, oregano and pepperoni.
Columnist Tammy Swift says certain foods have become so expensive and in-demand that they outshine the traditional Valentine's Day gifts like roses or jewelry. Bouquet of eggs, anyone?
This week, gardening columnist Don Kinzler fields questions about planting potatoes, rabbit-resistant shrubs, and how to prevent tomato blossom end rot.