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May 12, 2004

Teens take a turn at wild turkeys

From: Fort Wayne News Sentinel, IN - May 12, 2004

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Sixteen-year-old Jessi Girard of Cambridge had never killed anything before.

Now she's a successful wild-turkey hunter.

Shane Wozney, a hearing-impaired 17-year-old from Owatonna had hunted deer, but never had a chance at a wild turkey.

Now he's a wild-turkey hunter with a new appreciation for the strange sounds made by wild toms.

"It sounds like a long, slow phone ringing," said Wozney of the gobble sound, after his hunting mentor, Steven Rutchi, held a gobbler call close to Wozney's ear for a demonstration.

Both teens are beneficiaries of a new program designed to introduce kids to wild-turkey hunting. The first-ever youth hunts are taking place at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge, the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area and land owned by the Wildlife Science Center, a research facility near Forest Lake.

Many of the 29 youth participants never had hunted. All spent weeks of preparation, including taking firearms safety classes and a turkey-hunting seminar.

Girard took both classes and hunted an entire day with mentor Dan Porter without seeing a wild tom.

"Until the day of the hunt, I wasn't sure if I could pull the trigger," said Girard, whose mother, Beth, also spent the weekend in the hunting blind. "At first I was so nervous I could hardly hold the gun straight."

But on the second day, Girard coolly bagged a 15-pound, 8-ounce "jake" or young tom. She cleaned the bird herself and plans to mount the tail feathers, too.

"Both of them were very impressive," said Porter of Jessi and her mother. "They were so patient. Jessi was such a trooper. We spent 11 1/2 hours in the blind, and I don't know too many adult hunters who could handle that."

On his second day of hunting, Wozney had three toms strutting in front of his blind, but he lost sight of them after Rutchi signaled him by tapping his shoulder. The toms flew away, but "I surely learned something big from the hunting experience, it was a rich one ... and a memory," Wozney said.

Wozney, who is mostly deaf, said he wished that hearing aids could help his hearing for hunting trips. Otherwise, he's dependent upon his hearing hunting partners for help.

"Yes, I am deaf, but that doesn't actually mean I couldn't do some things," he said in an e-mail interview. "The motto, by the deaf people, applies. We can do anything, except hear."

He said he was encouraged by that fact that only about one-third of all turkey hunters are successful each season.

Girard said her interest in hunting began when she joined the Isanti County 4H shooting club. She volunteers at the Wildlife Science Center and was encouraged by the center's director, Peggy Callahan, to try turkey hunting. Even though she didn't see a turkey the first day, she was excited about seeing hawks, owls, woodpeckers and deer.

She attributes her killing shot on the second day to luck and admitted she was a bit worried about her mom.

"She's a bit of a pacifist, but a really cool mom," Girard said. "Nobody in my family for three generations has hunted, but my mom really encourages me to try new things."

Said Porter: "Her mom was with her the whole time. It might sound like a cliche, but it was a wonderful thing to experience and see them."

Callahan said the first three youth hunters bagged turkeys, including a 25-pound tom with a 10-inch beard. She described the teen's experiences as "amazing."

"You see them making the connect, that's it's not just about the killing," Callahan said. "It gives kids an additional activity that's enriching."

Nine teens are participating in the Wildlife Science Center hunt and 20 are participating at the hunt at the Minnesota Valley refuge. The hunts were jointly organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Wildlife Science Center. Gander Mountain provided camouflage clothing and calls, and Double Bull Blinds of Monticello provided hunting blinds.

Special changes were made to state laws to allow the youth hunters to be aided by their mentors. Turkey federation volunteers held the turkey clinics that emphasized safety and effective hunting techniques.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://

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