I had the distinct pleasure to meet Rich Williams of the Arizona Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation at the HAHWG event that I went to back in January. Rich got to talking about the Junior Turkey Hunting Camps that the NWTF puts on every year and invited me to come up and see what the NWTF is all about. There are several Junior Turkey Hunting Camps put on in Arizona, depending on where a junior hunter draws their tag, and each camp is 100% free of charge for the hunter and their family to come up and enjoy. The camp provides the hunter and their family with food, a mentor hunter who heads out into the field with the junior hunter and their guardian, giveaways/raffles, seminars, and a great atmosphere to enjoy the outdoors.
So Friday after work, with my truck loaded and ready to go, I headed north to check out the Marvin Robbins Memorial Juniors Turkey Hunting Camp at Colcord Ridge Campground. As I shook hands with some old friends, a truck pulled up with a successful junior hunter (pictured below). After the high-fives and handshakes were over the youth hunter (Ben) relayed the exploits of the afternoon. Ben had done all the calling himself and when the first gobbler presented himself, Ben let loose with his shotgun and bagged his first Merriams tom. He was cool, calm and collected and recounted the story like an old pro.
After setting up my tent, I toured around the camp, checking out all the different things that were offered to hunters and non-hunters who were in camp. The Arizona Elk Society graciously had set up and done all the cooking for the weekend. Even though this was not an elk hunting camp, it showed that promoting the heritage of hunting is important, no matter what style or species you like to hunt. The Arizona Elk Society did a fantastic job feeding all the people in camp and the food was absolutely delicious.
There were other activities going on while the hunters trickled back into camp. The Arizona Game and Fish had set up a small archery course for those who wanted to fling a few arrows. The Phoenix Varmit Callers showed up and did a short seminar on predator calling, and Mike Stewart, from Arizona Flycasters, and I did a brief fly casting demonstration and talked about fly fishing in Arizona. The goal of the camp was to not only give junior hunters a great experience in the field, but to introduce non-hunters to the outdoors in a positive way.
Hunters trickled back into camp and dinner was served by the Arizona Elk Society. Camp came alive as hunters relayed the stories of the afternoon and comparing notes on turkey activity. Several birds had been harvested that day, and it was one of the amazing experiences to see a young hunter’s animated face as they recounted the experiences in the field.
Even though this is a “Turkey Hunting Camp” put on by the Arizona Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, multiple organizations were represented in a collaborative effort to make it happen. Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Flycasters, Arizona Game and Fish, Hunt of a Lifetime Arizona Chapter, and Phoenix Varmit Callers were a few of the several organizations represented at the camp.
After dinner, hunters poured over maps and discussed plans for the morning hunt. Turkeys had been responsive throughout the day, and many hunters had roosted birds in hopes of finding them in the same spot in the morning.
Brenda Valentine, “The First Lady of Hunting”, made an appearance at the Colcord Ridge Camp.
I was honored to meet up with Matt Minshall from Hunt of a Lifetime, and he asked if I’d be interested in heading out in the morning with his group. I jumped at the chance and made plans to head out with a youth hunter, Josh and his older brother.
We were ready to go at 4 in the morning and out of the truck, we walked a couple hundred yards and blew on the old crow call. Immediately, we heard a gobble a bit deeper in the woods. We made several setups and called to the bird, but were unsuccessful at fooling the gobbler. We walked quite a bit and were able to get some responses, but it seemed most of the birds were “henned up” and not interested in coming in to investigate our calls.
Midday Saturday consisted of lunch, a couple of special seminars, a fly casting demonstration, and then gearing up for the evening hunt. Saturday was a tough day of hunting and unfortunately, no one in camp was able to call in any birds. That all changed on Sunday.
After a long day on Saturday, I had plans to head out early on Sunday for some early fishing before heading home. My plans were thwarted when I found out there was french toast and sausage for breakfast. I hung around a bit, ate breakfast and talked to some of the folks who were milling around camp. Before I left, two youth hunters came into camp with beautiful gobblers. They were all smiles as they told the tales of calling in these toms.
As I left camp, I could not help but feel as if I had been a part of something important and timeless. The Arizona Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is actively sharing the joy and heritage of hunting with youth hunters. Other organizations involved in the HAHWG are doing the same thing.
If you are looking to get involved with mentoring new hunters or if you are interested in getting started hunting, there are opportunities all across the great state of Arizona. I actively am trying to share these on Facebook and the Arizona Outdoor Events Calendar. The Arizona Game and Fish Department also posts this information on their site. As Rich Williams shared with me this weekend, “Someone took the time to teach you the joy of hunting. Who are you going to share it with?”