Deane Smith spent a lot of time staffing a booth as a representative of the Penobscot County Conservation Association at the Cabin Fever Reliever outdoor show in February.
It took him just one conversation with a family to convince him that he was going to have a busy spring.
“I had someone come along, and I asked, ‘Do you kids turkey hunt?’” the avid turkey hunter recalled.
The youngsters were not turkey hunters.
“I said, ‘Would you like to go?’” and their father said, ‘We don’t hunt, and I don’t have someone to take them.’”
The family left the show with a pledge from Smith: If the children want to go hunting, he’d find a way to make it happen.
That’s exactly what he did … and then some. You see, during the show, Smith kept recruiting hunters. He kept talking to parents. And he kept learning that there are plenty of kids who come from nonhunting families who are eager to have a chance to get into the woods.
On May 1, Maine’s Youth Turkey Day, 10 young hunters headed afield with mentors that Smith and the PCCA had recruited.
Eight of those hunters, Smith said, ended up bagging their birds.
The adult mentors provided the equipment, lined up hunting spots and took the kids into the woods. After the hunts, photos were taken. Breakfast was usually a part of the morning as well.
Smith said he just wanted to provide a recreational option to kids that might otherwise never learn how much fun they can have in the woods.
“A lot of the hunting public says, ‘[Kids] don’t want to go. They want to play their [computer games] and stuff like that,” Smith said. “Not one child asked for his computer that day.”
Smith said the hunters were spread out from Brooks to Bangor, and some youngsters had to rise as early as 2 a.m. in order to reach their destinations before sunrise.
Although most of the youngsters did bag a bird, two did not. One of those, Smith sheepishly reports, was his grandson.
The mentor on that hunt: Deane Smith.
“He thinks he’s going to trade in the guide,” Smith said with a chuckle. “He said, ‘Three years, Grampy, and we haven’t got a turkey yet.’”
Three young hunters combined to bag four birds, as Brock Kitchin and Angela Silk shot a bird apiece, while Noah Pierson shot two before all three headed to Smith’s Dixmont house to show off their birds.
John Silk of Dixmont, Dave Call of Bangor and Tony Richard of Old Town served as mentors of those hunts.
On the same day, Jim Fahey, Jeff Fahey and Rob Gould of Sunkhaze Outfitters took a pair of young hunters out for their first turkey-hunting trips.
Jim Fahey checked in to tell me how much fun everyone had, and Gould followed up with some photos.
The most telling e-mail I received about the matter, however, was from Luanna Beauchamp of Bangor.
Beauchamp, her husband and two sons were the family that had chatted with Smith at the Cabin Fever Reliever.
That conversation had served as the catalyst in what became a fairly large-scale project.
And Luanna Beauchamp had nothing but good things to say about the experience her boys had.
“My husband and I do not hunt, but are happy for others to do so,” Luanna Beauchamp wrote. “My sons, 11-year-old Lucas and 13-year-old Eli, got their hunting safety [certificates] at camp last year. Since Lucas turned 10, he has been pestering us to go hunting.”
The chance meeting with Smith at the PCCA booth at the outdoor show was fortuitous, but she said she and her husband weren’t immediately willing to let hunters they didn’t know take their boys into the woods.
They called a friend, who did some checking, and eventually the Beauchamps were satisfied that their boys’ mentors were top-notch.
“Have to be careful with your kids, you know!” she wrote.
Each child was assigned a mentor, and Gould took care of the calling, she said. And both boys returned with hefty gobblers.
But the experience wasn’t over.
“Jim came over to our house later on and showed [my husband] how to cut the turkey up for the meat. My 15-year-old daughter and her girlfriend enjoyed the impromptu ‘dissection’ class, and took photos,” she wrote. “The boys convinced us to have the feathers mounted on a plaque, of course.”
Smith said he hopes that in coming years, others will consider helping out a youngster who wants to hunt but needs a mentor. He said that in the future, hunters can “pay forward” the kindness that has been shown to them by showing others how to hunt.
And one mother knows that her sons’ lives will never be the same.
“As a result of this hunt, my husband will probably get involved in hunting because the boys are hooked!” Luanna Beauchamp wrote. “This was an experience that they will never forget, and will treasure forever.”
As for the two birds that were shot? The Beauchamp family ate well, to say the least.
“Mark fixed turkey stir fry for dinner tonight and our family enjoyed its first wild turkey meal,” she wrote.
A primitive turkey hunt
Darran Harvey of Carmel called earlier this week to talk about the hunt that his son, Clinton, enjoyed on Youth TurkeyDay.
Make that: The hunt that Darran made him enjoy.
The proud father said his 15-year-old son was eager to go hunting. The problem: Clinton wasn’t nearly as eager to head afield with the weapon his dad had chosen for him.
“I really wanted him to use [a black powder flintlock] shotgun,” Darran Harvey explained during a phone conversation. “He wanted nothing to do with it.”
Clinton had practiced with the flintlock 20-gauge, but his dad said keeping the gun on target during the interval between pulling the trigger and having the shot leave the barrel proved difficult.
Eventually, Clinton Harvey agreed to use the gun his dad chose … for one day.
Everything worked out just fine.
Here’s some of what Clinton Harvey had to say in an essay he wrote about the experience.
“We had spent countless hours trying to get a good pattern for the Northwest Trade 20 gauge flintlock muzzleloader,” Clinton Harvey wrote. “We had tried many different powder loads and shot sizes before finding the best combination. I had been skeptical about using the flintlock after being so dependent on the Remington 870 12 gauge, but being my last year as a junior hunter, I decided to give it a try.”
Clinton and his dad went to their hunting area the night before Youth Turkey Day and watched as several turkeys roosted nearby.
Satisfied that the turkeys would still be there in the morning, they headed home, planning on returning early on May 1.
Hunting with his dad and his cousin, Clinton settled in and waited.
The turkeys gobbled. They flew out of their trees. And then they began to move directly toward Clinton.
“The leader of the three [turkeys] misjudged where the call came from, and would have seen us hadn’t we put the blind to our left side,” Clinton Harvey wrote. “The second turkey was running across following the other when [my cousin] hit the call again and [the turkey] stopped at 24 yards, pushing the boundaries for the old flintlock, and gobbled.”
That was all the opportunity Clinton needed.
“I squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell, the powder in the pan flashed, the muzzleloader let out a loud crack, and then there was nothing but white smoke,” Clinton Harvey wrote. “I sat in awe for two long seconds, then I stood up and [gave] a big sigh of relief. The 21¼-pound tom with a 9½-inch beard, being the biggest I’ve shot, was on the ground.”
“We ran out to get a closer look and once I saw how good the old shotgun had performed, I smiled and said, ‘I’m kinda glad I used the flintlock now,’” he concluded.