Yelping, Clucking and Calling: Finding your Passion in the Field

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A bird of courage and great game, the wild turkey. For anyone who has hunted wild turkey or heard about a wild turkey hunt, there is a lot of excitement, thrills, jubilations and mishaps when you’re attempting to call in a wild turkey. With turkey hunting, like all hunting, the more you go, the more you will learn and know. Learning and gaining knowledge about turkey hunting were two goals for a pilot spring mentored hunt at the Cherry Valley NWR this year. A partnership with the National Deer Association (NDA) developed last fall through a mentored deer hunt at the refuge. This spring the refuge again partnered with NDA to develop our first mentored turkey hunt. The pilot program was geared towards new or novice hunters and hunters who had previously participated in a Pennsylvania mentored deer hunt on a wildlife refuge as a part of our partnership with NDA. 

Each hunter in the program was paired with an experienced mentor to ensure a safe, educational and enjoyable experience in the woods. The interest in the program was varied, with new hunter Malik Phillips describing how his interest developed.

“During the pandemic, I was worried about a possible meat shortage," Phillips explained. "I wanted to be able to provide for my family if that happened again.” 

For seasoned hunter, Reggie Thompson, the mentored hunt renewed his access to hunting “I had my first hunting experience about 40 years ago. I had a family friend who took me hunting on private property close to the urban area where I live. He died and my access kind of went away.” 

For the refuge and the participants, it wasn’t all about the harvest. 

“Turkey hunting is much more complex than other types of mentored hunting experiences that we provide," and Mike Horne, Lenape National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader and hunting mentor.  "While none of our hunters were successful this year in harvesting a bird, they were all successful at learning the basics for a successful hunt in the future and several had lots of action with calling, hung up birds, and hearing lots of gobbling. Celebrating our time in the field together and newly formed friendships is an important piece of the experience.”

When asked about the pilot program, Thompson shared “It was great. It gives people the opportunity to do something they would have never thought about. This program also helped break down barriers, racial, cultural, etc. People came together that would not have normally met.” Following his experience in this program, Thompson is looking forward to becoming more active in the program. 

As for Phillips, he described his experience in the program by saying he learned so much. “It was a good program to help introduce new hunters to turkey hunting. I wouldn’t know where to start turkey hunting if not for the program.” 

Mentor Matt Falteich, who works at the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge also shared his thoughts.

“Deer hunting has always been a part of my life, but it was only in the last five years that have I come to learn and love turkey hunting." said Falteich. "Without friends willing to mentor me, I suspect I would have never entertained the idea of continuing to turkey hunt, let alone mentor new hunters. The initial learning curve of turkey hunting, such as calling, set up, safety, and understanding turkey behavior can be overwhelming to someone just starting out. Without opportunities like the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge mentored turkey hunt, many of these new hunters would miss out on the excitements, challenges, and delicious rewards that turkey hunting has to offer.”

That’s one of the major goals of the program, to not only break down barriers within the hunting community but to also leave participants with more knowledge and confidence about hunting wild turkey, the greatest of all game birds. 

Project Leader Horne shared, “We had a wild turkey dinner to wrap up the experience that included hunting stories and great comradery.” 

And as Phillips shared at the end of his hunt, “I am already looking forward to the next season.”

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