When Missouri's Conservation Department decided to set aside a couple of days for youth hunting before the regular opening day, the agency billed it as a way of ensuring the future of hunting in Missouri. That and several other initiatives have made us the nation's leader in hunting recruitment.
Hunters who have young sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or friends have a much more personal reason to love the youth season. It has become a way of getting into the woods a week earlier, not to mention tremendous fun and a limitless source of great hunting memories.
This year's youth season falls, as usual, two weekends before the opening of the regular spring season. This year's regular season opener is Monday, April 20, so that means this year's youth season is April 11 and 12. A few savvy hunters who don't happen to have young relatives interested in hunting have nevertheless discovered that the only thing sweeter than dropping the hammer on a longbeard is seeing the look on a kid's face when he poses with his first turkey.
Another great thing about the youth turkey season is the fact that so few people take advantage of it. In recent years, the youth harvest has hovered around 4,000 birds, 1/10 of the number taken during the regular spring season. In practical terms, that means your chances of bumping into other hunters during the youth hunt are next to zero. And that means the areas you might avoid during the regular season are fair game. And because the youth hunt takes place before the main season, the birds are undisturbed and easier to find and fool.
Focusing your youth-season efforts on public areas leaves prime locations on private land for later in the spring, when public land is under heavy hunting pressure. Here is a rundown on a few of these incredible hunting spots. Be assured you can find plenty more with just a little effort.
Rudolph Bennitt CA, located west of Highway 63, 20 miles north of Columbia, covers 3,500 acres spanning Boone, Randolph and Howard counties. It's about three-quarters forested, with the rest in fields — perfect for turkey hunting. The population there is rated good. Five camping areas have a total of 24 campsites with fire rings but no other amenities. The 12.5-mile Moniteau Wilderness Trail is made to order for accessing the area's interior. Besides making the going easier, using the trail is a great way to move quietly through the area, listening for gobblers. It also provides access to backcountry camping, which is allowed year 'round except during the firearms deer season. The northern and eastern portions of the area have most of the forest-field border that draws strutting gobblers like a magnet.
Six-thousand-acre Lamine River CA in Cooper and Morgan counties is a turkey-hunting paradise, with a diverse mix of streams, ponds, fields and forest, not to mention a thriving turkey population. The fact that this area consists of several parcels scattered among privately owned farmland guarantees a continual influx of birds from lightly hunted land. Pay close attention to area boundary signs to be sure you don't stray off public land.
The name of J.N. "Turkey" Kearn Memorial CA says it all. This 1,674-acre area in Johnson and Pettis counties is divided into north and south portions and has everything turkeys need — wooded hills, lakes, native grassland, and crop fields. Just a few miles north is 4,000-acre Ralph and Martha Perry Memorial CA. Besides a diversity of habitat, the area offers primitive camping areas and a shooting range. Much of the area is wetland and may be marshy during wet weather, so take that into account when planning your hunt.
The area just south of I-70 in Montgomery and Warren counties holds an astonishing 10,923 acres of prime, public turkey-hunting land on four CAs. Their proximity to one another make it possible to scout all four and identify several promising hunting spots in one weekend. If the birds aren't gobbling on your No. 1 spot, you will be just minutes from the next hot prospect.
Daniel Boone CA (3,523 acres) has 7 miles of interior trail suitable for biking or hiking. If you have a youngster who's into mountain biking, this is a great place to combine that extreme sport with turkey hunting. A gravel road bisects the area, and each of the 10 parking lots along that interior road have areas for primitive camping. The central road is the only public access to the area, and so turkeys along the outer edges of the area don't see many people.
Little Lost Creek CA (2,900 acres) is similar to Daniel Boone CA, in that it has 7 miles of interior trail that provide excellent access to the area's interior. Trailheads are located at parking lots on the area's north, west and south sides. Primitive camping is allowed at these three parking lots, as well as another parking lot on the east side of the area.
The smallest of the four areas, Reifsnider CA (1,400 acres) offers hunters easy access, with a gravel road running diagonally through its center. A system of trails honeycombs the area, permitting fast, quiet movement while scouting or maneuvering on turkeys. Camping is not permitted on this area, but you can camp on the east side of Little Lost Creek CA, which is only a few minutes drive to the west.
Access to Danville CA (3,100 acres) is via Turkey Ridge Road at its north end and a short spur south into the interior. Parking lots on these gravel roads have designated primitive camping areas. The area's trail system has trailheads at four of five parking lots. Like Daniel Boone CA, most of Danville's interior can only be reached on foot, so an undisturbed hunt is almost guaranteed near the outer boundaries.
Another trio of areas in Bates and Vernon counties are close enough to be effectively scouted and hunted at the same time. Four Rivers CA is mostly thought of as a duck-hunting area, but its 14,000 acres harbor lots of turkeys, too. That's because nearly 4,000 acres of the area are covered by bottomland hardwood forest, and another 3,500 acres consist of crops, native prairie or old fields. Two camping areas with privies accommodate hunters who want to wake up within earshot of gobbling. Some parts of the area are closed to hunting. Check area regulations.
A few miles west of Four Rivers CA are Peabody (300 acres) and Harmony Mission (1,080 acres) CAs. Although they have different names, these two areas are contiguous and managed as one for quail and other ground-nesting wildlife, including turkeys.
The Peabody portion on the northwest side of the area is named for its former owner, Peabody Coal. The company strip-mined the area before donating it to the state, and you can still see the remnants of this activity in six water-filled strip mine pits. That area has the best turkey hunting, thanks to trees growing on mounds of soil around the pits. Wooded areas along the arms of Harmony Mission Lake are good spots to scout, too.
The CA has two primitive camping areas on the northwest side. Access to the area's interior is via parking lots on roads around the perimeter and one that runs through the conservation area's center.
Another complex of Conservation Department lands in northeastern Missouri comprises more than 8,000 acres of excellent turkey hunting spread across Macon and Linn counties. More than half that acreage is found on Atlanta-Long Branch CA. The Atlanta portion (2,355 acres) lies north of Long Branch Reservoir. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the Long Branch Management Lands, but the Conservation Department manages wildlife on this 2,454 acres. Roads and trails provide ample access to the northern portion of the area, but you will need a boat to access much of the southern part of the area along the lake's two arms. Primitive camping is available at 12 parking lots.
Mussel Fork CA (2,440 acres) straddles the Macon-Linn County line. The area boasts an amazing diversity of habitat, from prairie to forest to wetland. Primitive camping is allowed at all 10 of the area's parking lots.
Hidden Hollow is 80 percent oak-hickory forest, with enough old field, prairie and crop field interspersed to make it a turkey magnet. This is a limited-mobility hunting area. It is not reserved for hunters with mobility limitations, but its extensive network of good trails makes it a good pick if you have trouble getting around.
When it comes to Missouri turkey hunting, the Ozarks is where it all began, and it still has some of the best turkey hunting the Show Me State has to offer. For sheer acreage, there's no beating it. Shannon County alone has four CAs encompassing nearly 150,000 acres of high-quality turkey hunting, thanks in part to the vast acreage. Luckily, each of these areas includes smaller tracts that lend themselves to mentoring young hunters.
Rocky Creek CA (38,350 acres) has 10 such small parcels, the smallest being just 60 acres.
A camping area with individual campsites is available at the Blue Springs Fields area adjacent to the Current River. This area is located on the Ozark Trail, which also runs through much of the rest of the area providing foot access to the interior.
Angeline CA (39,590 acres) has dozens of miles of interior roads and trails, plus scenery your young protÃ©gÃ© won't soon forget. This entire area is open to primitive camping except in a few clearly posted areas.
Sunklands CA (40,588 acres) is on Barren Fork, a 4.5-mile, spring-fed stream that is one of the Conservation Department's blue-ribbon trout areas. You can access it at two points. One is near Twin Springs, north of Eminence. Take Highway A three miles east from Highway 19, and then turn south on County Road AD at Chrisco Cemetery. The other can be reached by turning south on Highway CC from Highway A, then take County Road 258 east.
Current River CA (29,290 acres) is among the most rugged in the state, and much of its interior is unbroken by roads or trails. The exception is the northeastern portion of the CA, which has an extensive system of excellent access trails. Food plots located along many of these trails are excellent places to see Missouri's growing elk herd, sure to be a memorable encounter for young hunters.
This is only a hint of what's out there waiting for you and your youthful companion. Use the Conservation Atlas search engine to identify prospects near you. The Detailed Search feature lets you specify "turkey hunting," plus your county or region to sort out the best prospects in your area.
Don't forget that kids are only allowed to shoot one male turkey or turkey with visible beard during the youth weekend, and those who do are not allowed to shoot another one until the second week of the regular turkey season.
Also remember that for the average kid, the journey is more important than the destination. He or she won't care whether they get a bird or not, if you don't overemphasize that as defining "success." Hearing a tom's lusty gobble in the misty dawn and getting to spend time with an adult outdoorsman is all that's needed to make the youth season memorable.