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A Great (Annual) PA Youth Turkey Hunt

May 22, 2018
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

"Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." Believe it or not, there is some controversy over the origin of this wise saying. Research it online and you will find variants of it attributed to ancient Chinese, Indian, and Italian origins. However, the actual phraseology in its entirety is most directly linked to an American writer in the early 1900's. Regardless of its actual origin, the true eternal wisdom of teaching self-sufficiency and getting an individual involved in the process of helping themselves is a valid life lesson and doesn't apply just to fishing.

That essential wisdom was not lost on one local man from Bessemer, PA. Back in 2004, when the PA Game Commission first created its one-day youth spring turkey hunt - which precedes the PA statewide spring turkey opener by one week - Brian Pierog, a U.S. Marine corps veteran saw an opportunity to make a difference for the future. Brian was concerned back then about the way video games and other distractions were eroding the strong interest in the outdoors amongst that his small community was known for. The steady decline in the number of young men and women getting involved in hunting alarmed him and he decided to do something about it.

The continuing trend of smartphones and organized athletics monopolizing the time of our young people to the point that many have never even given hunting a try has kept motivating Brian and his wife, Jodi, to make their organized youth turkey hunt an annual event.

Article Photos

Participants in the Bessemer, PA area 2018 Youth Turkey Hunt gather after post-hunt activities at the Lawrence County Coon & Fox Hunters Association. Nine youths were successful during the hunt. Photo by Grey D. Berrier II

Back in 2004, Brain started with three youths after making contact with Quaker Boy Calls. Quaker Boy pro staff member Darren Brooks showed up for their first hunt with a box and put on a personal turkey hunting seminar in the woods for those three youths.

Darren talked about a type of call, demonstrate its use, and then reach into his box and give each of the youths their own sample to keep and use. They proceeded to receive Quaker Boy slate calls, box calls, mouth calls, locater calls (crow & owl), and finally hats and t-shirts.

Brian could see the immediate interest in the youth's eyes and he could hear it in the way they talked. His desire to ignite a similar spark in other young hunters has kept him going strong ever since.

And since 2004, the youth turkey hunt in Besssemer, PA has grown and expanded. From its humble beginnings with three youths gathered in the woods, it became centered around Art's Barber Shop, a primary gathering place in the community, owned and operated by Brian's dad, Art Pierog.

For nine years, after the morning hunt, participating youths would gather back at Art's Barber Shop for a post-hunt meal, storytelling, and the presentation of prizes and giveaway items. Over time, more and more local sponsors became involved, and a natural division of duties evolved. Brian focused on the hunt: recruiting volunteer mentors, gaining permission from landowners, and aggressively scouting preseason to put young hunters in promising locations to potentially harvest a wild turkey. While Jodi became the primary fundraiser and coordinator for the event, directing her efforts toward soliciting financial donations, acquiring prizes and giveaway items, and keeping track of the books to insure everything that comes in is spent on the kids.

I recently had the opportunity to spend four hours on April 21, at the post-hunt gathering for the 15th annual youth turkey hunt in Bessemer, PA. Based on its steady, progressive growth, Brian and Jodi accepted the generous invitation of the Lawrence County Coon & Fox Hunters Association four years ago to move the post-hunt festivities from in-town at the barber shop to just outside town to their clubhouse.

Supporting the annual youth turkey hunt has now become a primary focus of the Lawrence County Coon & Fox Hunters Association. Club president Mark Bryant, along with numerous other club members, turned out beforehand to set-up and were there at the post-hunt festivities to make certain everything went well for the youths.

PA's youth spring turkey hunt is open to junior hunters ages 12 through 16 and mentored youth hunters ages 11 and under.

To get involved in the youth turkey hunt in Bessemer; a young person and their parent/guardian must first attend a mandatory spaghetti dinner held on the 2nd Sunday of March each year. There, Brian explains "the rules" of the youth turkey hunt and both the youth and their parent/guardian sign a commitment form promising they are going to hunt spring turkey on the morning of the PA youth turkey hunt. (The hunt's sponsorship has grown to the point where all youth participants receive over $250.00 worth of giveaway items and the commitment forms insure these items go to deserving individuals. This year, each youth received a metal detector and a trail camera, to encourage spending more time outdoors away from video games, along with t-shirts, other items, and an American flag they promise to proudly display outdoors at their homes.)

Also, at the spaghetti dinner, youths who do not have a family member who hunts are assigned a voluntary mentor who works with the youth beforehand and then takes the youth and their accompanying parent/guardian out on the youth turkey hunt to help them try to harvest a bird.

Brain told me the three things all youth participants must do are: (1) attend the spaghetti dinner; (2) hunt spring turkeys on the morning of the youth turkey hunt; and (3) sit in the "hot seat". I knew what the first two requirements consisted of, but I was curious what the "hot seat" involved and looked forward to seeing it for myself.

When I arrived at 11:30 AM on April 21, the first two birds, two jakes, had already been checked in. One was harvested by Brian's 14-year old daughter, Teagan Pierog, who proudly told me the comical story of her morning hunt. She and her dad had set up in their cow pasture and the cows initially thought their ground blind was a round bale, so they came over and began licking the blind with them inside. One super inquisitive calf proceeded to stick its head through the blind's window and subsequently sneezed on both of them, drawing parallels to the Ghostbusters when they got slimed. After moving their blind, Brian's trusted decoy, 'Julio', did his job and Teagan successfully harvested, what turned out to be her ninth turkey, at 9:30 AM with a 12-yard shot from her 20-gauge shotgun.

Over the next hour, I listened to other stories of successful hunts, near misses, and just delight to be afield seeing deer and other wildlife when a turkey didn't show up. Teagan also introduced me to Julio. With his anticipated natural wings and tail fan; but also accessorized with as straw sombrero and leather name tag, which I had honestly never seen before on someone's turkey decoy. Brian told me that Julio has accounted for 62 harvested bearded birds to date, counting Teagan's jake; and the hat and nametag are there to show other hunters that wild turkeys aren't as wary and impossible to harvest as some folks make then out to be.

The youth hunters, along with their accompanying parent/guardian, and mentors, if assigned, continued trickling in since quitting time was noon, and some were hunting up to an hour away in Lawrence, Mercer, and Beaver counties in PA.

One significant "wrench' that got thrown into the 2018 youth turkey hunt was ODNR's exorbitant increase in the cost of a non-resident youth annual Ohio hunting license. Bessemer, PA is one-mile from the Ohio line and in past years, Brian has obtained written permission from numerous Ohio landowners to take youths turkey hunting on their properties. With non-resident youth annual hunting licenses increasing from the 2017 price of $10.00, up to the 2018 price of $141.50; not to mention the increase in a spring turkey permit for non-resident youths from $12.00 to $29.00; this made the option of hunting across state lines cost-prohibitive and something Brian hopes ODNR addresses for 2019, since it definitely discourages youth participation.

Think about it, non-resident parents who are willing to shell out the increased costs for themselves are going to be much less inclined to take their youths along to Ohio and that's probably an unintended consequence of ODNR's financial decision.

Around 1 PM, everyone assembled in the clubhouse basement for as delicious meal of hotdogs, side dishes, beverages, and desserts after the event's unofficial chaplain, Carl McConnell, said grace. I could hear the excitement in all the camouflage-clad young hunters' voices as they discussed their morning hunts, but I knew they were all eagerly anticipating heading upstairs to see all the previously unrevealed prizes and giveaway items.

Finally, around 2 PM everyone moved upstairs and you could see their awe as they realized two lucky youths would be going home with kayaks, one would win a quality crossbow, there was a myriad of other nice prizes, and everyone would be receiving a metal detector and trail camera amongst their giveaway items. (This was previously a well-kept secret.)

Following introductory remarks from Brian and a simple message from Chaplain McConnell, I soon learned what the "hot seat" consisted of. Each one of the 45 participants (it grew from 41 in 2017), had to come forward to share something about their hunt, if they harvested a bird, what else they saw, tell who they hunted with, and thank them in front of the crowd. I was intrigued and amused by the youths' stories and soon learned there was a separate prize for the most comical one. Teagan's story about the cows licking their blind and the calf sneezing on them placed in the top three, but it was outdone by one young man's story about how he thought his dad's noisy flatulence in their blind may have been other problems; and the eventual winner was a boy who revealed his dad had to employ an item of clothing after relieving himself in the field, which almost brought some of the crowd to tears.

I was revealed that nine youths had harvested birds (a 20% success rate for the morning), which included three jakes and six longbeards, including one mature gobbler with a double beard.

For many of the youngsters, it was their first turkey and you could see them beaming with pride over their harvest. (Throughout the remainder of the 2018 PA spring turkey season, Brian and some of the other mentors continue to talk these youths afield to help them fill their spring turkey tags.)

Using a point system that compiled each turkey's weight, beard length, and spur length; all nine individuals who harvested a bird came forward to claim their prizes. The remaining prizes were awarded by drawing raffle tickets and each participant received their exceptional giveway items when they came forward. The event concluded with a photograph session outside with all youth participants wearing their commemorative t-shirts and the nine bearded wild turkeys harvested were prominently displayed in the front row.

Brian and Jodi are already making plans for next year and if you have a youth who might want to participate as a hunter, if you may want to volunteer as a youth hunt mentor, or if you possibly desire to become a participating sponsor; you can easily contact Brian on Facebook, at Brian Pierog.

If you or your rod and gun club are thinking of conducting a similar youth turkey hunt, Brian would welcome you reaching out to him for ideas on how to make your event successful.

Now after 15 years and literally hundreds of past youth participants, Brian and Jodi have seen some of those youths who started hunting with them evolve into volunteer hunt mentors and lifelong avid hunters. That's all they ask for, the opportunity to pay it forward, and keep our proud American hunting heritage alive and well as other influences compete for our youths time and attention.

 
 

 

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