Scott Ellis yelped, purred and clucked, and he was greeted with thunderous gobbles from a couple of fired-up gobblers.
Two birds came in from different directions and areas, an interesting situation for 5-year-old Jake Ellis’s first turkey encounter. Little Jake was smack dab in the middle of his dad and grandfather.
“Two gobblers raced in from different areas and started fighting,” Scott Ellis said. “Jake couldn’t get on him, so my dad shot one of them after about 30 minutes, and the other one jumped up on top of the first bird.
“Jake wasn’t able to get that turkey, but he was hooked for life; he was a real turkey hunter from that point on.”
When it comes to getting kids involved in turkey hunting and the outdoors, Scott Ellis knows more than a few things about getting them interested. Jake, now 11, was the j 2017 NWTF Grand National Poult’s Division champion caller.
No limits: Start them early
“Jake grew up listening to turkey calls and sounds, because I was always practicing and honing my calling skills,” said Scott Ellis, a resident of Mulberry, Fla., who has won practically every calling contest of note in the past 15 years. He knows a few things about calling and harvesting call-shy birds. He’s put that knowledge to use with his own son as well.
“Jake heard all of the calls at a very young age,” Ellis said. “Then he started asking me about the calls I was making and what I was doing, and I believe my answer to him was something anybody can use when trying to introduce their child to the sport of turkey hunting.
“We’re actually talking to the animals in their own language, like Dr. Doolittle, kind of like a turkey whisperer. Jake started going with me at a young age, around 4 or 5 years old. I’d hand him a box call and let him run some calls, too. Not long after that, he was running mouth calls. My goal was to teach him woodsmanship, so we don’t sit very long.”
Alhough Jake Ellis didn’t kill either of those two birds in that first encounter, he did succeed the next season.
“One year later, we got on a bird early in the morning but couldn’t seal the deal,” Scott Ellis said. “That afternoon, we set up and got a gobbler started, but it was still a ways off. Suddenly, a gobbler appeared in full strut just to our left, and he never said a word. He got about 25 yards from us and Jake had him in his sights.”
Jake dropped the Osceola gobbler, which had a 9-inch beard, weighed 13 pounds and had ¾-inch spurs.
Kids’ basic turkey hunting
Scott Ellis believes it’s never good to rush a child into hunting, but if they’re interested, you can develop that into a life-long hunting partner if you give them the opportunity with proper instructions.
“I want to make it fun, interesting, and keep them engaged,” Ellis said. “There may be a time for hunting out of a blind, but I’m not in favor of putting a kid in a blind and sitting for several hours while they play video games.
“Take the time to tell them what goes on before you get to the woods. Explain how it works before you get there, and then let them know what’s happening during the hunt so they’ll understand what’s going on.”
Ellis will set up on a gobbler on the roost if he has one located and tell the youngster what he’s doing from start to finish. However, if they don’t get a bird gobbling, he changes tactics.
“I’d take Jake through the woods and point out different things in nature as we walked,” Ellis said. “I’d show him turkey scratching, tracks, strutting areas and point out different types of trees, bushes, anything that would keep him interested. Every so often, I’ll stop and call and try to fire one up, and when we did get one to hammer back, we’d sit down, and it was on.”
Eventually, it will be time to teach a youngster how to talk turkey.
“Jake started going with me when he was four, and I’d sit him down between my legs and whisper to him as things were happening,” Ellis said. “I’d hand him a box call and let him run some calls. The box calls are the easiest to learn how to play, and they’re deadly.”
Ellis believes in teaching the kids how to play calls at home or anywhere they are, even while they’re hunting, because turkeys make all kinds of sounds, and they all sound different.
“Not long after Jake started using the box call, he was running mouth calls,” Ellis said. “Now, I’m not advocating starting all kids out on mouth calls that early, but Jake knew what they sounded like, and he wanted to try them, so I let him. It didn’t take long for him to become proficient with them.”
Jake Ellis became so good that he competed in the national finals at age nine with only a mouth call. He was the only entrant to use only a mouth call, and he didn’t win.
Victory came next year, when he won it all by utilizing all the calls at his disposal. In the process of learning how and when to use them, he became an accomplished turkey hunter and caller in his own right.
While not every kid will be a national champion caller, they can become excellent callers and hunters if they have a willing mentor to teach them.