Miamian Gage Clements, 13, has been hunting gobblers each spring since he was 11 but never had any luck.
Accompanied by granddad John Clements, the young hunter has had days of neither seeing nor hearing any birds; of successfully calling in birds, but not close enough to take a shot; and of shooting and missing his target.
But the Clements never gave up, and their persistence paid off March 15 during a special, invitation-only youth hunt at their friend Cliff Kunde’s private Central Florida lease. Gage was the only one among three youngsters who managed to bag a longbeard.
“It feels really good,” Gage said. “I got a nice one.”
Kunde — a native Miamian and lifelong hunter — has been organizing the annual youth outings for the past five spring gobbler seasons, inviting only those who never have bagged a turkey before and accompanied by a parent or experienced adult guide. Joining Gage were Kunde’s grandsons, George Starkey, 13, and his brother Brady, 10, both of Satellite Beach.
The goals, Kunde said, are to “provide safe hunting and a target-rich environment. Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to pay it back and pay it forward. Fewer and fewer kids are being introduced to the environment. If we don’t conduct things of this nature, we’re going to lose this generation, and then it’s all over.”
Like many outdoorsmen, Kunde, 67, worries that today’s youth are much too wrapped up in the digital world of smartphones, tablets and computers at the expense of appreciating the natural world of woods and waters. He tries, one hunt at a time, to change that trend.
His campaign seems to have worked in the case of Gage.
“I’m going to keep hunting turkeys, but I’m going to hunt other things, too,” Gage said.
On their first day of hunting, Gage and his grandfather had no joy. They heard a few birds gobbling in the distance, but none came anywhere close to their blind.
Meanwhile, Brady — hunting at the edge of an open pasture with guide Marc Allen, a Miami-Dade police officer — enjoyed much better luck. Set up behind a natural deadfall blind with an array of decoys positioned about 20 yards away, Allen used slate and box calls to summon two sizeable gobblers within easy range of Brady’s new shotgun.
“Nice and easy,” Allen whispered. “Either one. Get your gun up.”
Brady shouldered the gun, aimed and fired, but missed both toms. The birds jumped, but surprisingly, neither ran away — merely ambling a short distance and staying in range.
“Reload,” Allen whispered.
Brady fumbled but managed to insert another shell, then brought up the barrel and shot. But he missed again, and this time both targets promptly got out of Dodge.
Brady said he wasn’t used to the new gun.
“The kick was a little more than my first gun,” he said.
The two remained in the blind until nearly dark and watched another flock of turkeys cross the pasture too far away to shoot. Then they returned to camp, upbeat and glad they had been able to call the gobblers in.
The next day, Gage and John Clements rose well before dawn to get to their chosen blind. But for the first couple of hours, they neither saw nor heard any turkeys.
They decided to relocate to a ditch in the middle of a pasture and within five minutes of arriving, three gobblers and one hen walked right up to their hiding place.
“Gage, get your gun,” John whispered to his grandson. “Shoot the one in the back. He’s got the biggest beard.”
Gage was ready with his 12-gauge pump shotgun, but at first he couldn’t get a shot. Then the turkeys turned away, and he fired at the big one. A perfect shot, and the bird went down.
It weighed 16 pounds with a beard measuring five inches with 1 1/4-inch spurs. The Clements are getting it mounted.
If you go
Turkey hunting season in South Florida is open through April 12 and through April 26 in the rest of Florida. Hunters must have a hunting license and turkey permit ($10), plus a $26.50 permit if they want to hunt on Florida’s public wildlife management areas. The bag limit is two turkeys on private land; one on wildlife management areas. For more information, visit MyFWC.com/Hunting.