Tennessee's Young Sportsman turkey season, March 22-23, is one of a number of special hunts and outdoors activities designed exclusively for youngsters by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The TWRA also has an annual Young Sportsman deer season, and last year added a special youth-only tag to its autumn elk hunt.
The aim is to encourage more youngsters to participate in hunting, with the realization that today's young outdoorsmen represent the future for the sport.
TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter calls it "bending the twig" -- trying to foster an interest in the outdoors at an early age in hopes that it will eventually grow into a lifetime passion.
Several organizations have seized on the Young Sportsman turkey hunt to not just interest youngsters into the outdoors, but to benefit good causes at the same time. One of the most notable is Hunting for a Cure in Hardin County.
Launched a decade ago by Barney Davison and son Mike, Hunting for a Cure has generated $633,910 for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Parents or guardians make a donation in exchange for a guided turkey hunt on the Davison's Indian Creek farm and adjacent properties. Guides and other workers volunteer their time, with all proceeds from the hunt and a related auction going to the Children's Hospital.
"It's a win-win," Mike says. "We introduce kids to the excitement of turkey hunting, while generating funds for a worthy cause."
Another inspiring youth hunt was held last year in Watertown for youngsters with physical disabilities.
To participate in a Young Sportsman hunt a youngster must first complete a TWRA-certified Hunter Educations Class. The only exception is a one-time Apprentice License that can be obtained without completion of the class. The purpose is to allow a non-certified youngster to participate in a last-minute hunt.
The Apprentice License comes with some restrictions: the hunter must be 10 or older, and must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older who meets hunting license requirements and is able to take immediate control of the hunting device.
All state-wide turkey hunting regulations apply during the Young Sportsman Hunts. Only bearded birds are legal, and only one per day can be taken. Each kill must be checked in, either on-line (tnwildlife.org) through the TWRA's new mobile service, or at any big-game checking station.
Complete details about the Apprentice License and the Young Sportsman hunts are available in the Tennessee Trapping & Hunting Guide, available for free at most outdoors outlets.
"Over the years our society has changed," notes the TWRA's Carter. "It's not as easy for youngsters these days to participate in outdoors activities as it used to be. We're more urbanized, and there are so many things competing for youngsters' interest and attention.
"We need to do all we can to foster and nurture an interest in the outdoors, and special youth programs is a good way to do it. Today's young outdoorsmen represent tomorrow's future."