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Three young hunters enjoyed success on their first-ever turkey hunt last Saturday in Renville County. Shown with their toms are, from left: Reece DeVries, 12, of Minneapolis, Jason Kohout, 17, of Olivia, and Brian Swedzinski, 13, of Milroy. They applied for the special hunt through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which paired them with volunteer guides. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

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BIRCH COULEE COUNTY PARK, RENVILLE COUNTY -- Twelve-year-old Reece DeVries of Minneapolis had never hunted turkey.

Tom Ferguson of Lakeville had never played the role of guide and mentor to a young hunter.

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The combination proved to be the right one last Saturday in southern Renville County.

Ferguson's skills made all the difference as he, Reece and his father, Ryne DeVries, hunkered down in a blind before dawn. The three were almost on top of a roost, they discovered. Soon, a hen was calling to a tom.

Ferguson mimicked the hen, and the competition was on for the tom's attention.

The tom's responding gobbles sometimes favored the real hen, sometimes the faux calls. "You could tell who was the winner,'' said Ryne, of the early morning drama.

Back and forth went the conversation, and answering gobbles came from all around the blind. Somewhere around 6:25 a.m. the love-struck tom turkey favored the calls from Ferguson and showed himself about 35 yards from the blind.

Reece popped the trigger.

A perfect shot, aided no doubt by an adjustable mono-pod that Ferguson had rigged on Reece's shotgun to keep it steady.

The 22-pound tom was one of three to be carried to the Birch Coulee County Park north of Morton later that morning.

Saturday's gathering in the park shelter was a part of the fourth annual youth mentor hunt hosted in Renville County.

This year's hunt featured 13 young hunters. Each was joined in a blind by a parent or guardian and a volunteer guide. The young hunters applied through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's program for the opportunity to experience turkey hunting. Tom Kalahar with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District organized this and the previous three hunts in the county.

Kalahar said he contacted 13 different landowners in the area, and all welcomed the young hunters and guides. "I've never had a landowner refuse,'' said Kalahar of the cooperation he has enjoyed.

Kalahar spent long hours scouting out the areas beforehand, a chore he clearly enjoys. "I'm out there anyway, I might just as well do something,'' he quipped.

The hunters enjoyed the rewards. All reported at least hearing or seeing birds. The hunters, guides and parents all joined for an afternoon picnic at the park shelter and everyone took turns telling of their morning adventures.

Jason Kohout, 17, of Olivia, made the most of his first turkey hunting experience by bagging a big tom. His guide, Tom Clouse of Olivia joked that it demonstrated the perils of love. The amorous tom was chasing a hen and oblivious to the hunter's presence.

Guide Marc Iverson of Bird Island helped Brian Swedzinski, 13, of Milroy, take advantage of a single-minded tom as well. Guide, hunter and the hunter's mother, Diane, heard gobbling and held motionless as a tom strutted right in front of their blind. The tom was only seven yards away and appeared ready to peck at a jake decoy when Swedzinski took his opportunity.

"This is more fun than hunting myself,'' said Iverson. "It's way more fun to guide other people.''

His sentiments were echoed by Tom Ellig, who has been an avid turkey hunter for 30 years. This was his third year guiding a first time hunter, but Ellig said he would have started doing so long ago if only he'd known how much fun it is.

Last year he led a 14-year-old girl who bagged her first turkey. "When she shot that bird, I thought she was going to jump out of the blind,'' said Ellig, laughing.

It's not just the young hunters who discover the thrills and enjoyment that turkey hunting offers. Kalahar said the experience of joining their sons and daughters on these hunts has probably hooked as many parents on turkey hunting as children.

Being a silent witness to the early-morning happenings during the spring time is reward enough for all who do it, whether or not they get a bird, added Kalahar.

Of course, there's nothing like enjoying it all. Ryne DeVries was only a spectator to his son's first successful outing, but that's about to change. Welcome him to the ranks of aspiring turkey hunters. "Oh yeah, it's fun,'' he said.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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