3 Questions to Ask Yourself before You Go
Fanning for Gobblers!

By Steve Sorensen

“Fanning” for Gobblers – HOT or NOT? 

The heart-pounding new method of turkey hunting is called “fanning for gobblers.” It ramps up the excitement by adding elements to the hunt you can’t get from traditional call-em-up-to-the-shotgun style of hunting.


Early or late on a winter day, a 20-mile drive on rural roads will likely put some turkey territory on your list of places to hunt. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)


Fanning for gobblers – why it’s hot!

  • Fanning capitalizes on the gullibility of the turkeys. Let’s face it – turkeys are not all that smart and under the right conditions, where visibility is good, they’re easily fooled by decoys. When you “fan” for gobblers, they fall victim to nothing but a fanned-out turkey tail with a hunter hiding behind it.
  • Fanning is more mobile than traditional turkey hunting. The hunter doesn’t need to sit boringly in front of a tree waiting for the wary gobbler to cautiously approach within shotgun range. He goes on the offensive to approach gobblers as easily as if he were wearing a turkey costume. In a way, he is.
  • Fanning is a way for the hunter to get up close and personal with the gobbler. In traditional turkey hunting, the objective is to call the gobbler to shotgun range – about 25-40 yards. But in fanning for gobblers, that unsuspecting old longbeard shows up so close you could cough up a loogie on him, and he isn’t bothered at all.
  • Fanning escalates the element of surprise. Surprise is built into traditional spring gobbler hunting when the gobbler takes a magnum load of shot to his head, and ideally he has no chance of escape. In fanning for gobblers, the turkey discovers his goose is cooked before the hunter pulls the trigger. The shot opportunity is closer than it is when you’re patiently waiting for the gobbler to get in range, and he’s starting to make his escape.
  • Fanning can be fast and furious. People post enough videos of “fanning” on the Internet that every avid turkey hunter has probably seen some. They show a hunter stalking while hiding behind a turkey tailfan, and turkeys are running to him. Since birds of a feather flock together, fanning doesn’t repel turkeys – it attracts them so easily it’s almost unfair.

I always say turkey calls are like knives – you can never have too many. But not every turkey call will find a place in your vest. Well in advance of the season, go through your calls and spend a half hour per week finding out which calls you can really make sing songs that attract gobblers. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Let’s be clear. I don’t find fanning unfair. If anything is unfair, it’s that we are smarter than every game animal we hunt. So if fairness is the standard coyotes should stop hunting turkey poults, and we should stop hunting altogether. But fairness is not the standard. It never is when you outsmart animals by using scents, trail cameras, camouflage, or any other ordinary practices. Other than fairness in respecting other hunters and universal hunting ethics, I don’t worry much about fairness when it comes to hunting.

That brings us to the first of three questions to ask yourself if you’ve been thinking about fanning for gobblers.

Why give anti-hunters something unnecessary to use against us?

Anti-hunters will say everything we hunters do is unfair, starting with the fact that we have the gun and turkeys don’t. They say we unfairly fool them with calls and decoys, luring them into an expected sexual tryst and then killing them when they’re in the heat of passion. Yes, anti-hunters look at everything we do with the aim to seize on anything they can to illustrate to the great majority of the non-hunting population that hunting is bad. They don’t settle for just one reason, and they don’t care if their reasons are not good reasons. But let’s not stupidly give anti-hunters bad reasons to declare hunting is unfair.  It’s not necessary.

Why dumb the sport down?

The great appeal of fanning for gobblers is that it’s easy and exciting. Sometimes hunters still argue about whether to use rifles or shotguns for turkeys. Rifle hunting allows a hunter to shoot when the turkey is a hundred yards or more away. “It’s too easy, and it lacks the challenge of calling them in,” they say. So now, this new way of making turkey hunting easy is another way of dumbing the sport down. Why do we need to do that?

Why increase the odds of getting shot?


If you begin scouting early, you’re more likely to get your gobbler early. Here’s one that bought my call on opening day.
(Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Anyone who promotes fanning for gobblers recommends extreme caution. “Don’t do it on public property,” they say. Why? Because they understand the danger. “Don’t do it on private property unless you know you’re the only one hunting.” But how do you ever know someone is not trespassing on a property? A few make the false distinction between “dangerous situations” and “danger,” as though they’re willing to tolerate dangerous situations but not actual danger. If that’s any real distinction at all, it will disappear if fanning for gobblers becomes commonplace. The truth is, fanning for gobblers increases the odds of getting shot. Is any gobbler worth that?

If you’re tempted to try fanning for gobblers, or if you’ve done it and you think you want to do more of it, let me ask you to reconsider. You may have a place where you have exclusive permission to hunt and believe no other hunters will trespass, but even if it’s your own property you cannot guarantee an unauthorized hunter won’t show up. Ask any property owner, “Does anyone ever trespass?” The answer will be a quick “Yes.”

Fanning for gobblers is actually a form of stalking, which is prohibited in spring gobbler season in many states. But even in states where stalking is legal, a hunter behind a turkey tailfan is going to get shot just as sure as a hunter inside a deer decoy would get shot in deer season. Take that to the bank.

Fanning for gobblers is a bad idea. Not because it’s easy – we all like an easy hunt once in a while. Not because it’s exciting – I’m all for hunting to be exciting. Fanning passes the test on those two counts. But let’s be too smart to give anti-hunters unnecessary ammo to make us look bad. Let’s not dumb down our sport. As things stand now, hunting is safer than it has ever been. Hunting accidents are on a long-term decline. So let’s not take unnecessary risks. Let’s not get shot while wearing a turkey costume.

If you want to fan for gobblers, do it when it’s completely safe. And it’s completely safe only when no one is shooting at turkeys. It’s completely safe only when the season is not in. Use it when photographing turkeys outside the season, away from roads, away from any place poachers might see an easy mark. Turkey photographers often use blinds, and hiding behind a tailfan is essentially using the tailfan as a moving blind. But don’t use it while hunting.

Remember, hunting is supposed to be a challenge. We have many challenging ways to outwit game than to reduce hunting to the easiest means possible. What’s wrong with the classic type of hunt where you call the big birds in? Can’t you succeed by calling? I’m betting you can, so keep trying. You’re smart enough to succeed if you keep at it.

If you still have any doubt, take a look at this video put out by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Don’t be a victim.

hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and contributes content to Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/The-Everyday-Hunter-319307228936/.


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How to Hunt Bear In The Spring

By Bernie Barringer

The Three Phases of a Spring Bear Hunt

A very common saying among hunters on a week-long hunting adventure goes like this “Don’t pass up on the first day what you would shoot on the last day.”


Well, I ain’t buying it. If I bought it, I wouldn’t have shot as many truly large bruins as I have. In fact, I wouldn’t have the nice chocolate-colored bear rug hanging on my wall behind me right now if I had shot the nice black one that presented me with a good shot on day two of that hunt.

I understand the logic behind that thought, but frankly, I can’t think of a single hunt when I wasn’t learning more and more about my chances of success every single day. By day six, you know a whole lot more about the area and its potential than you do on day one.

get trail cameras out early 448x336

Getting trail cameras out early in the hunt will really help with your decision making as the hunt progresses. This bear came to the bait in the morning. Other information gathered such as size and colors of bears that may be available are important components
to your success.

Some people are happy to shoot a bear early in the hunt and then go fishing or hang around camp the rest of the week. And if you’re headed for your first bear hunt, that might be your best option. But at some point, you’ll want to kill a bigger bear, or maybe a color phase bear. Will you depend on pure luck? Or will you adjust your strategy through the week to improve your odds?

The key to being as successful as possible on any hunt, but particularly on a spring bear hunt, is to be constantly gathering information throughout. Most week-long hunts offer you six days. Let’s break that down into three two-day phases.

Days One and Two
On the first two days I am primarily in information-gathering mode. Whether I am on an outfitted hunt or baiting for myself, I like to get some trail cameras out as soon as I can. Nothing helps you gather information like a game camera taking inventory of the bears hitting the baits.

weather can make hunting difficult 448x299

Weather can play a huge role in the hunt’s success. On this hunt, day-after-day of heavy rain nearly eliminated my chances of getting a bear. I was happy to go home with a good bear and had committed to shooting the first legal bear.

Chatting with the guides and other hunters in the camp will also help you gather information. Are they seeing bears? Are they shooting bears? Are the bears interacting at the baits, spending time feeding or just moving in and out of the area? Usually the first two days can give you a really good feel for how the rest of the week will go.

Keep an eye on the weather. Heavy rain can dampen (pardon the pun) bear activity. Likewise, hot weather can cause most bear activity to occur after dark. With today’s technology offering an accurate weather forecast at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for not knowing what to expect weather-wise. If a major change is coming, factor that into your decisions – it will affect bear activity either negatively or positively.

theres a bear in front of you 448x299

There’s a bear in front of you. Is this the one you want? Is it the best bear you will have a chance at? Many factors go into your decision.

Days Three and Four
I have been on many bear hunts, both on my own and in bear hunting camps. By the end of day two, I have a pretty good feel for what to expect. Either I feel that I have a great opportunity to hold out for the best bear possible – or that if I don’t shoot a bear by midweek, I might not get another opportunity.

How I react to bear encounters on days three and four will depend on the information gathered on the two previous days. Midweek can make or break your hunt – decisions are difficult and making the wrong one can send you home without a bear. Here’s an example.

passing up a bear could mean an unfilled tag 448x299

I passed up this nice chocolate and several others early in a 2012 Manitoba hunt. Then I almost went home without a bear. You have to be satisfied with an unfilled tag if you are going to be picky.

In 2012, hunting with Grandview Outfitters in Grandview Manitoba, I passed up several smaller bears on days one and two. I knew there were a couple giants in the area and I really wanted the beautiful cinnamon-colored bear that showed up on camera at one of the baits. However, on day three a great-looking chocolate bear tempted me with plenty of shot opportunities, but when I let it walk out of my life, I had a sinking feeling that I might have made a mistake.

The next three nights I hunted hard for a cinnamon, and briefly saw the red bear of my dreams but it didn’t offer a shot. I passed a couple of large blacks because I had confidence that if the cinnamon didn’t show up I could shoot whatever bear I wanted at the last minute.

shot this bear on final evening 317x448

As a writer, I need to get a bear to get a story, so I have my own set of rules for each hunt. I may hold out for a while, but generally by the fourth or fifth day I am lowering my standards. I shot this medium-sized bear on
the final evening.

Long story short, I saw only two smallish bears the last evening and was mentally beating myself up for having been so greedy. I prepared to go home empty-handed. Lucky for me, the outfitter saved my hunt by graciously offering one more night since everyone else in camp was filled out. I committed to shooting the first bear that came in. I took home a 200-pound sow.

Days Five and Six
The last two days are when decisions become easier once again. It’s now or never. You have all the information you’re going to get, and it’s up to you to make the decisions you will live with for a long time. You should have mentally prepared for this time from the start.

Before you go on the hunt you need to be in touch with what you really want out of it. If you are looking for a really big bear, one with a specific feature such a big white blaze on its chest, or maybe a color phase, you should know that before you arrive. You will have to decide if you are going to hold out for that specific bear or go home and eat tag sandwich all year. If you are perfectly happy going home empty-handed rather than shooting something you didn’t come for, that’s OK. But making decisions like that on the fly will drive you crazy.

shot this black bear in ontario 2012 448x299

I shot this huge black bear in Ontario in 2012 after passing up two other bears that would have made most people happy, but I had the information that gave me confidence to hold out for a real big one.

Whatever you decide to shoot, and no matter what day you decide, keep in mind that bear hunting is more than just shooting a bear. The camaraderie, the accommodations and food, the enjoyment of time spent in the outdoors and around such an amazing animal, and the overall experience are things you should factor into your decision-making. No one can make your decisions for you, so above all commit to having fun and enjoying the hunt whatever the outcome.

bernie-barringer-author-hunterBernie Barringer hunts a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 400 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored ten books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is Bear Baiter’s Manual. He is the managing editor of Bear Hunting Magazine, and blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.

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Spring Turkey Hunting Tips

By Judd Cooney

Patience Pays For Persnickety Toms

turcal 00046_resize #2“C’mon, let’s go after those gobblers across the creek,” coaxed my cohort. “Or maybe we ought to try the gobbler back over the ridge, or even the gobblers tearing it up down the creek bottom a quarter mile below us,” implored my totally antsy and frustrated turkey hunting client, as we listened to gobblers sounding off all round us, just as the sun was gilding the tree tops on the ridge above with its golden light.

“Just shut up and be patient.” I admonished my client. “There’re too many turkeys in the woods for us to try to sneak anywhere. All we’ll do is spook birds. Besides the object of calling turkeys is to let them come to you, so sit back and be patient.”

We’d gotten into position on the edge of a small clover plot at the bottom of a wooded slope, adjacent to a dirt dam that backed up the creek for a quarter mile above us. My client and I were comfortably ensconced on the shadowed side of a large maple tree, with a clear view of the open plot and wooded slope above.

I explained to my client on the drive to the hunting area, that regardless of how many gobblers we heard, we were going to stay put and let a gullible gobbler come to us rather than try to sneak within calling range of a Bob T & gobbler strutting in background _resize #2roosted bird. I learned a long time ago that when dealing with lots of turkeys in an area, and especially areas where there are a lot more hens than gobblers, it’s often more effective to find a good calling location and set up to call, than trying to set up on a specific gobbling tom.

I informed my client that we would hear lots of gobbling, and I would call every twenty minutes until I got a gobbler or two to actually respond to my calling, but it may be mid-morning before this happened. After almost two hours of being serenaded by the vocal gobblers surrounding us, and watching several longbeards pay court to their harem of hens on the distant hillsides (my client counted over 265 gobblers!), I finally got a response. A pair of gobblers on the timbered ridge above responded enthusiastically to my yelps, and when I started cutting excitedly, they left little doubt about their interest, gobbling and double gobbling enthusiastically as they closed the distance.

tureg&h 00009c_resize #2Ten minutes of yelping, clucking, cutting and finally soft purring brought both gobblers out of the woods and into the clover patch at 30 yards, where my hyperventilating client made a clean kill on the largest tom which sported a heavy 11″ beard and 1 3/4″ spurs.

I have done my share of “run and gun,” turkey hunting over the years, but the more I hunt these irascible and unpredictable birds, the less inclined I am to chase after them unless there is simply no other way. Since I started actively guiding and outfitting for spring turkey hunters in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska almost twenty years ago, I have found that my clients and I are far more successful when we use patience and perseverance in our turkey hunting. The more turkeys you have in your hunting area the better this tactic works.

One of the biggest obstacles to conning longbeards anywhere, regardless of the subspecies hunted, is HENS. The higher the hen-per-gobbler ratio the tougher the toms are to call. A henned up tom is a firm believer in the old axiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” A gobbler’s brain is the size of a pea, but even pea-brained gobblers are hesitant to leave a harem and venture several hundred yards through the woods or across an open meadow, to check out the sounds of another hen he can’t see.

DSC_0412_resize #2However, the longer the gobbler hears the seductive sounds of a hen the more his curiosity is aroused. You can bet he will remember EXACTLY the location of that vociferous and seductive sounding hen, and IF and WHEN his hens wander off or scatter out ignoring him, he’s more than likely to check out the location where he last heard the hen or even more likely to check out the persistent hen if she’s still calling. This may be a few minutes or a few hours, but the chances of a gobbler checking out your calling increases as time goes by, rather than decreases as most callers think.

One of my turkey hunting buddies from a southern state, hunted Iowa with me for several successive springs after I had spent several years chasing Mississippi and Alabama gobblers with him. We covered lots of country down south chasing after gobblers. But when he came to Iowa, he used the same tactics with far less success, even though we had many times the turkey concentrations on our private leases.

After the second year’s season was over he humbly admitted that he felt he had only managed to call in a couple of Iowa gobblers. In fact, most of the time the gobblers ignored his best calling efforts, and sometimes even headed the other direction. I’d always chided him that his southern drawl could not be comprehended by the “Iowegian” birds. He was an excellent turkey caller. I told him though, that he had without doubt called in lots of gobblers during his hunts, but that he was never at the calling location when the tom’s got there.

turhek 00275_resize #2On his last turkey hunt he was guiding a major call manufacturer who was shooting a turkey hunting video segment. After spending an unsuccessful morning “running and gunning”, they had several turkey encounters, but no gobblers called up for video. At mid afternoon I told him exactly where to go and set up, with specific instructions to stay put regardless of how many gobblers he heard on the lease. He was to call every twenty minutes or so until he got a gobbler to come in or it got dark. But under no circumstances was he or his hunter to go chasing after any vocal toms. Two hours after setting out decoys and dozing off several times between calling spurts, a gobbler responded and strutted across the open field in front of them and around the decoy, providing the best video this company had gotten all spring.

Patience was the key to their success.

On Midwestern turkey hunts I’ve called up and killed more gobblers between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM than during any other time frame. Throughout the early morning and as they leave the roost, almost every gobbler in our hunting area will have hens in sight or have hens around them. This makes them difficult to call right off the roost, or later as they spend the morning feeding and loafing. With high hen to gobbler ratios, the hens are far more aggressive and will jealously pull any gobblers around them, away from anything that sounds like a competing feathered female. This is a major problem on our Iowa hunting leases from the seasons opening day, to the final day’s sunset.

turest 00011_resize #2By mid morning the birds are scattering out and the hens are wandering off looking for nest sites, or nesting until later in the afternoon when they rejoin the toms for the evening roost. Typical with males of any species, some gobblers are simply going to lose interest in their present companions and look for new conquests. The seductive or excited hen calling they’ve been hearing from you all morning, or before the flock moved out of hearing has piqued their interest, and you can bet-your-bippy those longbeards will have pinpointed your location to within a few yards.

When I set up to call, I make sure I get comfortable enough to remain for a long period without moving. I often use varying decoy set-ups depending on the time of season, from a lone hen, to several jakes and a couple hens, to a strutting tom and lone hen. I get out three calls; a Quaker Boy Jagged Edge diaphragm call for general yelping, cutting and clucking; a loud super sounding Paul’s Calls box call for distant reaching yelps and cuts; and a sweet sounding slate call for close-up purring and clucking to bring a gobbler in that last few yards.

turhek 00179_resize #2I usually call every twenty minutes keeping track on my watch, as judging time in a calling situation can be difficult at best, and over calling will spook more gobblers than under calling. Once I get a gobbler in sight or know he’s coming, I let his actions and vocalizations set the tempo of my calling responses, and I generally call less than the gobbler.

On a number of occasions I’ve been calling for an hour or more, and finally have gotten a gobbler or two to respond enthusiastically to my calling, only to have a silent gobbler suddenly appear out of nowhere trying to steal the hen from its vocal competition.

Spring turkey calling is an endeavor in conning a gullible gobbler to come within shooting range. Your deadliest and most effective assets may not be your calling expertise or chosen hunting gear, but simply PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE. So sit back, get comfortable and let it happen!

judd cooneyFor the past 30 years Judd Cooney has been writing and photographing full time in addition to running his guiding and outfitting operation, spending 18-20 hours a day trying to avoid working an 8-5 job. He says, “I wouldn’t change it for the world!” He has articles or photos in many of the outdoor magazines every month, covering bowhunting, muzzleloader hunting, big game, small game and predator hunting, plus turkey, waterfowl and upland game hunting. He can be reached through his website,www.JuddCooney.com.

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6 Easy Camping Meals

By Tom Claycomb III

Camp Cooking Tips For The Back Country

I love camping and cooking outdoors. My mind is free to focus – or not. Mostly not – on a job, a 401k or yard work. Camp cooking can be epicurean delights, like the meals my buddy Dan Sweet whips up for us in elk camp on his Louisiana Grills smoker and Camp Chef. (I can just about taste the grilled halibut, salmon and steaks.) But for today, let’s talk about spartan-style camp cooking in rougher conditions.

Easy camping meals: image of blueberries in oatmeal by a campfire.

Fresh picked fruit raises oatmeal to gourmet status and is a real treat
as a camping meal.

If you pack in on horses you’ll either be cooking over a fire or using the old standby Coleman stove. I’ve cooked enough camp meals on my old Coleman to feed an army. But what if you’ve backpacked in? Or maybe you took off on an all day hike and want to cook a hot meal.

More than likely you’ll be cooking over a wood fire. (Granted, you can buy small backpacking stoves, but I don’t have one). You’ll need to pack along a simple mess kit and a small coffee pot to heat water for coffee or oatmeal.

Six Easy Camping Meals


Just add water! Mountain House makes easy camp meals in the back country.

1) Although costly, backpacking meals by Mountain House almost reach gourmet standards. To prepare them, pull the absorbent package out and add hot water. That’s it. If you want to save money you can buy powdered mashed potatoes, dehydrated hash browns and dried fruit. I’ve packed in canned goods before but the water adds a lot of unnecessary weight.

2) At an Xtreme Winter Camping seminar at Sierra Trading Post this winter a guy gave me this easy camping recipe with chicken:

  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 stick butter
  • 6 oz. of stovetop stuffing mix
  • 2-5 oz. cans of chicken
  • ½ cup chopped celery (Chop at home and carry in a baggie)
  • ½ cup Craisins
  • Boil water and stir in all the above. Let sit for two minutes, stir and eat.

3) Another easy camping meal – heat some water and add instant potatoes. Then cut up a slice of ham and have ham and potatoes. Many kinds of dried potatoes are available.

4) For breakfast, oatmeal is easy. Dress it up by bringing along brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts in a baggie. When Komson Silapachai from Texas went with me on a backpacking fly-fishing trip we topped off our oatmeal with fresh-picked huckleberries. Wow – that was good!

5) And what’s better than being up in the high country and frying up a mess of trout? Carry along a small bottle of grease to fry your fish in. You can also wrap them in foil.

6) Like Burritos? Take a baggie of anything – potatoes, sausage, cheese, scrambled eggs. Heat up along with a tortilla and you’re good to go.

get-kids-involved-in-camp-cookingWhat to Do for Water?

In the mountains there’s always a spring or creek so I don’t pack water. I carry a water filter by Aquamira or a filtered bottle to drink from while hiking. For cooking I boil water in a pan or coffeepot to sterilize it. Firing up a pot of coffee or hot chocolate is always a welcome comfort when you’ve hiked in a ways, especially on a cold
snowy day.

Fast Frozen Food

If you’re really hitting it hard from daylight to dark, cook stews and chili beforehand and freeze them. When you get back to camp after dark you just throw a frozen bag of stew in a pan of water. Heat & eat! Early this spring Shawn Lee wanted to ride his horses up to the top of a mountain to start getting them exercised. We stopped under a pine tree where I heated up some frozen stew I had thrown into a saddlebag. Along with a pot of coffee – that hit the spot.

Other Camp Cooking Tips

To keep perishables, just build a rock ring in the creek and put your food in the frigid mountain water shaded by tree branches. Last year we packed in a guy from Boston who had never ridden a horse or fly-fished. We caught a mess of fish, and since Shawn had dinner cooking by the time we got back to camp, we put them in our rock ring to save for breakfast. Tough luck – a river otter found them before dawn.

I hate being a whiner, but I don’t like cold meals. And it’s not that hard to whip up something hot. If I leave base camp for a day of elk hunting, fly-fishing or maybe just a hardcore hike, I like to whip up a hot meal. One caution – your mess kit will be black from smoke after cooking. So bring some grocery bags and put your kit in them for the trip home.

Share your camp cooking tips or your favorite camping meals, below…


Tom lives in Idaho writes outdoor articles for various newspapers, magazines & websites. If it’s something outdoors, he probably likes it. You can read some more of his writings at: www.Amazon.com, www.TomclayComb3.com, and www.BassPro.com.




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Camping with Kids: Leave Those E-Gadgets Behind and
Have Some Fun

By Vikki Trout

It only takes two things to help a kid
enjoy the outdoors!

Setting up the tent for camping with kids

If you include your kid from the beginning, including camp setup, you have a better chance to keep his attention and teach him to be helpful.
(Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

“The great outdoors” — three words we savor year ’round. Connect a kid to that concept and he or she will be hooked for life. If we don’t instill the joy and contentment that we discover around a campfire, who will? And how do you convince that child of yours that experiencing an outdoor adventure is much more fun than watching a nature show on television or having the latest apps on his iPhone? All you have to do is consider two questions to generate excitement for family camping in a child.

1. What can children do to assist?

Include them from the very beginning. In other words, let them know the location options you are considering, whether it’s a campground on national or state owned property or the comfort zone of your own backyard. Yes, the backyard can be a great starting place if you’re camping with kids. Once you have agreed on where to camp, you can include kids in nearly everything.

Kids can help a number of ways during family camping

Every child is different and you will know better than anyone what they are capable of accomplishing. Swinging a mallet may not be suitable for all kids, but other tasks are readily mastered. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Food prep: Older kids can help with food prep at home such as packing the lunch basket with bread, lunch meat, weenies, snacks and marshmallows for roasting over the campfire. Kids can also pack graham crackers and chocolate to go with marshmallows and make s’mores by the campfire. You may also consider Mountain House freeze-dried meals. Add some water to the pouch and you have a delicious meal ready in minutes. Your child could be capable of filling the cooler with ice and drinks.

Campsite Prep: Even toddlers can do things that make them feel involved in family camping. I recall taking one of our grandchildren (Brittaney) camping many years ago and she assisted by picking up stones so we could put the tent stakes in the ground. Brittaney felt a true sense of accomplishment because we needed those stones out of the way. Picking up twigs to be used for kindling is also important and fun for the youngster. Children do not mind a little dirt under their fingernails!

Specific chores: My grandson Luke is 12 years old and spends a lot of time outdoors. He is a big asset when it comes to assisting around camp. Your child is no different, and you can find appropriate tasks no matter their age. Kids love to do simple chores on their own, whether it’s being “tent stake installer” or “mattress inflator” of your expedition. Any activity that involves them will provide fun and a sense of accomplishment. The more involved children are the more initiative they’ll take, which translates to more enjoyment for the entire family.

Family meals while camping with kids

Mountain House dehydrated meals are great for camping. Just add water for a scrumptious meal ready in minutes. (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Depending on the age of your child, many tasks can be completed with minimal effort on their part. Here’s a list of some chores children could master:

  • A camping checklist helps insure you pack everything you need. Let a young child check off the checklist and he’ll feel like a vital part of the adventure.
  • Helping with camp setup isn’t all heavy work. Let kids place the tarp under the tent. If you’re using a camping trailer, young children can open windows or clean countertops.
  • Kids as young as junior high can take leadership jobs such as heading up the hike, but make it easy for them to stop and ask questions.
  • Teach kids to bait hooks or attach lures while fishing, and team older youngsters with younger kids.

2. What kind of activities will entertain?

Fishing and hiking: With the camp set up, it’s time to have some fun! If a pond or lake is nearby, hike there and go fishing. Hiking while camping is great fun because it keeps them active (the best medicine for boredom) and gives them an outdoor education. Talking as you hike tightens the bond between parent and child. The stronger the bond, the more likely they are to travel the right roads and turn to you for advice later in life.

Nature study: Show them various trees and explain what they are and how they benefit wildlife. My granddaughter’s lessons about trees really helped when she started squirrel hunting. She learned the difference between nut-producing trees that provide a food source compared to ash trees that do nothing for wildlife. If you are camping with kids in early spring, try hunting for mushrooms, but make sure you know a good one from a bad one — teach which are safe and which should not even be touched. Some lessons you teach now remain valuable for the rest of their lives.

Take the family pet camping with you

Families that own pets may want to consider taking the animal along. If you do, make sure the place you select allows your furry friend, and always have complete control over the animal. Nothing will ruin a family camping adventure faster than losing track of kitty or dog, or having him bother other campers.
(Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

Riding bikes: If hiking isn’t for you, consider riding bicycles. If you have not been on a bike in a while, you may want to take a spin before your camping adventure to gain confidence and insure your bicycle is in good working order. If you do not own a bike, some park vendors rent bicycles. Consider Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the heart of Yellowstone geyser country, a memorable place for kids and adults, but don’t expect to reserve a bike — it’s “first come, first serve” only.

Freeheel and Wheel specializes in bicycle rental for all of Yellowstone and is conveniently located near Yellowstone’s West Entrance. For more information, call (406) 646-7744 or visit their website at www.freeheelandwheel.com.

Another fantastic park for bicycling is Smoky Mountain National Park. Bicycles (plus accessories such as a helmet) can be reserved at Cades Cove, and you can even consider helmets that include a “Go-Pro” camera. Dialing (865) 448-9034 will give you more information, or you can visit the website at www.cadescovetrading.com.

Horseback riding: If you enjoy horses, Cades Cove also offers guided horseback rides. For additional information, visit their website at www.cadescovestables.com or call (865) 448-9009.

A one- or two-hour adventure on horseback, horse and wagon or horse-drawn stage coach is available at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone, opening in early June. The Roosevelt Area includes the famous cowboy cookout, making it a popular place so it fills up quickly. For reservations, check the website www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call (866) 439-7375.

But you don’t need to go to a nationally known park, because you probably have a place within easy driving distance that offers similar options.

Father and son family camping

You never know what you may see when camping. Obviously, these two were extremely excited about the “visitor” they see! (Photo: John and Vikki Trout)

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that our children learn about the outdoors and how much pleasure and satisfaction they can bring, and family camping can enhance the relationship between parents and children. The day will come when they need “stress relief,” and nothing satisfies the way God’s amazing creation can. Another bonus is that you might be creating a future hunting partner!

vikki-trout-hunter-outdoor-writer-160x160Vikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer from southern Indiana. She loves hunting turkey, deer, bear and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife thru the lens of her camera. Please visit her website at www.troutswildoutdoors.com.





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