Since New York State first began the special youth spring turkey weekend, I have been fortunate enough to spend each of the weekends with young hunters in the field.

I would like to say that all the hunts ended with filled tags, but in reality that never and didn’t happen. What I can report, though, is all hunts ended with laughs, new friendships and the birth of a new hunter.

The very first year of the New York State, I was able to take my youngest son, Matt. While Matt enjoyed hunting, due to school and sports activities we seldom could get out. When we did, however, it was a blast. As luck would have it, every first youth hunt with Matt would end with him killing his first turkey.

Throughout the year, I have shared the woods with many young hunters and dads or granddads, but this year’s essay contest winners have to rank at the top of the list. As author of The Post-Journal’s Outdoors column, there are many highlights to write about, but since starting the youth essay contest I must say that it is right on the top of the list of things I look forward to every year. This year was no exception.

Out of the dozens of essays each year, three of us comb through the essays in search of the winners. I have often been asked what we look for in a winning essay. The key to any good essay is content and the way the essay is put together. The grammar and punctuation is something I leave to the judge who happens to be an English teacher. A good story teller will always catch my eye, but overall we remember that our essay contest entries 12- to 15-year olds.

This year’s winners are Samuel Bender and Clarke Wiltsie.

After choosing our winners, I contact each one. Years of experience have taught be that when calling the winners I speak with the parents first, because there have been a few times when the parents of the winner did not know their son or daughter had submitted an essay. Hence, talking with the winners’ parents first is important.

After talking with Samuel’s mom, I soon realized that Samuel is Amish. I have several Amish friends and have spent many a day laying leather down in local woodlots. What made Samuel’s essay so special is how it got to me, especially since contestants are asked to email their entries. After Samuel hand wrote his essay, he mailed it to his brother in Ohio who has access to a computer and Internet. Samuel’s brother then typed the essay and sent it to me. It was quite a way to get his essay to me.

I woke up at 3 a.m. to drive to North Clymer to pick up Samuel. Now, if you have never been driving in North Clymer in pitch dark looking for a road that doesn’t have sign on it, just know it is a fun way to start an adventure.

As Samuel and I settled in our blind for morning we heard gobblers sounding off all around. While the temperature was cold, the birds were still pretty talkative. We watched several birds and a bunch of deer the first hour. One would think that it wouldn’t be long before we could find that one, lonesome bird. Then it happened: a blizzard hit.

So let us recap: We have been up since 3 a.m., drove two hours – an hour out to get Samuel and hour back into hunting – and now it’s snowing so bad we can’t see 50 yards. It wasn’t long before we were able to get a mature long beard to walk by, but he wouldn’t come inside 60 yards. As I watched by young hunter after our encounter and talking with him it was decided to call the hunt and get back to the warmth of F250.

While Sunday’s hunt didn’t end in a blizzard, it was just as exciting.

After meeting Clarke and his dad Randy at 5 a.m. we headed out to try our luck.

Sharing a blind with a young hunter is always fun and Clarke was no different. Clarke’s family lives in Frewsburg, so we had plenty to catch up on. I think Clarke was amazed to discover that I either knew or had hunted with many of the same folks who he knows or sees in school.

The morning started with gobblers sounding off all around us, but there was one that was just behind us and I figured we could work. It was the same Jake that I watched earlier. He was traveling with three hens and it was going to be tough to call him away from them.

We had moved our blind further down the field edge before we settled in, thinking the bird would gravitate toward the bottom of the field as often happens in the spring turkey woods. But all the birds came out just above where we had moved the blind away from. So much for attempting to out smart the turkeys.

While we saw plenty of birds and lots of deer, there wasn’t going to be a filled tag for my young Frewsburg trap shooter.

While no tags were filled, I know that I have made two young friends who are going to be hunting and fishing long after I’m gone.