The smiles he saw on the hunters’ faces during the inaugural Thunder in the Hills Handicapped Turkey Hunt were so electric, Randy Dyer said, that next year’s hunt is already being planned and a new group of hunters is being sought.
Sponsored by the local Southwest Ohio and Clinton County chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the first hunt was held April 7-9 in the Pike State Forest APV Area. Twelve hunters with various special needs, selected through an application process, took part in the event and they bagged three turkeys.
Another young male hunter got a shot off but did not hit his target, and four others had turkeys within range, but didn’t get the opportunity to take a shot.
Nine Wounded Warriors and three others with special needs – from Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio – took part in the hunt.
Dyer, a Hillsboro native and president of the NWTF Southwest Ohio chapter, said the hunt was so successful that another one is being planned for April of next year. He also said that he and other local residents plan to take five special needs kids deer hunting in October, just like they did a year ago.
“They don’t even care if they get one. If they see one, oh my gosh, they get excited,” Dyer said of the youngsters.
Like Dyer, Ben Kelley with the Pike State Forest said the success of the hunt was not measured by the number of turkeys bagged, but rather by the size of the smiles on the participants’ faces and the long-term friendships that resulted.
“This was a great hunt for a great cause,” Kelley said, according to the Pike News Watchman. “Seeing people participate in outdoor activities that may be unreachable at times is priceless. Seeing the joy on the faces of those who participated and seeing how many people supported the event at every level was so rewarding. Participants, guides and other volunteers are already discussing next year’s plan. Our hope is to continue this event for years to come.”
Dyer said the hunt was just as much fun for the people helping the hunters as it was the hunters themselves.
“I love it, I really do. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Dyer said. “You kind of have to get in touch with the right people to get things started, but then all you gotta do is say handicapped and help starts coming from all over the place.”
There was no fee for the hunters to the participate. In addition, all the time, logistics, and food were donated by the two NWTF chapters, grant funding, state parks and volunteers. Dyer said a couple ladies even volunteered to cook all the meals.
The group stayed in cabins at Pike Lake State Park on Friday and Saturday. They went hunting on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and got to fish Saturday afternoon since a nearby state fish hatchery stocked the lake with trout for the hunters.
“I think each one caught their limit,” Dyer said. “It was really neat.”
Dyer said he is currently accepting applications for the October youth deer hunt and next April’s turkey hunt. He said that in order to give more people with special needs a chance to hunt, applications are being taken from a completely new set of hunters. Anyone interested can contact Dyer at 937-205-7747.
“I’d like to thank everyone that was involved, sponsors, callers, guides, anyone that had anything to do with it,” Dyer said. “I really want to thank them all.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.