For no other reason than to help some special needs hunters enjoy the same kind of outdoor activities they enjoy, about 50 volunteers gathered last weekend at Pike Lake State Park for the fifth annual Thunder in the Hills.
Organized by Randy Dyer of Hillsboro, Greg Keeton of Leesburg and Ben Kelly of Latham, the turkey hunting, fishing and socializing event is put on by the Clinton County National Wild Turkey Federation and ODNR Division of Wildlife and Division of Forestry. It takes them, the volunteers, and about an equal number of donors (the majority of them from Highland County) to pull the event off for 14 special needs hunters.
“You gotta love to do it, and we do,” Dyer said. “The hunters just like being there, talking to all the guys, and they are so appreciative and thankful — killing a turkey is a bonus.”
With bad weather Saturday, this year’s hunters struck out the first day but were able two bag two turkeys on Sunday. They also caught several of the 500 rainbow trout stocked for them by the ODNR in a small area at Pike Lake. They have taken several turkeys other years.
“They all hear and see turkeys, it’s just whether or not they can call them in and get a shot,” Dyer said.
The event starts with an application process Thunder in the Hills posts on Facebook. Once the applications are received the Thunder in the Hills board tackles the process of narrowing the selection down to 14 hunters that will be selected. Dyer said the 14 hunters are about the optimal number for the 2,500 acres they have to hunt at the APV Area on S.R. 124 near Sinking Spring.
Two weekends before the hunt Thunder in the Hills personnel visit the APV area to judge where they turkeys are gobbling, scratching and rooting. Then a day or so before the hunt, volunteers set 14 blinds up around a mountain in the APV Area.
Last Friday evening, the hunters, volunteers and some of the donors gathered for a meet and greet at Pike Lake where dozens of pizzas plus salad, bread sticks and drinks were provided. After a short program and some giveaways, the hunters retired for a short night’s sleep.
That’s because at 3:45 a.m. they have to meet in a Pike Lake parking lot with breakfast bags they have already been provided. Then a convoy heads toward the APV area, where “side by sides” are parked in the direction they will head out toward their blinds. Each hunter is paired with a guide, a videographer if they want one, and a family member or two if they like to help with their needs and make them more comfortable. Dyer said they try to depart the APV area by 4:15 a.m. and it takes about an hour to get all the hunters set up in their blinds.
They hunt until noon, then head back Pike Lake where a barbecue lunch was provided, then they can fish or relax. Later Saturday evening Thunder in the Hills provided a steak dinner prepared at Pike Lake by The Scioto Riber. The evening included a giveaway of four guns, a three-day whitetail deer hunt, and several miscellaneous hunting items. Every hunter received something.
The hunters head out early again Sunday morning and the event ended with a lunch of hamburgers and hots dogs.
For the first time this year, thanks in part to a grant from the ODNR Division of Wildlife, the excursion was entirely free to the hunters. That included everything from their hunting licenses to cabins they are housed in at Pike Lake.
This year 30 applications were received for the hunt, then the Thunder in the Hills board has to select the 14 that get to hunt. Twelve were from Ohio, one from Indiana and one from Tennessee.
Dyer said deciding which 14 to pick “has to be the hardest job in the world.”
But what has not been all that hard, Dyer said, is finding people willing to volunteer and donate to the cause. He said that after visiting one Highland County business this year and explaining the whole process, the owner wrote him a check for $500, then her husband came home, Dyer explained the process again, and Thunder in the Hills received another $500 check.
“It unbelievable. If you take the time to explain what it’s about, people are more than willing to help,” Dyer said.
Anyone that would like to volunteer or donate to next year’s event can email Dyer at [email protected] or call him at 937-763-3328.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.