It’s all about smiles, memories: Whitetail Heritage youth hunt is for all the right reasons
BRINKHAVEN – A little past 6 p.m., as a couple hundred volunteers, spectators and family members were wrapping up their dinners, the first of 27 hunters, guides and cameramen pulled into the roped off area and stopped in front of the Whitetail Heritage of Ohio banner.
With all the fanfare of a Hollywood red-carpet event, those waiting, including the children passing time by playing a game of kickball in the nearby open field, pushed to see the youth hunter and the deer he harvested.
Out from the truck popped Carter, the foster child of guide Justin Troyer, with a smile as big as the setting sun. No one questioned his choice of the deer he shot, for what was most important were the benefits of the seed of hunting and the outdoors that was planted in his memory, and the smile on his face.
“It went good, said Carter of the hunt. “I decided I was going to shoot that deer, the first one. Dad opened the window, I put my bow on it and I shot it.”
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For the past 15 years, Whitetail Heritage of Ohio has conducted a youth hunt in cooperation with area landowners and the Tiverton-62 Co-op, a group of hunters in the northern Coshocton County area that give up their hunting property for one early October Saturday every fall.
The day is designed to make memories for handicapped, intellectually challenged and first-time hunters who otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity to hunt. And a full day it is, with each hunter getting outfitted head-to-toe with camouflaged apparel and boots, instructions from WHOO members, as well as TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, which brings all the equipment necessary for the hunters to have success in the field.
An amazing experience and opportunity
“This is an amazing experience,” said Justin Troyer. “This is an amazing opportunity, for not only Carter, but for all the hunters. He has lived with us for nine months now, and this is an opportunity he never would have had before.”
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Soon after Carter came in with the first deer, the rain started to come down, but that didn’t stop the excitement every time a truck or 4-wheeler side-by-side pulled into the viewing lane. There were honking horns and hugs, high-fives and hollers. For the day, 17 of the 27 hunters harvested deer, but all had successful hunts in their eyes, and the eyes of their families.
“It’s an undertaking,” said WHOO President Mose Keim of the event, “but the landowners are the real heroes. They’re like the offensive line in football. We coordinate the event, but it doesn’t happen without the landowners.”
Whitetail Heritage of Ohio poured over 53 applications to pick out this year’s list of hunters, with a third of them repeats from past years. There were boys and girls and young adults, some were legally blind, paralyzed or had intellectual disabilities, others just never had the chance to hunt before.
“If you have families that hunt, then you don’t belong here,” said Keim.
And while a lot of the hunters came from within 50 miles of Brinkhaven, this year there were three hunters from Indiana.
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‘Good news travels, it’s not just the bad things’
One of those hunters was Aaron Mast, from Goshen, whose first words out of the truck were: “I aimed real good,” as he pumped his fist in the air.
“Good news travels, it’s not just the bad things that travel,” said board member Eli Yoder of Whitetail Heritage of Ohio’s reputation for putting on a quality event.
And, it certainly was, with it getting bigger and better every year. Just to put on an event of this magnitude not only takes a big financial commitment, but WHOO also needs a ton of hunting properties to get it done.
The 23 area landowners provided their properties and blinds for the day, while WHOO put four hunters on its lease property in the area. The price tag for the hunting apparel alone was over $5,400, and breakfast, lunch and supper for all involved was free for the day.
Each hunter gets an unedited video of his or her hunt, as well as a fully edited video of the day put together by Cody Altizer, a filmmaker out of Virginia who specializes in outdoor productions. Also, WHOO takes each deer harvested to Miller Custom Meats in Millersburg to be processed.
An event ‘from the heart of every one of us’
Those are just the obvious expenses, there was so much more, not to mention all the planning and coordinating that takes place throughout the year.
“This is done from the heart from every one of us,” said WHOO board member Brian Yoder. “This makes my year. The smiles are just amazing.”
Just to show how amazing the WHOO volunteers are, they stuck around until 2:30 in the morning just to track down the deer Esther Miller shot. They brought in Eddie Schlabach’s famous tracking dog, Porky, and finally found the deer dead in a pond.
Volunteers Kevin Schlabach and Drew Beaver went and got a canoe, used the only things they had for paddles, including a metal chair, and got the deer out of the pond.
“It shows the dedication these guys have to get the hunter hooked up with his or her deer,” said Keim. “Everyone was tired, but they weren’t going to give up.”
Jonathan Yoder, 14, of Baltic, shot the biggest buck of the day, an 8-pointer that he, guide Andy Dunmire and cameraman Mahlon Yoder waited till last shooting light to get. It was one of the day’s five bucks harvested, all of which will be made into shoulder mounts for the hunters.
“The landowner told us that if we’d be patient, bucks will be coming in,” said Mahlon Yoder.
“Yep, that was the goal,” said Jonathan, who made good on a 20-yard shot.
It was a long day at Pilgrim Hills Mentoring Camp, which was base for the event, but one long day that was well worth the effort.
You see, you can’t put a price tag on smiles and memories.
Outdoor correspondent Art Holden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.