No gobblers, but governor’s hunt puts spotlight on sport

Nashport, Ohio – What a dream it would be to experience turkey
hunting as a youngster with a professional hunting guide and a NFL
star or Governor Ted Strickland by your side.

This dream came true for several selected youths during the
Governor’s Inaugural Celebrity Youth Turkey Hunt held May 9 and 10
at Dillon State Park in Muskingum County. The special event created
the opportunity to promote one of Ohio’s natural resources and
demonstrate how today’s youth can benefit from the abundant
adventures waiting outside.

The young hunters and their designated guides and celebrities
were introduced over a barbeque on the eve of the hunt. Friendships
were quickly cemented and plans of the next morning’s hunt were
under way. Before leaving the park’s overlook shelter, the hunt’s
headquarters, for their lodging facilities, DNR Director Sean Logan
thanked everyone involved in planning, participating, and
sponsoring the hunt, for a job well done.

“We hope to continue to make this a significant event in years
to come,” said Logan. “We’re still checking on it, but this may be
the first governor of Ohio to hunt wild turkeys in almost a
century.”

The return of the wild turkey population across the nation is
largely due to conservation programs sponsored by the National Wild
Turkey Federation (NWTF). Only a few decades ago, Ohio’s wild
turkey population was struggling, but from dedication from DNR
personnel and volunteers from sportsmen’s clubs and private
landowners, Ohio is a good turkey hunting state.

“It’s great to have a sitting governor to not only say he
supports hunting, but participates as well,” said Walt Ingram, NWTF
regional director of the Ohio state chapter. “This event promotes
not only turkey hunting, but Ohio’s natural resources, and that
hunting is a healthy activity and an important conservational
tool.”

A few of the youth were hunting turkeys for the first time, but
others had already experienced the springtime hunting thrill.

“I’ve taken one turkey so far, a real nice tom actually,” said
14-year-old Kayla Cowdery of West Lafayette. “I’ve got a great
guide going with me tomorrow so I hope to take another.”

Kayla’s guide was nationally known turkey caller and hunter,
Alex Rutledge, a pro-staffer of Hunters Specialties. Another
Hunters Specialties pro, Rick White would be a videographer for
Kayla’s hunt.

“We do a lot of youth hunts whenever possible,” said White. “We
have fun with the kids out there, we want them to have a great
experience and learn something at the same time. First is safety
and second is what Mother Nature has to offer.”

The Dillon State Park region was chosen primarily because of two
local hunting outfitters, Flint Ridge Outfitters and Ohio Trophy
Buck Outfitters, who graciously accepted the DNR’s request for
assistance. Dillon’s cabins provided the comforts of home to the
youths and their parents during their overnight stay. East central
Ohio’s turkey population is as good as any region of the state,
although, even with the guidance of professional hunters, the kids
returned for their after-hunt lunch without any turkeys taken. Even
though the goal was to harvest a turkey, success was had just the
same. Stories were being traded among the youth, guides and the NFL
players of near misses and tough talking turkeys.

Fifteen year-old Caleb Mills of Hopewell didn’t have the
opportunity to pull the trigger, but he did come back with a
question for his father.

“I asked my dad who we knew who had turkeys on their property,”
said Caleb. “That was fun, calling them in and trying not to get
busted. I like to hunt deer, but turkey hunting may be a little
more exciting.”

Caleb was joined by former Cincinnati Bengal, Eric Ball.

“Caleb was fun to hunt with, I had a great time,” said Ball. “I
began hunting when I was young and have many good memories of those
days. So many kids are missing out these days, so hopefully
programs such as this will be the nudge they need to get them out
there.”

Strickland also took an unfilled tag back home, but his message
shared at the post hunt luncheon was fulfilling.

“It’s our responsibility as stewards of the land to promote and
encourage others to join us outdoors, especially our children,”
said Strickland. “Ohio outdoors enthusiasts can do their part by
supporting the Division of Wildlife. The Division of Wildlife is
dedicated to making sure the wonderful heritage that we have as
Ohioans, when it comes to hunting and fishing, are maintained and
preserved for not only the current generation, but for generations
to come.”

Division of Wildlife Chief Dave Graham called the hunt an
overwhelming success.

“I’m almost speechless about this event,” said Graham. “I’ve
been working in wildlife for 32 years and I’ve been dreaming of
this hunt my whole career. There are other states that have been
conducting these governor’s celebrity hunts and they bring such
great notoriety to our hunting heritage.”

The event was sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain,
Whitetails Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Gutridge
Grills, Rittberger Meats and The Blind Turtle.

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