Up at 3:30 a.m. to make a 4:30 breakfast in a warehouse at Toledo Express Airport, then into the field at 5:30 before the hunt began at daylight.
Not the best hours to keep for a teen-ager, but it was worth it to Nick Hunt. He came home with a 17-pound wild turkey in a special hunt sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
Nick was at the Bass Pro Shop in Rossford one day with his step-father, Chuck Ekins, when he saw a couple of men selling hot dogs and brats for a NWTF fund-raiser.
“One of the guys noticed I have one arm and wondered if I wanted to go on a hunt near Toledo airport,” Nick said.
The NWTF sponsors special events across the country through the organization’s Wheelin’ Sportsmen program.
“It helps disabled people to become hunters,” Nick said.
As the NWTF puts it, the program brings back the joy of the wild to those with disabilities.
It wasn’t a matter of bringing back the joy to Nick—he hunts every year—but this was his first experience with wild turkeys.
The event—scheduled last Saturday and Sunday—is known as the Maumee Valley/Northwest Ohio Ultimate TeamUp and it’s successful enough that it was voted the number one Wheelin’ Sportsman hunt in the nation last year.
The event is coordinated with the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority—owner of the airport—on property surrounding the facility.
“The whole point is help prevent wildlife from getting in front of planes,” Nick said, and this hunt is one of many on the property.
“We have a group that hunts there already,” said the event coordinator Brad Christenson of Swanton. “Since we have all that land and since there are turkeys there, we said why not do something beneficial?”
That was four years ago and the hunt keeps getting better every year.
“We had eight hunters the first year and they got two birds,” Brad said. “We had 15 this year and they got seven birds.”
The fund-raising banquet is also growing. That’s one more segment of the busy weekend that NWTF members and their guests take part in.
On the first weekend of turkey season, local NWTF members meet at the Valleywood Golf Club in Swanton for a fund-raising banquet. This year brought the biggest attendance yet with 175 people.
There’s not much sleep for members. After cleaning up from the banquet, they’re back at it at 3:30 the next morning to prepare breakfast.
“It’s tough finding hunters to participate,” Brad said about the Friday-Saturday-Sunday commitment.
Nick was willing to make the commitment and he got his turkey from a blind about 8 a.m. Saturday.
He wasn’t going to make the return trip Sunday, Brad said—he got his bird and wanted to leave more for the others—but he was convinced that it was a two-day hunt.
“We saw four turkeys today,” Nick said Sunday afternoon, but they were all hens.
He also got some lessons on using a turkey caller (slate sound box and striker), and he also learned how and where to set up for turkeys.
Each guest hunter has a guide from the NWTF and there’s also an assistant or two to help get the hunter into the field.
“The other hunters had mobility problems but I could go where the others couldn’t,” Nick said.
That meant slogging through the mud where a wheelchair would get bogged down.
There were two female hunters this year, Brad said, and both are pregnant. The youngest hunter was 10 years old and this oldest participant was 74. Four of the seven birds were shot by first-time hunters.
“The experience is fantastic,” Brad said, and Nick agrees.
He’s already looking forward to another try next year. For now, the family will savor his success. Once dressed, the bird weighed in at 12 pounds and it will soon go into the smoker.