The anticipation had been building for months. Ever since witnessing the pure joy of a child fulfilling a dream, Bill Cothron was inescapably committed to helping United Special Sportsman Alliance, Inc. (USSA) establish a Tennessee Turkey Hunt for youth hunters with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses.
Brigid O’Donoghue, founder and CEO, asked Bill if he would be interested in starting a group hunt in his home state. Through a coordinated effort in January this year, Bill contacted many sponsors and helped her start up a hunt. He relied on his friends, associates, and friends of friends. The most significant discovery was that Tennessee held true to its motto. At every turn, there was a volunteer with no hidden agenda but only a desire to make a child’s wish come true.
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation had recently changed the start of Turkey season by two weeks, and the first opportunity for anyone to hunt would be Easter weekend. After much discussion with the guides, volunteers, and USSA leadership, it was decided that the weekend would be the best opportunity for the hunters.
USSA advertised the hunt and dates on their official website, www. childswish.org, and carefully screened the applicants. As a result, a limit of ten hunters and their family members were chosen to attend the inaugural event.
Families arrived at the event center in Gordonsville, TN, early afternoon on April 7, 2023. The TN Turkey Hunt Staff greeted them. Upon arrival, they were given a Hunter’s backpack filled with items for both the hunter and their family member. Included in the bags were items that had been sponsored or donated. Sponsors such as Burdine Supply, Academy Sports, Mossy Oak, HS Strut, Varitees Screen Printing, Avian X, and many others donated to provide the hunters with amazing gear for the upcoming hunt. Families were provided sleeping accommodations and allowed to rest and unpack before supper was served. During that timeTWRA, Officers were on hand to provide gun safety education and assist each hunter with the proper fundamentals of marksmanship. Each hunter fired the weapon they would be using at a target to ensure they operated properly and were safe to hunt with in preparation for the hunt. Friday night was the meet and greet with the Hunters, Families, Mentors, and Guides. All participants were privileged to have local legend Randall Haley present them with a bag of leaves and its legend.
The facility quickly became a ghost town as the hunters retired to bed, anticipating the thunderous gobbles the next morning would bring.
At 2:30 a.m., the local Foreign Legion arrived to prepare a hot breakfast for those going out. Mentors, Guides, and Hunters collected their warm breakfast and headed out into a cloudy and cool crisp morning at approximately 04:30 a.m.
It didn’t take long for the news of the 1st harvest to reach back to the facility that Isabella (NC) would be the leader of the hunt with her harvest of a big gobbler. Guide Bob Vantreese from the Gordonsville Area said that “Isabella had made an awesome shot” after watching her Tom walk into the decoys, giving her the opportunity. Isabella stated that she “had only heard a Turkey gobble on TV. She stated that “it was amazing and exciting.”
The 2nd turkey was taken by Branson (TN) who harvested a fantastic example of a super Jake. The Jake displayed dominance and had features of a big Gobbler, but the tail fan and spurs indicated a Jake.
Saturday was a tough day, with only two others filling tags. One of those was Sebastian, the brother of Isabella. After Isabella filled out her tag, she decided to tag along with her brother for good luck. In just a matter of minutes, Guides Bob, Brandon, and Josh had put Sebastian in place to harvest his 1st bird fulfilling his turkey hunting dream.
Saturday Night was a great night of fellowship as the event hosted a southern Fish Fry. Everyone was treated to a special peach cobbler prepared and brought in for all to enjoy. Then, just like the night before, those going back out the following morning retired to bed to be well-rested and ready for the next morning’s hunt.
Easter morning was a glorious example of why it is such a special day. Abigail, her sister Zoey, TJ, and his brother Eli were ready to go. Bill said, “We all witnessed a beautiful sunrise in the crisp Tennessee morning air as we settled into our hunting spots. The woods came alive with thunderous gobbles as the sun rose over the horizon.
Although the gobblers didn’t cooperate, all families witnessed all the splendor of God’s creation. Easter will always be the day for one huntress when she fulfilled her dream of hunting and harvesting a turkey. Her dream became a reality as a big gobbler approached the guides’ calls and decoys. A perfect union of nature and hunter came together with a well-placed shot, and her dream became a reality. The tom lay there in the fresh morning dew, the incandescent colors of the tail feathers continuously changing as they gently moved in the slightest breeze.
“Altogether, the inaugural TN Turkey Hunt was a true success. Not merely in harvest numbers but in recruiting future sportsmen! These hunters, guides, mentors, and family members received a special blessing on Easter weekend of 2023. They fellowshipped and cheered each other on! While celebrating their successes, a bond with people they had recently met was formed. Lifelong friendships were formed that special weekend and a passion for our fellow outdoorsmen and women were renewed and strengthened,” said Bill!
If you want to get involved or know of a deserving youth or veteran, don’t hesitate to contact United Special Sportsman Alliance at www.childswish.org.