DARKE COUNTY – Sixteen boys and girls from Darke County set off on the Light Foundation’s ninth annual youth wild turkey hunt on Friday night at the Eagles on Shade Road in Greenville
The Light Foundation is a non-profit group that was founded in 2001 by Greenville native and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light. The foundation uses outdoor activities such as its youth wild turkey hunt to reach youth throughout the United States.
“This has been a great program for us because it brings the entire community together to do something for the youth that doesn’t involve PlayStation or social media,” Light said. “The outdoors is one of the greatest resources on Earth to get kids involved, get them active, get them engaged and give them something that they can be competitive and have fun with.”
To be eligible to participate in the hunt, applicants had to be Darke County residents between the ages of 12 and 17. They had to fill out an application that included an essay answering the prompt: Explain the importance of local and national conservation efforts and what you can do to help preserve wildlife and your natural surroundings.
“They’ve got to put a lot of work into it because again it’s a competitive environment,” Light said. “You can just go through the motions and fill it out, but you probably won’t be hunting.”
Those selected to hunt this year were Brock Barga from Bradford, Owen Denlinger from Greenville, Hope Shaaf from Union City, Austin Wolf from Pitsburg, Devin Kuhbander from Arcanum, Ivee Brubaker from Bradford, Milan Denlinger from Greenville, Oakley Brubaker from Bradford, Jenna Godown from New Paris, Wyatt Rammel from Greenville, Ray Keller form Fort Recovery, Allison Whiting from Lewisburg, Gavin Lochard from Greenville, Luke Perreira from Greenville, Ben Keller from Fort Recovery and Derek Lochtefeld from Fort Recovery.
For having the top two essays, as chosen by three anonymous judges, Brock Barga and Owen Denlinger had Light as their guide.
“Every year I’m reminded of why we do it,” Light said. “I forget most of the hunts that I do when it’s just me, but I can honestly do a play-by-play on every single hunt that I’ve ever had with any of these kids. I had a young lady named Maria Coyle who I drug through the muck and the mud. Her boots came off three times, getting stuck down in the mud, and she never stopped; she never quit. She got frustrated – I think we both did – but when she ended up getting that bird it was just one of the coolest moments that I’ve ever seen.”
Other hunters, half of whom had previously shot a turkey, were paired with guides from Ohio, Kentucky, New York and South Dakota. They’re among some of the best guides in the nation, Light said.
“We love to get kids in the outdoors and show them a good time and they have success with the hunt and harvesting turkeys, but just to get the opportunity to be here they’ve got to put a lot of time in with their essay and filling out the application,” the former New England Patriot left tackle said.
Light grew up in a family of hunters so hunting always has been a passion of his. Darke County didn’t have any wild turkeys during his youth, but now all 88 counties in Ohio have wild turkey populations.
“I grew up in a family of hunters,” Light said. “Heck, my grandfather and great-grandfather wrote a column in the local paper here, ‘The Great Outdoors.’ My Uncle Bob and my grandfather … it’s kind of been in our blood. They were in the Outdoor Writers Association and the whole nine so for me growing up small game was something I did early on. We didn’t have turkey in Darke County – we didn’t have turkey in Ohio, really, for the longest time.”
Turkey hunting is a great introduction to hunting, Light said, because it’s less intensive than some other forms of hunting.
“It’s not one of these things where you have to be real intense about it,” he said. “You don’t have to get scent control like deer. Turkeys, they gobble, they look goofy, and they taste great. You can’t go wrong with that combination.”
Along with hunting at the Light Foundation’s Chenoweth Trails facility and other areas in Darke County, the weekend provides time for the youth to camp, learn about the outdoors, learn about hunter safety and spend time together.
“The camaraderie of just kind of being around each other and enjoying camp and telling the hunt stories, which is big for us in this because every kid that shoots a bird he’s got to get up and tell the story and of course it gets a little animated – just like every fish gets bigger every turkey hunt story gets better,” Light said. “The hunt’s great, but it’s the time and the camaraderie and the relationships that get built during that hunting process that really make it truly unique.”
While the kids enjoy the hunt, Light said he probably enjoys it even more. He likes coming back home to Darke County to see the people that helped mold him and working with the staff of the Light Foundation.
“For me this is a great homecoming. But any time that we do stuff back here it’s the people that make it absolutely unbelievable,” Light said. “While I may not have a quarterback wearing No. 12 and all that kind of stuff, I’ve got arguably an even more impressive roster with the guys that we have.”