HOWARD — Nearly 200 people were on hand for the annual banquet and auction of the Kokosing Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Apple Valley on Saturday night.
Those in attendance were treated to a great barbecue dinner. They also had a chance to bid on beautiful artwork, unique furniture and outdoor equipment — mostly with a hunting and fishing theme.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve generated about $32,000 a year,” said NWTF Kokosing Chapter President Keith White. “It’s about the people who come here. It’s not about us. It’s the people who spend their money, which goes to conservation.”
The NWTF has nurtured the population of wild turkeys in Ohio for 30 years. Back then, wild turkeys could be found in just six Ohio counties. Now they can be found in all 88.
Among the groups represented at the banquet was America’s Freedom Lodge. The group takes disabled veterans on hunting trips, paying for all expenses.
“The Kokosing Chapter of the NWTF has always been a supporter of American Freedom Lodge,” Rob Pierpont, AFL spokesman. “We try to support and attend their banquets as well. Most of the members of AFL are members of the NWTF.”
They were on hand to announce that they still have openings for their turkey hunt scheduled for April 29 through May 1.
“Everything that we do cost these veterans absolutely nothing,” said Pierpont. “We have got quite a few applications in hand for our deer hunt in October. We’ve got guys coming from Billings, Mont.; Seattle, Wash. and Texas, so our word is getting out. Basically, the guys will come in on Friday evening, We put them up, we buy their tags, we buy their hunting licenses if they don’t already have one. We feed them three meals a day.”
The veterans are each given a guide, so they never get sent out alone.
“Sometimes, with turkeys, we have two guides,” said Pierpont, who is also an assistant fire chief out of Utica. “One might be a cameraman and one might be a caller.”
The stories of people who, because of their disabilities, would never get a chance to hunt without AFL, are touching.