The weekends are meant to be spent in the great outdoors…don’t you agree?! That is where you could find us, in the thick of the woods, on Saturday, April 24th when we kicked off the first annual Rhode Island Youth Wild Turkey Hunt! Ten area youth who received the top scores of an essay contest, which focused on the importance of a healthy self-image, were invited to participate in the hunt. No hunting experience was necessary to apply since we had some of the top notched hunting mentors on hand to make sure these youth hunters were following safety guidelines, learning about the important role hunting plays in conservation, and of course, enjoying the thrill of hunting that gobbling Tom!
The Light Foundation and our partners, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Fish & Wildlife Division, kicked the event off by inviting the youth hunters and their families to join all the key players in making the event possible to a Kick-Off Dinner hosted at Addieville East Farms in Mapleville, Rhode Island, on Friday evening prior to the actual hunt. A delicious meal was served by GottaQ Smokehouse BBQ out of Cumberland, RI – thanks to Will Worthy and Big Bear Hunting and Fishing for sponsoring the dinner!
After dinner, Rhode Island DEM took the time to teach each youth how to properly shoot a gun and thoroughly talked about the importance of gun safety and respecting the hunting laws & properties of the generous landowners. They were then introduced to their hunting mentors who took time to go over the fundamentals of turkey hunting and assisted Matt Light, co-founder of the Light Foundation, with sighting in the youth’s guns, all key components for a successful hunt.
The parents then dropped the youth hunters off at Pheasant Ridge Lodge for an evening full of turkey talk and more! The youth were seated around the large rustic dining room table and received “swag bags” filled with the latest turkey hunting essentials, generously donated by many of our event sponsors. They also participated in a table side chat about the importance of a healthy self-image led by Program Director, April Brubaker, and learned about the key components of having a positive mindset which goes hand in hand with a healthy self-image. Joe Judd, the hunting legend from Quaker Boy, addressed the youth and focused on the importance of setting yourself up for success, which is what hunters do every time they go hunting, Joe stressed that hunting success isn’t measured by bagging a bird, it’s much more! He encouraged the youth to soak it all in and cherish the unique experience. Joe answered many of their questions about turkey hunting and eased their minds about how to positively address the negativity hunters often face.
The kids ended the evening roasting marshmallows over the warm fire and before we knew it, they were interacting with each other and having a great time! After trying out all the different turkey calls and lots of laughs and comradery, they fell asleep just in time to wake up the next morning bright and early at 4:00 AM to get decked out in camo, eat a hot breakfast, grab their hunting gear and head to the woods with their mentors. Yes – all before sunrise!
A successful hunt is what we prepped for and is exactly what we accomplished! We had seven kids bag a bird by noon on Saturday, while the other three were able to call in birds they were not able to secure a safe shot to complete the harvest. Bird or no bird, every youth was very grateful for the opportunity to learn from some of the best hunters and enjoy the outdoors and personally thanked everyone that made the event possible one even stated, “it was best experience of my life.” After all of the harvested turkeys made their way back to camp, Rhode Island DEM scored the birds, and the “Best Bird Award” went to Kayden Osenkowski. The others youth hunters who were able to harvest a turkey included: Sam Dalti, Omar Sasa, Pascal Dubac, Hunter Camara, Jake Aubuchon, and Lucas Botelho.
After the turkey excitement was over, things began to quiet down… until Matt came barreling through the woods in an ARMY TANK! One kid asked, “Why is there a tractor coming through the woods?” Then they all realized what the large motor sound was, and a burst of excitement roared through the trees! The kids were able to enjoy a ride on the tank before their departure from the camp.
There are a lot of people who made this first annual hunt possible: Rhode Island DEM, sponsors, hunting mentors, landowners, volunteers, and the Light Foundation staff are at the top of the list.
- Thank you to the staff at Rhode Island DEM for partnering with us to make this program successful for all youth involved. Their entire staff was a pleasure to work with.
- Special Thanks to Jessica Pena who reached out to us in 2019 inquiring about starting a hunt in Rhode Island like the one in Ohio, and her contribution over the last 2 years in putting this event together.
- A huge nod of gratitude to the guides: Matt Light, Dylan Ferreire, Ernie Calandrelli, Paul Morante, Nathan Forsythe, Eli Pease, Joe Judd, Jim Tappero, Dave Kalb, Steve Weidel, Josh Beuth, John Veale, and Jenny Kilburn.
- A special thanks to Ernie Calandrelli, a Quaker Boy Legend, who not only participated in the Ohio Youth Wild Turkey Hunt, but also traveled to guide this hunt as well from New York.
- Props to our spotters and volunteers: Tyler Allen, Mike Woods, Rowland Gravel, Brice Tessier, Tommy Falcone, Jack O’Brien, Jennifer Kilburn, Maddie Proulx, Shannon Wesson, Scott Travers, Emily George, Sarah Petrarca, Dean Roeben, and Joe Sousa.
- Kudos to all of the landowners who allowed us to hunt their property.
- Special shout out to Sarah Petrarca for donating her time and extreme talent in capturing photos. Give her a follow here!
- Thank you to our Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s Outdoor Fund & Thompson Center being our Boss Gobbler Presenting Sponsor! Addieville East Farm, Gloucester Land Trust, being our Big Tom Sponsors. Bass Pro Shops of Foxboro, Big Bear Hunting and Fishing, Friends of the NRA & the NRA Foundation, Gloucester Land Trust, GSM Outdoors/Walkers/Hunter Specialty, Mossy Oak, On X Hunt, Quaker Boy, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Fish & Wildlife Division, and Turkey Chicks Organization being our Full Strut Sponsors! ALPS Outdoorz, Federated Rhode Island Sportsman Club, and Pettengill Archery being our Long Beard Sponsors. Active Outdoors and Biaggio’s Pizzeria for being our Gobbler sponsors.
- Finally, props to our generous Corporate Partners — Gemini Industries, Haynes Group, Twelve Points Wealth, Lykins Family Foundation, and Rockport Mortgage Corporation for supporting all our programs and events on a yearly basis.
Lastly, thank you to all the youth hunters who rose to the challenge and created some awesome memories during our
first annual Rhode Island Youth Wild Turkey Hunt Weekend Jake Aubuchon, Hunter Camara, Samuel Dalti, , Pascal Dubuc, Luke Longley, Travis Liese, Kayden Osenkowski, Emma Roeben, Omar Sasa, and Cooper Senecal. The greatest trophies a turkey hunter can ever take will not be mounted on the wall, kept in a shoe box, or put on display for all to see. The greatest trophy that a turkey hunter will ever have is the memory of teaching others how to become safe and responsible members of the hunting community!
If you would like to read more about the hunt from a guides perspective, read Joe Judd’s story here.