1st Annual Robert Zimmerman Memorial Youth Turkey Hunt Makes an Impact
The call of the wild can be easier to hear this time of year as the sounds of spring gobblers echo through the valleys on cool, green mornings. Yet, to Conservation Police Officer, Beth McGuire, a senior officer with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, that call of the wild was not being heard by youth. Thus, the 1st Annual Robert Zimmerman Memorial Youth Turkey Hunt was held this year on April 6 and 7, 2019, open to school-aged children 15 and under. Highland County’s chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, or NWTF, known as the Little Switzerland Strutters, sponsored the youth, and the event was even free for all participants.
Ms. McGuire has more. She says, “Last year, after the Youth and Apprentice Turkey Hunting Weekend, I noticed that I had only checked one youth hunter all weekend, and that threw up a red flag for me, so I said somethin’s gotta be done. We’ve gotta get these kids out in the woods, and I contacted my supervision, and they said, ‘Yeah. Go for it,’ and, so, then I went to the NWTF President in the area, Mike Hilbert, and he said, ‘Yeah. Come to our meeting. Pitch your event, and we’ll see what we can do.’ They ended up fully sponsoring the event, and we were able to make it an additional JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) event for the county, so that we would have insurance, which was a big deal for me, so, that’s how the event started. It became the Robert Zimmerman Memorial Event because Robert Zimmerman was a huge asset to the NWFT in Highland and the youth there. He loved doing the youth events, and he passed away last October, so when they said, ‘Can we make it a memorial event for him?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely!’”
Though no turkeys were harvested during this year’s event, it seemed to stir up excitement in the young participants, which included males and females. Memories were sure to have been made, and each child received a trophy and event-customized turkey call. “The children had to apply for the event, and we ended up having ten total youth, and everybody got to hear turkeys,” continues Ms. McGuire. “They’re all excited and eager to get back in to the woods. You should have seen their faces on Saturday when they were getting their trophies and turkey calls and swappin’ stories about their hunt that morning. It was just awesome.
“We had three youths that ended up on WMA’s in Highland, which is Wildlife Area Management areas owned by our department, and then the rest of ‘em were on private lands, scattered out throughout the county where they had permission. It was guided by NWTF members in the county and one from Augusta County.
“The turkeys calls were donated by the NWTF as well. Mike Hilbert and I, we designed it, and then he sent it off to a guy he knows and had ‘em made, so that was pretty cool, and, then, I had trophies made from The Staunton Eagles, the Fraternity Order of the Eagles, so each participant got a trophy as well.
“I’d like to thank the NWTF and the guides and all of our hunters that were able to come out, as well as their parents that brought ‘em out at the earliest hour in the morning to be able to get those kids in the woods. We gotta continue our hunting heritage. That’s what keeps our kids and generations to come out in the woods, and it’s important for the conservation of our wildlife, so we’ve gotta get these kids interested and out there in the woods, and I think, at least these ten, are super interested in turkey hunting now.”
Ms. McGuire hopes to hold the Robert Zimmerman Memorial Youth Turkey Hunt again next year. If you missed this chance to get young people outdoors, she has another opportunity for you in the near future. On May 11, 2019, the 10th Annual Bullpasture Kids’ Fishing Day will be held at the Gorge from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., put on by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Lunch will be provided by the Highland County Recreation Commission.