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Harshbarger: Veterans turkey hunt a yearly treasure

The State Correctional Institution hosts a yearly Veterans Turkey Hunt. The tradition began five years ago as a way to thank service men and women.

As any avid outdoorsman knows, few things get the blood pumpin’ and the adrenaline going like the sound of a Pennsylvania gobbler sounding off in the woods. The echoing of a double-gobble as a bird closes the distance can make the most experienced turkey hunter shake in his camos. The kind of rush that most of us, and especially individuals with struggles outside of the woods, can feed upon and find positive emotion.

As an employee at State Correctional Institution-Rockview in Bellefonte, I’m proud to write about the annual Veterans Turkey Hunt held each spring. Initiated five years ago, the hunt was created as a way to thank our local service men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our country, some of whom suffer the emotional and physical scars of war. The event provides it’s participants with a meal, various hunting items and gear, lodging in a local hotel, and a guided spring gobbler hunt on Rockview’s property. Such generous incentives are not used as bargaining chips to gather a lengthy list of potential participants, and are only provided after the participants have volunteered and been chosen. This allows the event to remain “pure” and with a goal of introducing, or reintroducing, our local vets to the outdoors.

Surrounded by mountains and hundreds of yards of fields, SCI-Rockview’s property provides beautiful scenery that our selected participants can enjoy, as well as a vast population of wild turkey and white-tailed deer.

Some selected participants suffer from a range of various disabilities resulting from their heroic willingness to fight for our country. It is not required, however, that a veteran have a disability to participate. Participant’s from past hunts range in age- from Veterans of World War II to Vietnam Vets, and Iraq and Afghanistan Vets. Staff at SCI-Rockview provide accommodations that allow each participant a high-percentage chance of harvesting a mature Tom, based on their individual needs. Staff from the institution assure that the individuals have a great experience. The success rate since the event’s initiation has been excellent. According to SCI-Rockview staff who organize and coordinate the event, last year’s hunt resulted in 3 out of 4 participants harvesting a bird, and all 4 having an opportunity.

The event is coordinated and funded solely through the efforts of staff at SCI-Rockview, to include various fundraisers and staff donations. Inmates and staff working in Rockview’s Correctional Industries wood shop assist by making turkey calls and other items for the hunters. The local Pleasant Gap Legion donates the space for a pre-hunt banquet, where the participants and guides (also Rockview staff and avid turkey hunters) can gather to get to know each other and discuss planning the next day’s hunt. Hunters chosen are those who cannot or would not otherwise have an opportunity to harvest an animal themselves- whether it be to lost interest or disability. Rockview staff do not publicize or seek recognition for the event- a testament to their selflessness and appreciation for our local veterans.

Rockview staff were more than willing to discuss the event with me. They showed obvious passion for the event and total admiration for the individuals that they assist. They requested that they not be recognized by name- another testament to their selflessness regarding the good deed.

According to staff, “a 94 year-old World War II Vet, who was confined to a wheelchair, was like a six year-old on Christmas when he got his bird. He had a lot of fun, and we have a lot of fun with it (the hunt).”

Since the event’s initiation, no hunter who has participated has gone without an opportunity to harvest a Tom and all have shown excitement and great appreciation.

In addition to other generous gifts, staff offer successful hunters a fan mount of their bird, taxidermy costs covered, that they can display in their home and pass along through family generations, as many of us do with our trophies.

As an employee at SCI-Rockview, I take tremendous pride in the work we do and the undying dedication to serve our local heroes. Without the generous support and fund-raising efforts from SCI-Rockview employees, this event would not be possible. It is not my intention to seek praise, but rather to pay tribute, and to encourage others to continue assisting veterans in whatever way possible.

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