A routine trip turns into a great adventure for veterans, youth hunters
By Matthew Burke
Founder, CEO of 10 CAN, Inc.
BEREA, Ky. — Our annual Kentucky Youth & Warrior Expedition was quite the adventure. Eight youth and five Veterans began this annual passage Thursday evening at 6 p.m. Rendezvousing at Gainesville Harley-Davidson and Buell for a safety briefing and consolidating luggage, three vehicles (including a 15-passenger van supported by Enterprise Rent-A-Car) headed out on the highway.
With Gainesville, Florida in our rear view mirror, our convoy made frequent stops. After 11 hours on the road, we finally made it to the Waffle House in London, Ky., to fill our bellies. We then stopped to pick up essential items at the Walmart in Berea, Kentucky. Our last leg to base camp required hyper vigilance as we traversed steep hills and sharp curves, when the dawn began to showcase the Appalachian mountains. We arrived to a friend’s barn and met our camp host Ken Burke. Ken went well above and beyond this year; shower, running water, latrine, grill, etc.
After we set up camp, we took the youth to confirm rifle accuracy down by a small river. Afterwards, Ken took the crew spelunking and exploring a local mountain spring, while Dan DiMarco and Matthew Burke scouted and set up hunting blinds.
The evening came quickly, as Ken cooked up four gallons of amazing vegetable stew. Special guests Cw Williams and Collin Williams dropped in to fellowship and share the evening meal with us. Additionally, Collin shared a message of the prodigal son, and CW shared some of his childhood hunting stories. We fought jet lag until lights out at 9 p.m. The cool night breeze blowing through the open barn kept everyone snuggled up in their sleeping bags until Ken arrived at 6 a.m. with a mega-size pot of Folgers.
After we wiped the sleepy from our eyes, freshened up, refueled with coffee and hot coco, conducted a safety briefing and prayer, we loaded up the vehicles and headed out into the dark morning. After dropping our first youth huntress at her spot, we backed our vehicle into a hidden crevasse. Stuck!
Everyone got out to push, but the ditch was just too deep. Jonathan Barnes was the hero of the morning, as he walked back to camp to grab his Toyota USA Tacoma. What a power-horse truck; as it made light work of pulling us out. We finally got everyone to their spots: the hunt was on.
The morning light eased it’s way through the woods, waking birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Giant acorns were dropping, a slight breeze kept the wind in our face, and a fog gently settled. Each hunter enjoyed their morning in the blinds, although no deer were seen. We all met back at base camp for lunch. On the menu was venison sausage. Ivan Jivan Chubb did a great job cooking lunch. After lunch, Matthew headed back out into the woods to find good evening spots.
You see, deer have different patterns every where you go. In Kentucky, deer move to high ground in the mornings and into the bottoms in the evenings.
Around 3 p.m., we began heading back out into the woods. The first to be dropped off were Ken & Jack Vincent and Tim & Brad Huber. These two group of hunters were inserted into a deep hollow where an old homestead used to be. The only thing remaining was a stone chimney, where a house used to stand overlooking a gorgeous river valley. All the other hunters were set for the evening hunt.
Around 6:30 p.m. we received word at base camp that three shots were fired close by. After inquiring with several hunters, we decided that it wasn’t part of our group. We began picking up everyone at their drop sites at dark. Ken, Jack, Tim, and Brad did not show up. Matthew immediately drove an ATV down to the secondary rendezvous, which was approximately 200 yards down a 45-degree slop.
At this time, it was completely dark. The only sounds were the chirping of crickets on a cool Kentucky night. After waiting 10 minutes, Matthew returned to base camp to inform everyone that there were still two groups unaccounted for. He grabbed his rescue pack and headed back out.
Matthew followed the path to the first spot Tim and Brad were sitting. After quietly observing, he began a rescuers shout for response. Five minutes of bellowing into the dark canyon without a response, Matthew considered the possibility that the group had walked out and took a wrong turn to camp. Being urged on by his gut, he moved forward into the night, further down the path. A bit further, and he let out another rescue shout. This time he received a response. A quiet high pitch blurb that sounded like “help.”
After confirming direction, Matthew quickly headed deeper into the dark night. Following the sound of continued response cries. As he got closer, he saw a red light were Ken and Jack were hunting. This light was an excellent thought by Tim, to provide Matthew a beacon to locate them. Matthew arrived to find everyone’s pack and both guns propped up against the tree in a safe position. As he neared the edge, he found the two groups at the bottom approximately 100 yards down.
His inquiry discovered that Jack had shot his first deer, and they were working together to figure out how to get it back to camp. Ken took initiative and began quartering and field dressing the 200-pound buck, in an attempt to move it up the 70 degree angled mountain side. Matthew safely descended to lend a hand.
After quartering out the deer, packing it into the rescue bag, and stripping it of all usable meat, the group began ascending the steep mountain side. The boys made quick work of the nearly 100 yard climb, while the men eased forward with caution. Exhausted, the group finally made it back to camp. As Jack entered the camp with his trophy, the other youth and adults joined in to celebrate. Everyone worked well into the night to ensure the meat was cleaned and stored in the Gator Box Coolers.
The next morning we hunted again, but without luck. We packed up, cleaned up, and began our journey back home. This time we decided to take an alternate route, which took us through some steep backwoods terrain. We stopped for lunch, then for dinner at Subway. Finally, we arrived back to Gainesville at 12:30 a.m. on Monday.
Every youth had the privilege of learning about Kentucky history, anatomy of whitetail deer, wilderness ecology, proper English, and about the Kingdom. The relationships and bonds created and enhanced during this adventure will last a lifetime.
We all need a little revival once in a while, and this is how we do it.
Thank you to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for sponsoring our youth and Warrior development program, to Can-Am Off-Road for making an excellent product, to Honda Motorcycles & ATVs, the Rancher was vital to the success of retrieving this crew and their deer safely, to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, to Bryan Vickers and Ken Vincent for driving the van, to all of our sponsors and donors for funding this trip, and to the warriors and youth who attended.