The spirit of Vaitor Davis was alive and well Saturday morning in the woods of Campbell County.
Davis, who was only 18 years old when passed away on Feb. 20, had been an active participant in the annual Ultimate Turkey Hunt for handicapped hunters and wounded warriors held at Stinking Creek on the farms of Terry Lewis and Ron Cunningham.
During a time of remembrance at this year’s hunt, County Mayor William Baird was on hand to formally declare Saturday, April 28 as Kelly Vaitor Davis Day in Campbell County.
“This year’s hunt was particularly hard for me, since I have guided Vaitor Davis on this hunt since we started (seven years ago). We were a team,” said Billy Ball, a member of the Pine Mountain Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
“Since Vaitor passed away in February, I was placed with another young hunter.
“Vaitor will be missed by our chapter. His smile was contagious, and he loved being able to participate in our events.”
Vaitor Davis would have loved this year’s hunt. Though only three of the 27 hunters were successful in bagging a bird, there were four or five other hunters that just missed taking home a turkey.
Hunt participants ranged from folks born with disabilities to members of the armed services that have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each hunter had his or her own guide to call the turkeys as well as a concealed blind from which to shoot.
Ten-year-old Caden Middlebrook, a fourth grader at East Knox Elementary School, had to wake up at 2 a.m. in order to make the hour and a half trip with his dad to the hunt site. It was definitely worth the trouble, though, as Caden used his trusty 20 gauge Remington 870 model pump shotgun to tag a turkey at approximately 8:30 a.m.
“I was excited. It was something,” he said while wolfing down a barbeque sandwich during a lunchtime break.
Caden’s father Bryan said that five or six jakes came in together before one of the turkeys distanced himself from the others, which gave his son a clear shot.
The Middlebrooks have been hunting and fishing together since Caden was old enough to hold a rod and gun.
“I started taking him fishing when he was three or four years old one winter,” Bryan said.
“It was so cold, but he would cry when we had to leave. He loved it that much.
“We hunt or fish or do something together every weekend.”
Caden’s guide was Lee Crisp of Maryville.
Kurtiss Lamb of Dyersburg, one of 11 wounded warriors participating in this year’s hunt, killed his turkey at 8:25 a.m. while being guided by Wes Brown.
“We had to do a lot of calling. They were being stubborn today,” Lamb said.
Three jakes answered the call, and Lamb promptly dispatched the largest turkey with his 12 gauge.
Lewis, who is also president of the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA), said that approximately 120 volunteers from five different groups were responsible for the success and popularity of the hunt.
Those groups include CORA, the Pine Mountain Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, the Royal Blue Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
“A lot of folks come together to make this happen,” Lewis said.
“We’re not trying to grow it too big. We’re just trying to give everybody a quality experience. Our job is to get them in the outdoors and to enjoy it.”
Prospective hunters are located and extended invitations through a network of conservation groups.
“The hunt is a great opportunity for us (Pine Mountain Longbeards) to give those less fortunate the opportunity to turkey hunt....something they might not otherwise be able to experience in their lifetime,” Ball said.
“This event is the highlight of our Spring. It is a blessing for us to be able to put this hunt on, and we hope that each of the hunters have the experience of a lifetime.
“We are already planning for next year.”
Volunteers Don and Sue Howard of Jacksboro were so touched by the fellowship at the 2011 hunt that they decided to help out again this year.
“It stole my heart,” Sue said.
“These people don’t think they have disabilities. You think you’re being a blessing to them, but they end up being even more of a blessing to you.”