What began as an effort to start an archery class has evolved into a local mission to keep the nation’s hunting heritage alive.
Last Friday, the newly revived Tappahannock chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) held its first annual Hunting Heritage Banquet to fund a variety of outreach programs.
The lively gathering came together through Banquet Chairman Annie Villanueva’s ambition to bring an archery program to Aylett Country Day School.
After speaking with Karen Holson, of the Dept. Game and Inland Fisheries, Villanueva was told to contact the NWTF.
“I contacted them, and they paid for all of my [archery] equipment,” said Villanueva.
The federation also helped train archery instructors for Aylett’s upstart program.
In a show of gratitude, Villanuevea revived the Tappahannock chapter with the help of Emily Ambrose and Bettina Baker.
As a result, seventy-plus jovial people and their children filtered into the main hall of the Tappahannock-Essex Volunteer Fire Department for the banquet.
There, they enjoyed homemade barbecue and won a wide selection of auction items, ranging from framed paintings and sculptures to guns and knives to two mild-mannered Black Labrador puppies.
“I’m very pleased,” she said. “I’m amazed, and just so grateful and blessed.
Villanueva added that many of the individuals who came out to support the banquet were parents of students who will participate in the archery program at Aylett.
“That’s just meant the world to me, and I’m to continue archery there for free this year,” Villanueva added.
Cole Joyner, the NWTF regional director, served as the event’s master of ceremonies. Joyner was enthusiastic in noting that the banquet’s turnout reaffirmed local people’s passion for preserving their hunting heritage.
“It’s all about the volunteers and the people who are from that location,” said Joyner. “They grew up with their parents doing it, with their mom and dad or grandfather taking them out for their first time.
“When people are passionate about something, it’s going to shine,” said Joyner, added he was witnessing a lot of new attendees and enthusiasm as people streamed into the hall.
“They are not just here for a good time,” he said. “They’re here for the cause.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that was founded in 1973 in Fredericksburg.
The organization has a two-pronged objective: conserving the American Wild Turkey population and preserving the nation’s hunting heritage.
The latest initiative spearheaded by the NWTF- Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt- intends to increase recently declining turkey populations by conserving and enhancing 4 million acres of upland wildlife habitat that are critical to the American Wild Turkey’s survival.
“We’re trying to get more hunters, more habitat work and more open access to hunting,” said Joyner, adding that the habitat improvements would also benefit many other wildlife species, including deer and quail.
“When you think ‘turkey federation,’ you think turkeys only,” Joyner noted. “We’re for all wildlife, as well as for hunting heritage and getting kids and new people into the outdoors.
The new initiative also aims to create 1.5 million new hunters to protect the federation’s conservation legacy.
In order to do so, the NWTF has focused on evolving its outreach efforts, many of which benefited from Friday night’s banquet.
For each item that was auctioned off, the individual with the winning bid was asked if they would “bump up” their bid to include a $10 contribution that went solely to membership for the Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship (JAKES) program.
JAKES is intended to provide outdoor opportunities to local youth through programs such as Youth Shooting and Jakes Take Aim.
The proceeds from the auctions also helped fund the following NWTF outreach programs: Wheelin’ Sportsman, Women in the Outdoors, Turkey Hunters Care and the Scholarship Program, through which each chapter is designated $500 to give out to local graduating high school seniors.
Joyner, however, noted that it is “up to the chapter if they want to add more to that.”
The prized item of the night was the Browning Silver 120-gauge shotgun. The firearm was auctioned off to Brandon Pace at the winning bid of $1,200.
Josh Huggins and Chuck Hazlett also won the two Black Labrador puppies that were brought by Wallace Mahanes, with winning bids of $525 for Huggins and $400 for Hazlett.
Tayloe and Catherine Emery, of Mount Airy in Warsaw, also donated to the banquet a $1,500 semi-guided spring turkey hunt on the grounds with overnight stay at the mansion. John Bolen won the turkey hunt.
Members who served on the banquet committee, as well as individuals who helped make the banquet possible, included Auctioneer Bill Collins, Ty Chappell of E.S. Chappell and Son Inc., Andrew Baker of Golden Monkey Tattoo Studio, Tal and Emily Ambrose, Matt Villanueva, Bettina Baker, Staci Longest, John Bolen, Billy Hall and Katie Hebner.
For more information about the National Wild Turkey Federation and its outreach programs, visit http://www.nwtf.org/.