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Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Lucas Vervynckt, left, and Brandon Grolich cross a field as they head scout a section of a Steuben County farm in search of wild turkeys during the inaugural Steuben County Turkey Tracks youth hunt April 20.

Wild time for hunters

Turkey Tracks program assists youths with limitations

Lucas Vervynckt steadies himself after picking up turkey decoys so he and his hunting guides can load up and head to a different section of property.
A hen turkey walks across a snowy field shortly after sunrise on the opening day of the Indiana youth turkey hunting season.

– Meet Lucas Vervynckt. He calls himself a hunter, just a regular guy. He hunts turkeys, deer or pretty much anything that will get him out to the woods. But there was a time when Lucas just hoped to live.

Last weekend, Vervynckt got the chance to do what he loves: check out new land, meet new people and hunt turkeys. He joined 10 other youth hunters from around the state to participate in the Turkey Tracks wild turkey hunt in Steuben County. It was the first northeast Indiana hunt for the program that pairs local guides with youths who have limitations that include Hodgkin’s lymphoma and paraplegia.

Verynckt has deformities in his hands, feet and back as well as severe scoliosis.

“That’s why I like hunting, seeing new land and meeting the people,” Vervynckt said. “I like the land (in Steuben County), it was pretty cool. It’s a lot more swampy than Plymouth, so that was cool to see. And there are some nice people here.”

The Turkey Tracks program was created in 2008 by the late Eric Corey, who died at age 25 because of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His parents, Doug and Carol Corey, have continued the charge to give youth hunters with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

Initially held exclusively in Starke County, increased participation forced the Coreys to expand the program this year to three hunts. They approached Steuben County conservation officer John Deem, who had hunted in the past with Eric Corey. Deem jumped at the chance to bring the program to the area.

Deem set out with two goals: to provide youth hunters with an opportunity to hunt and to prove they didn’t need to be placed in a high-fence hunting operation to do it, as some had suggested to him.

“My thought on it was that the hunt is not about killing an animal,” Deem said. “It’s about getting people together, meeting each other and just having a good time.

“I knew we could get a group of people together to guide kids on a hunt, free range, and be successful.”

Deem put the word out to his Steuben County friends, and more than 20 hunters offered to take the children to various farms they either owned or had permission to hunt. Eleven groups had all of Saturday and until noon Sunday to hunt.

Vervynckt’s time with the program has been successful by any hunter’s standards. He’s taken turkeys and deer, and he says his highlight was the pronghorn antelope he took on a hunt in Wyoming.

“I think I started Turkey Tracks two or three years ago,” Vervynckt said. “I wasn’t there for the first one, but Carol (Corey) found out about me, and she wanted me there. I went, and it was a great time. So I decided to keep going, and that’s why I’m here.”

Vervynckt is also here due to surgeries – aggressive surgeries. He was born with a hump on his back, club feet and club hands. But those were not the worst of his problems.

Scoliosis twisted his spine so much surgeons had to remove two of his ribs to keep them from rotating into his heart. He said doctors told his parents when he was 8 or 9 that without those surgical procedures he wouldn’t see an 11th birthday.

He’s just a shade over 4 feet tall and has special shoes to help him walk, but Vervynckt set out on the hunt as if he was born to do it. Tromping through brush and marching over hills, he followed his guides Derek Melchi and Brandon Grolich without missing a beat. Despite his share of difficulties, he asserts that they won’t get in the way of his hunt.

Of the 11 youth hunters to head out last weekend, five filled their spring turkey tags on two toms and three jakes. All 11 hunters saw birds. Vervynckt had some close calls, including taking a shot at a young male turkey but could not punch his tag.

Though Vervynckt’s shot was a miss, the Turkey Tracks Steuben County hunt was definitely a hit.