Youth Challenge Hunt gives youth with disabilities the hunt of a lifetime

BITELY — Six kids with various disabilities and ailments got the chance to catch their own champion bucks Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 during the annual Youth Challenge Hunt at the Legends Ranch in Bitely.

Wrapping up with breakfast and a closing ceremony at the lakeside lodge overlooking the ranches lake, the participants were honored after spending a week hunting, fishing and other various activities. 

One of those kids, Ezekiel Bowles, traveled from Kentucky to attend the camp. Bowles scored a 12-point buck, while his dad scored a doe for the first time in his life.

Bowles explained what it meant to him to be able to attend this camp. 

“It means everything. In 2014, my one thing I asked for was to kill a big buck,” Bowles said. “For years I got to go on this hunt and do it. It was more than I could have imagined it would have been.” 

The Youth Challenge Hunt has taken place for over 20 years, though this is the first year back since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Ranch Director Robert Sergi gave his thoughts on this year's event. 

“We had six amazing kids, all with different disabilities from muscular dystrophy to cystic fibrosis, down syndrome, cancer, lots of different disabilities,” Sergi said. “And just being able to provide a safe spot for them to come with their families to be able to play a memory is why I like to do it.” 

The four-day hunt allowed for the youth hunters to hunt and fish. One evening the Newaygo County canine unit did a demonstration.  On Thursday evening they had a water balloon fight. The group also made a visit to the taxidermy building, as well as attended cooking demonstrations. 

“We're very fortunate here at the Legends Ranch and the Wildlife Center,” Sergi said. “When we think that times are hard for us, like we're working so hard, 18-hour days, in the season during hunting, when we think it's really hard and you're tired, we really don't have it that bad. Not bad compared to what these kids are going through and what they are facing.” 

Next week will be the Legend Ranch’s Purple Heart Hunt, which will involve nine purple heart veterans that will be chosen to hunt over the course of next week. For more information on Legends Ranch and their events, go to their website at www.legendsranch.co