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Community holds veteran turkey hunt

Southeast Experience hosted the second annual Luke Hortenstine Memorial Turkey Hunt for disabled veterans in McKenzie March 23-26.

Southeast Experience is a nonprofit organization located in Mckenzie founded by Operation Enduring Freedom veterans, Warren Maddox and Zack Ballard.

The purpose of this organization is to “strive to connect veterans, youth, disabled persons, and people who are inexperienced in the outdoors with a chance to enjoy what we have grown up loving.”

Originating in Clarksville, Tenn., this organization relocated to Covington County in summer 2016.

It now covers parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, Louisiana, and Iowa. 

“It is named after Luke Hortenstine. He was a guy I met in the military and served with that passed away from cancer. We do this hunt to help veterans and the disabled get back and experience the outdoors. It is something he would want,” said founder Warren Maddox.

Maddox organized the first hunt last year and was overwhelmingly encouraged by the response of the community this year.

“It was a fantastic event and phenomenal turnout. The food was five-star quality, we actually had enough left over to give to churches that donated the food to families in need.” Southeast Experience is comprised of staff members, but relies heavily on the work of many volunteers.

Maddox said, “There are a lot of moving parts for this event, we start planning in Nov. even though the hunt isn’t until March. […] At this event there were about 35 staff and volunteers that helped over the three days.”

The hunt officially started Saturday morning and lasted until Monday. Eight disabled and Purple Heart veterans attended, traveling as far as Watertown, New York to the event. All of the land was volunteered for the event.

“Land owners offer up the land out of the kindness of their heart,” said Maddox.

Room and board was provided for the veterans as well. He added, “The veterans stayed at a local hunting cabin in McKenzie.”

“The great cooks of McKenzie provided a grand buffet for us Sunday evening,” said Tina Little, a volunteer. “And they kept us in deserts and snacks all weekend. We had enough food to feed an army.”

Maddox explained the qualifications for the all expense-paid hunting trip.

He said, “The veteran must meet the disabled requirements and they must be nominated for the trip. We choose the winners on Christmas Eve and post the names on a video on social media Christmas day as a surprise Christmas gift.”

One veteran in attendance was Crystal Frederick from Gift, Texas. This was her first turkey hunt, and she was the only veteran to kill a turkey during the weekend. Frederick felt right at home, she said, “I was immediately welcomed in by Southeast Experience and everyone really.”

Traveling from Texas, she met many new people. Frederick added, “Even if I hadn’t killed the turkey I had a blast just getting to know everyone!” With the great response from the community, there are plans to host the event next year. Maddox said, “We hope to do it every year. We would like it to be bigger. This year was a great turnout.”