published Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Young hunter: Family turkey tradition continues with 12-year-old girl

By Gary Petty
Hixson Middle School student Maggie O'Rear displays her first turkey. The 12-year-old was recently honored for her determination in turkey hunting during the Cherokee Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's annual fund banquet. The young hunter is a fourth generation turkey hunter.
Hixson Middle School student Maggie O'Rear displays her first turkey. The 12-year-old was recently honored for her determination in turkey hunting during the Cherokee Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's annual fund banquet. The young hunter is a fourth generation turkey hunter.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Talking turkey likely will be common over the next few months for three generations of hunters in Hixson.

Sixty-two-year-old Mike O'Rear has been hunting wild turkeys for about 35 years. His son Kris, 36, and his 12-year-old granddaughter, Maggie, have followed in that pursuit.

Tennessee's turkey-hunting season opens March 29. Georgia's season opens this Saturday.

Mike O'Rear, who said he usually hunts turkeys "about 20 days a year," said he and his descendants "hardly ever hunt in a blind. We just put on camouflage and back up against a huge tree."

While a blind would provide some protection from the elements, he said the weather usually is not the biggest concern for hunters this time of year.

"You can run into snakes. That is for sure," he said. "You just have to be careful as they are starting to get out and around."

Kris O'Rear noted that the family used to stay in the Sylco Campground near Parksville Lake in the Cherokee National Forest during their turkey outings, but now they stay in a cabin near the national forest.

As many as 20 other turkey hunters will join him for the opening day of Tennessee's turkey season.

"There is a whole bunch of us that will go together. It seems to grow every year," the Multiplan, Inc., production manager said. "I am excited because I have not got to go the last few years for opening weekend."

His daughter Maggie, a Hixson Middle School student, also plans to be hunting on opening day.

"I like to go because I like being in the outdoors," said Maggie, who also likes bicycle riding, fishing and archery in addition to reading.

Asked what her classmates think about her hunting interest, she said, "They think it is cool."

Her first hunt was extremely cool, literally.

"It was very cold and very wet," she said.

But she bagged her first turkey, making a single shot with a 20-gauge shotgun count.

She was presented the Mike Halter Living the Legend Award at the recent fundraising banquet for the Cherokee Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Halter and Jim Arthur were the founding fathers of the local chapter, which has about 400 members as it marks its 25th anniversary this year. Sadly, Halter died on Feb. 6 at age 56 and Arthur died four days later at 86.

Arthur was Maggie O'Rear's great-grandfather.

According to chapter president Don Oscai, the Halter award goes to someone who shows a tremendous amount of passion for a hunt. He was with Maggie and her dad on her first hunt and said she was determined despite the wet, cold conditions.

"It had rained the entire trip," Oscai said. "But she was relentless. She was not going to give up."

With rain forecast for the whole day, Oscai said he gave the young hunter three options: One, pack up and go home; two, stay in the cabin and enjoy the fire; or three, go back out into the rain and try to find a turkey.

He said he hoped she would elect one of the first two options but she picked the third.

Oscai said what he remembers most about Maggie's hunt was seeing her putting mud on her face and crawling through the wet leaves in trying to get close enough to shoot her first turkey.

Like any grandfather, Mike O'Rear is very proud of her.

"I think it is absolutely wonderful," he said. "I don't have any grandsons, and I am really pleased she enjoys hunting. I enjoy going with her."

Contact Gary Petty at sports@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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