Pirate Classic brings hundreds of hunting kids together

GREENVILLE, N.C. • People who give back to their communities reap their rewards in an endless variety of ways. For John Tate and Miles Minges, creators of a North Carolina youth hunting event, just watching hundreds of happy kids interacting with each other and their families in a solidly pro-hunting environment is thanks enough.

Tate and Minges, outdoors enthusiasts and friends of two decades’ standing, hit upon an idea seven years ago to put together a gathering of youth turkey hunters in a friendly, gently-competitive environment that would encourage them all to explore and pursue the greatest of hunting passions. It offered kids an outdoor event that was both for them and about them. Known as the North Carolina Pirate Classic, youth hunters are invited to register then, on opening day of youth turkey season, to hunt and take a turkey at any location in the state. Each successful hunter would then bring their bird to be weighed and measured at the site of the event, Briley’s Farm Market, on the east side of Greenville. The largest birds would win prizes donated by sponsors but, most importantly, it would bring young, avid turkey hunters together in a friendly, festive environment to interact, meet and share stories with one another whether they’d taken a turkey that day or not.

In its first year, they had about 30 kids participate, but that number quickly grew — to 100 in year two and 180 in year three. From the fourth year on, they’ve attracted roughly 300 kids each time and, when the kids come to the event, they bring their families with them.

After a few years of hosting the kids’ competition and seeing the interest it generated among the adults, the pair of friends put together a second tournament open to anyone. The latter tournament, called the Strutmasters Championship, is now four years old and serves primarily as a fundraiser for the youth event. In four years, the Strutmasters Championship has generated $100,000 for the use of the North Carolina Pirate Classic.

“The kids are the mission and the reason,” Minges said. “Every time we’re out there and the kids walk up with their turkey over their shoulder and they’re so proud, it makes everything worthwhile. They know everyone’s got their eyes on them and they’re strutting themselves. That’s what does it for me. It’s been great and a blessing.”

The two events, one for kids and one open to adults, unite turkey hunters from all across the state. Each hunter is responsible for finding their own place to hunt — the event doesn’t provide that — but otherwise they’re all in it together.

“We have people coming from all the far ends of the state, and from five minutes down the road,” Tate said. “You can tell the kids really like hunting, and they really enjoy getting together with their peers to swap stories.

“North Carolina has great turkey habitat, a strong population and a history of responsible and generous landowners who welcome hunters onto their property. The warmth with which these events have been received has been phenomenal.”

At the end of each Classic, youngsters are called on stage to receive prizes and recognition, a series of heartwarming moments that leave the organizers ready to roll again the next year.

“At the Classic a couple weeks ago, one kid had a physical condition and couldn’t walk well,” Tate said. “His mom, dad and older brother were with him. He had shot a monster turkey, too. We called his name and he came up, just smiling, so innocent and so great. That was so special. He walked up as best he could and that was really emotional for me. 

“The kids are innocent and full of life. They appreciate all the simple things this event creates. They’re so excited to take part in the community and fellowship that the bond of the hunting community has.”

Thanks to the support of sponsors and of the funds generated by the Strutmasters event, the Classic is able to give the kids lots of great prizes and gear. This year they gave away 28 lifetime hunting licenses, along with much else. They also gave each youth participant a membership in Turkeys For Tomorrow, a nonprofit conservation organization working to save wild turkeys through sustainable, scientific solutions.

Ron Jolly, one of TFT’s founders, attended this year’s Classic.

“The event was simple, fast and very successful from an outsider’s view,” Jolly said. “They had nearly 300 kids participating and they brought in more than 60 turkeys. The event’s impact was extraordinary, and there were hundreds and hundreds of smiling faces. It was so perfectly kid-focused and family-oriented, I was really honored to be a part of it.”

“The biggest reason we’re doing this is we want to grow our hunter numbers,” Tate said, “especially in the youth arena. We’re losing them every year, and we want to get as many kids involved in the outdoors as possible.

“Life has gotten so busy, and the family dynamic has deteriorated on so many levels. At least for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, it’s great to see it come back together, to see kids playing in person and not on their phones. We’re helping create memories and traditions for kids and their families, and we’re really grateful to be a part of it.”

To learn more about the turkey hunts, visit ncpirateclassic.com or ncstrutmasters.com.

To learn more about Turkeys For Tomorrow, visit turkeysfortomorrow.org.

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