Tonica Volunteer Fire Department hosts 11th annual Deer and Chili Night
TONICA — The chilly, damp November days are when many of us get our cravings for the season’s first batch of chili. It’s also when hunters get their first chance to bag a deer. The Tonica Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) has cleverly combined these two separate things into a successful fundraising event.
For the past 11 years, the community has gathered in the TVFD fire station to enjoy a warming bowl of chili and to help celebrate the success of the hunters who’ve had a bit of luck during the opening days of deer season.
“They do this in Michigan a lot and after seeing it on TV, I thought it’d be a great thing to do here,” Dave Huss, organizer and TVFD firefighter, said.
He said last year’s event included 12 deer and that the night has recently been attracting more young hunters.
“It’s been great to see the youth get excited about this and everyone in the community enjoys it. We’ve even got an 80-year-old woman who enjoys coming to see the deer and have a bowl of chili every year,” he added.
Huss also said the trapper who attends the event with his furs allows residents “to see all our local critters who are running around.”
The event’s “Best Deer” award, which is chosen by the fire chief, is in honor of master trapper Ron Busch. Past winners of the award include Vinny Gray, Josh Riggs, Jason Gerard, Ben Blanco, Bob Paul, Gary Ashley, Don Ashley and Craig Smith.
Other annual awards include the Youth Under 13 award and the Biggest Doe award and there was also a 50/50 raffle.
“You never know what’s going to come through the door, but big or small, we want to see them all,” Huss said.
One young hunter at the station was Cade Ploch, 16, of Tonica who said he’d hunted along the river bottom, but wasn’t successful.
“I saw three and missed one,” Ploch said.
However, another young hunter there has begun building an impressive string of hunting success. Nine-year-old Garret Keith of Deer Park has been hunting deer for four years and he’s bagged one during each season.
“They’ve all been on the first day too,” Keith said.
Keith used a .20 gauge to get this year’s buck, which was 170 pounds, bigger than his trophy from 2016. He said his favorite part of hunting is watching the sun rise, but after being asked how long he was out there before seeing his buck, it’s easy to see why the sunrise may have ranked so highly.
“Fifteen minutes,” he laughed.