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Will County TUFF Hunters connects kids with their families and nature

Will County TUFF Hunters offers free outdoor activities

JOLIET – Give ’em a tackle box, not an Xbox.

That’s the motto of Will County TUFF Hunters, said Jim “Smitty” Smith of Morris, one of the volunteers for the nonprofit whose mission is to get kids outside. A fundraising banquet is planned for April 23. All activities are free, including fishing derbies.

“Even if kids don’t have a fishing pole, they can still come,” Smith said. “We’ll provide them with a fishing pole and tackle box.”

A Grundy County chapter, Smith said, was formed about five years ago and focuses on conservation. Each chapter can determine its direction, he said. In addition to fishing derbies, campouts and passing out duck calls to the kids at last year’s Will County Fair, the main project – so far – for the Will County group is the making and placing of wood duck boxes.

A wood duck box, Smith said, is an 18-inch wooden box with holes, similar to a birdhouse. The youth attending a campout last fall in Shorewood made 25 boxes and set them up in the woods next to water, he added.

Since wood ducks make their nests in the hollows or stumps of trees, the idea is that the boxes will attract the ducks, Smith said.

“We put out 10 on the Des Plaines River and Illinois River and we have one at Four Seasons Park by their big lake, not far from the main pavilion, so people can go and see,” Smith said.

Linda Linson and her grandson, Kaiden Nuetzmann, 12, both of Shorewood, said they attended the campout and helped with the building. Linson said Kaiden was given one of the boxes to take home because his lives near a river.

“They’re supposed to come by this month,” Linson said of the wood ducks, “so we’ll keep an eye out and see what happens.”

Linson learned about Will County TUFF Hunters from a flier advertising the campout. Both she and Kaiden enjoy tent camping, but had never gone together. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to spend the night.

“When we finished putting our tent up, a big gust of wind came along and took it apart,” Linson said.

Nevertheless, Linson said she and Kaiden stayed for the activities, which they enjoyed.

“If they do it again this year, we’ll try again,” Linson said of the campout.

About 30 members from the Willing Workers 4-H Club in Manhattan attended that campout and assisted with setting up tents and building the boxes, said Joyce Betz of Oak Lawn, one of the club’s assistant leaders. That included Betz’s daughters, Grace, 15, and Sarah, 13.

Betz said the duck calls drew the club to the Will County TUFF Hunters booth at the Will County Fair. The two groups formed an instant connection.

“We got to talking and the next thing we knew, we were involved with their wood duck box project,” Betz said. “We have, maybe, seven of those boxes and we’re going to help them at their upcoming banquet.”

The informal partnership helps the 4-H kids hone their skills and develop a sense of community, Betz said.

Former Morris resident Bobbi Little feels Will County TUFF Hunters is so valuable to her 5-year-old son, Trey Little, that she and her husband, Steve Little, drive from Indiana for events. Bobbi Little said Trey caught the biggest fish at one fishing derby and the most fish at another.

Mostly, Trey enjoys the outdoors with his family and other kids.

“So many kids are inside on computers and Game Boys,” Little said. “This gets kids outside like when we were kids.”


If you go

WHAT: Will County TUFF Hunters banquet

WHEN: 5 to 10 p.m. April 23

WHERE: Knights of Columbus, 100 S. 129th Infantry Drive, Joliet

ETC: Dinner, raffles, door prizes, live auction, silent auction, photo booth, music

CALL: Jim Smith at 815-341-4001.



Do I have to live in Will County to join? Where are activities held? Where are meetings?

Will County TUFF Hunters welcomes families from all counties in Illinois and Indiana. Activities are held in Will, Grundy and LaSalle counties. Meetings are held in Joliet.

How is Will County TUFF Hunters funded?

As a chapter of The United Foundation of Future Hunters Inc., a nonprofit public charity, Will County TUFF Hunters is funded through donations and fundraising. All monies stay in the community to fund outdoor events and provide scholarships.

How can I help?

Attend a meeting and/or donate.


2016 events

• June 4 – Fishing derby, Shorewood

• June 11 – Amazing Race, Braidwood

• June 18 – Fishing derby, Woodsmoke Ranch, Seneca

• July 30 – Fishing derby, Woodsmoke Ranch, Seneca

• Aug. 2 – Cardboard Boat Brigada, Braidwood

• Aug. 24 to Aug. 28 – Will County Fair, Peotone

• Sept. 9 to Sept. 10 – Family campout, Shorewood

• Sept. 17 – Fishing derby, Shorewood

• Oct. 2 – Grundy County Corn Festival Parade, Morris

Other campouts and hunter safety classes are in the planning stages. For more information, visit

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