Outdoor Summer Camp – Learning to Love the Outdoors
Photo Credit: Angila Summitt
When his father dropped him off for a week-long hunting-and-fishing camp in the piney woods of North Louisiana, the 14-year-old boy from Indiana seemed out of his element. “We’re not outdoorspeople,” the boy’s dad had warned the people who run the camp. “My son plays videogames and never goes outside. We’re not hunters. But, we wanted him to try it.”
Seven short days later, the boy was transformed. “He wound up winning probably nine of the 10 competitions he participated in,” recalls John Luke Robertson, the camp’s executive director. “He caught probably the biggest bass ever caught in our lake. He won the archery competition. He won the bow-fishing competition. He did well in skeet, too. He went away absolutely loving it.”
The setting for this happy outcome was the Youth Sportsmans Camp at Camp Ch-Yo-Ca, a non-denominational Christian summer camp run by John Luke, the oldest son of Korie and Willie Robertson of A&E’s Duck Dynasty clan. Now in its second year, the sportsmans camp teaches young people from 13 to 17 years of age the benefits and importance of hunting and fishing while being safe and conservation-minded. In April, 25 teenagers from all over the country had registered for the August 2-8, 2020, camp, which was aiming for a total of 50 attendees.
Set on 100 oak- and pine-covered acres, Camp Ch-Yo-Ca (short for Christian Youth Camp) boasts rustic cabins, vast open fields and a 10-acre, stream-fed lake. The property in Calhoun, Louisiana—about 15 miles west of West Monroe—has been an important part of the Robertson family’s life for decades.
Alton Howard, Korie’s grandfather and a successful entrepreneur, founded Camp Ch-Yo-Co in 1967. Korie’s mother and father, Chrys and John Howard, met while attending the camp. John Luke’s grandmother, “Miss Kay” Robertson—the wife of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson—used to work at the camp as a cook. Camp Ch-Yo-Ca is also where Willie met Korie, back when both were in third grade. And Willie also once served as the camp’s executive director—the same role John Luke plays now.
Lessons From the Robertsons
As many as 1,400 youngsters attend multiple “regular” sessions at Camp Ch-Yo-Ca each summer starting in June, taking part in classic camp activities like dodgeball and canoeing. The Youth Sportsmans Camp grew out of Willie’s and John Luke’s desire to “incorporate more outdoor things,” like archery and skeet shooting, into the program, John Luke recalls. Once interest began building in the outdoor activities, he goes on, “we thought, ‘we could dedicate an entire week to this.’”
So starting last summer, they did.
“Every day is devoted to a different type of animal. We’ll do deer, ducks, turkey, fishing, plus some more general stuff,” John Luke says. “Mornings, we’d have hunter education. Afternoon was for ‘electives’ the campers could choose from. For example, we had Phil [Robertson] for duck calling. He comes out and speaks, kind of shares his life story, and does a class on duck calling, on thinking like a duck. We had Jase [Robertson, Willie’s brother] come and speak kind of on that as well. Then we had other members of the family and those who’d appeared on Duck Dynasty—John Godwin and Justin Martin—come and teach fishing and turkey, different things like that.”
The campers learn to bowfish as well as to fish with a rod in the lake, mostly for crappie and bass. They practice archery at the archery center and are taught hunter education, gun safety, and shooting skills at the camp’s gun range. Instead of actually hunting, “we do a simulation-type game,” John Luke says. “We split the campers up into teams, and have competitions. They’ll put up a stand, for instance. We have fake blood, and we’ll show them as though they’d shot a deer and there’s a blood trail and they’ll have to do scavenger-hunt-type things. For ducks, we’ll have them set up a duck blind, and we’ll bring in a drone to see if we can spot it on the ground—different kinds of competitions like that.”
The camp’s “spiritual” aspects come out naturally, John Luke says, mainly in the Robertsons’ personal stories about Christ and their reverence for the outdoors: “We talk about how God has created this and allowed us to use it and manage it and have fun and enjoy it, and that’s why we have the respect and love that we do for the animals and nature.”
Food That’s ‘Really, Really Good’
While regular sessions at the summer camp cost anywhere from $170 to $365 per camper, depending on the camper’s age and the session’s length, the price tag has been set at $995 for August’s “Youth Sportsmans Camp: Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Skills 2020.” The sportsmans camp costs more, John Luke explains, because it’s more expensive to operate. Besides all the hunting and fishing equipment provided, the safety-minded staff has a higher level of training, and the meals are ramped up from the camp’s regular fare. “The food is really, really good,” John Luke says. “Local chefs cook the food of the animal we’re focusing on that day: ducks, turkey, whatever fish is being caught. If the day is focused on deer hunting, for example, we’ll bring in and cook venison that we’ve hunted the previous season.”
John Luke, 24, seems well-suited to helm both Camp Ch-Yo-Ca and its new sportsmans program. Besides working at the camp as a lifeguard when he was a teenager, he majored in Camp & Outdoor Adventure Leadership at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he also met his wife, the former Mary Kate McEacharn.
The purpose of the Youth Sportsmans Camp, John Luke says, is to ratchet up the campers’ confidence level: “We want them to walk out of there feeling confident that if they wake up back home and say, ‘I want to go hunting this weekend,’ they would know the tools they’ll need, the safety precautions to take, where they’ll need to go, and what they’re looking for.” If that 14-year-old boy from Indiana is any indication, they’re doing a pretty good job of it.
To register or for more information: campchyoca.com/camp-dates/hunting-camp/ or call 318.397.2313