Ethan boy wins national Hunt of a lifetime, providing him with first turkey hunt

“He’s only 10, but I’m excited to see how this first hunt of a lifetime sparks a fire in him. I’ve already seen how excited he is to go,” Mike Speas said of his grandson, Tanner Helma.

Tanner Helma, of Ethan, practices shooting a bow on Monday in preparation for his first hunt on April 8 in Nebraska.
Sam Fosness / Republic

ETHAN — Tanner Helma has yet to go on an official hunt, but that’s about to change for the 10-year-old Ethan native.

After winning this year’s National Wildlife Turkey Federation’s Hunt of a Lifetime, Helma will soon embark on his first turkey hunt at a pristine lodge in the heart of the Nebraska wilderness.

“I’m really excited,” Helma said with a big grin growing across his face.

Helma is an active member of the Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship, more commonly referred to as the JAKES program. The program was created by the National Wildlife Turkey Federation in 1981 as a way to expose and educate youth about wildlife conservation and hunting.

The drawing for the national hunt of a lifetime was between all JAKES members younger than 15. Helma’s name was announced as the winner of the drawing during the James River Gobblers annual banquet on Feb. 5 in Mitchell.


The two-day turkey hunt will take place on the 8,500-square-foot Comstock Premier Lodge in Sargent, Nebraska. With an abundance of terrain surrounded by sand hills, the Nebraska lodge draws outdoor enthusiasts from across the globe to hunt deer, turkey, elk and bison. Helma will also take home a new shotgun, hunting gear and will be featured in a NWTF magazine, which all come with being drawn for the hunt of a lifetime.

While the upcoming hunt has Helma eager to get in the field, his grandfather, Mike Speas, is just as excited for the hunt.

As an avid turkey hunter and active member of the James River Gobblers, Speas has been passing down his passion for hunting to his grandkids and Mitchell area youth over the past few decades. It’s fitting that Speas will be accompanying his grandson on his first hunt.

“To have this be his first ever hunt is just amazing,” Speas said, noting a hunting guide will lead the turkey hunt.

Mike Speas, right, shares a laugh with his grandchildren Monday at the Davison County 4-H grounds. Speas is joining his grandson, Tanner Helma, center, on his first hunt in April.
Sam Fosness / Republic

From shooting practices at the Davison County 4-H grounds to guided hunts, Speas has looked for ways to inspire his grandkids to take part in the outdoor sports that South Dakota has to offer.

But the hunt of a lifetime that he and Helma are gearing up for this spring is an experience Speas said could turn his grandson into a lifelong hunter.

“He’s only 10, but I’m excited to see how this first hunt of a lifetime sparks a fire in him. I’ve already seen how excited he is to go,” Speas said.

Bonnie Struble, a leader of the Mitchell area JAKES program, has dedicated much of her life to teaching youth about what all goes into hunting beginning with wildlife conservation and habitat. With over 300 active members in the JAKES program, Struble said she’s hoping special events like Helma’s hunt of a lifetime will inspire the state’s next generation of hunters.


“We talk about conservation and give them magazines. We get them out to learn how to shoot. Hopefully, all of this carries on for generations to come,” Struble said. “This is our next generation.”

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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