WHITLEY COUNTY — Matt Rose of the nonprofit organization, Coon Hunting for a Cause, has been organizing hunts to benefit others for the past five years. This year, the group met on Nov. 2 at its usual spot, Whitley East Elementary School, to help raise money for 22-month-old Caisyn Fuson.
Fuson was recently diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer. Rose says he is friends with Fuson’s father, and that their sons actually play baseball against each other in Bell County.
“After praying about it, we just decided to have a coon hunt for them and lo and behold, here we are almost $5,400 later,” said Rose.
Rose organized the first Coon Hunting for a Cause back in 2014, after a friend posted a picture in a Facebook Group Rose was part of called “Coon Trader.” The picture was of one of Rose’s friend’s homes that had burned down in Virginia. Rose, a preacher, says he wanted to help in any way he could.
“I just asked them if they were interested in coming down, and that we’d try to host them a hunt and try to raise them a little bit of money, and it took off.”
The group continues to meet at least once a year, and Rose says that some years the group will meet more than once.
Whitley East Elementary School was picked to host the event as Rose is friends with the school’s principal, Mike Partin. Rose says that hunts hosted in 2015-2018 were held to benefit the school’s athletic teams and its sixth-grade end of the year trips.
“It’s just something that I enjoy, and all my buddies around that hunt and stuff do, too,” Rose explained. “And two, it shows people that coon hunting is not just a redneck heritage, it’s actually a way of life for some people.”
The number of participants has grown in size over the past few years. According to Rose, 58 dogs participated in 2014’s event. There were 91 dogs in this year’s hunt. This year also saw hunters from as far as Nashville, Tennessee and Dayton, Ohio participate.
Rose’s family helped him raising awareness for the event. He says his wife, mother, and younger sister also helped by cooking for this year’s hunt.
“They all came together and cooked beans, chili, and hotdogs. I’d say we had $2,500-$3,000 in food sales, honestly. It was unreal.”
Hunters were also able to help out by taking part in a trade day, hound events like bench shows and treeing contests, and a benefit auction.
Rose says that he, his family, and friends worked tirelessly contacting businesses both locally and nationally for help.
“I have to give a big shoutout to my buddy at Kentucky Climate Control, Jeremy Wilson. He’s been with me since the first one. He’s always stepped up and helped majorly.”
Businesses like Parkway Pawn and Gun helped out by donating a rifle to be auctioned off. Little T Hunting Supply out of Knoxville, Tennessee helped by donating supplies, and raising awareness of this year’s event. Steven Goodin and Transamerica Insurance of Williamsburg helped by donating money for this year’s winner to help draw in more hunters.
Winners are chosen based off of the weight of each hunter’s biggest raccoon. This year’s winner weighed 16 pounds, 13 ounces. However, Rose says the winning hunter donated all of his winnings to Fuson and his family. In fact, according to Rose, the hunters who finished in second place, third place, and fourth place all donated if not all, then some of their winnings back to the Fuson family.
Rose says he is overwhelmed by the support and turnout of this year’s event.
“It’s not an 'I' thing, it’s a 'we' thing, it’s a community thing. You know, people like to say ‘well, Matt, you organized,’ but that’s not what it is,” he explained.
“Yeah, I organize things, but it takes a whole team effort to do that. And for us to be successful, it all starts with the Lord himself. He puts this all together, he puts everything there in place. We just step in and do what our part is.”