The Turtleman is set to headline this year's Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days. 

CARTERVILLE — “The Turtleman” is coming to Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days on Sept. 22, organizers announced Wednesday.

But he is not planning to come alone. The Turtleman has asked "American Idol" contestant Layla Spring and other members of her family to come with him.

Ernie Brown Jr., nicknamed “The Turtleman,” is an avid outdoorsman who spent his childhood exploring the woods and swamps around his Kentucky home. He went on to star in his own Animal Planet television series “Call of the Wildman.”

“This is the first time he (The Turtleman) has made an appearance in Southern Illinois,” Shannon Woodworth, coordinator of Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days, said. “He is both a tremendous entertainer and educator on outdoor life. He is also a close friend of Layla Spring and her family. Spring made it to the top 24 as a contestant on "American Idol." She’s a 16-year-old who also loves the outdoors and — with other family members — is planning to come with him.”

Both Brown and Spring are from Lebanon, Kentucky, a tight-knit rural community.

The two-day Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days event takes place Sept. 22 to 23 at John A. Logan College. The theme of this year’s event is “Think Outside the House.”

In explaining the theme, Woodworth said that organizers hope to encourage families and young people in Southern Illinois to get outdoors more often.

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“Too many of our region’s youth have not been exposed to the great outdoors and this is the reason, this year, during Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days, we are encouraging families to think outside the house,” Woodworth said. “We want to encourage them to get out of the house and get outdoors.”

Brown and Spring will perform and sign autographs from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22. There is no cost to attend.

Brown began catching snapping turtles from ponds near his home at the age of 7. He came to the attention of Animal Planet producers in part after an episode of Kentucky Educational Television's Kentucky Afield series that featured his bare-handed turtle-catching techniques was posted on YouTube and went viral. After personally visiting Brown and doing some initial filming, network executives decided to produce a 12-episode season of the series with the working title “The Turtleman of Wild Kentucky.” The title was soon changed to “Call of the Wildman,” a reference to Brown's distinctive yell that punctuates his actions throughout the series. The series ran from 2011 to 2014.

Brown’s appearance at Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days is sponsored by Black Diamond RV Superstore in Marion.

Tri-State RV of Anna is the 2018 title sponsor of Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days. This is the second year in a row Tri-State has been title sponsor.

Organizers also announced that Kent Zimmer, host of “Kent in the Country” morning show on Z100, will be the new voice of Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days. Steven Arthur, who served as the announcer at hunting and fishing days for many years, chose to retire from the event.

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