Mobility-Impaired Disabled Hunter Access
By Larry S. Moore
The upland game rabbit season has been pretty tough on me this year. My oldest female Beagle, Lucky, is 14 and has not been able to hunt. She is just too slow in her old age. My male, Hank, has encountered some heart issues so I am not running him very much. He is 10 and I was really hoping for a couple more years in the field with him. Both dogs jump at the gates and bark to go with me. My wife says it is just pitiful to watch and listen to them whine as I leave. So I have taken just them on a couple of extra trips close to home. It wasn't about bagging any rabbits but about them getting out. I am not sure if it helped them or just made them feel worse when I left them home the next week. It did my soul good to see them hunting again. However, I missed them even more the next week.
What do the beagles have to do with disabled hunter access? It is about as close as I can come to imagining what it must be like for the impaired hunter wanting to get into the field. Access is limited unless there is private land to hunt. Special hunts offered by National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Wheelin' Sportsmen or Safari Club International fill quickly, may be on dates that are not convenient or may require long drives to south-eastern Ohio. So the impaired hunter is left at home unable to enjoy the bounty and beauty of the Ohio outdoors.
Several years ago a group of disabled hunters approached the Division of Wildlife to develop a plan to improve access to public hunting areas. It has taken a lot of work, planning and communication efforts. Last year I was honored to write a resolution to be submitted to the League of Ohio Sportsmen calling on the Division of Wildlife to work to open more land to mobility-impaired hunter access. I did so in conjunction with Bob Harsanje, who is a mobility-impaired hunter. Harsanje had been leading the effort to improve access. The League of Ohio Sportsmen adopted the resolution at their February 2007 convention.
It seems that change can move ever so slowly. Finally the proposed legislative language is drafted and introduced as an amendment in the Ohio House by Rep. Peter Ujvagi. The proposed legislation will remove restrictions on shooting from a vehicle so that the mobility-impaired hunter may use and shoot from electric carts. The legislation also gives the Chief, Division of Wildlife the authority to establish the regulations and process to implement the additional access.
John Daugherty, District 2 (Findley) Manager is one of the people with whom Bob Harsanje has been working. Daughtery explains, "We've been working with some people who are interested in improving access for the physically impaired. The Division heard the need from a number of people. We are working with the advisory group of people who are providing us the information needed to manage the process. We will be identifying two wildlife areas in each District (Editor note: there are five Districts) to provide increased opportunity. Depending on how the final legislation reads this should include certain electric powered vehicles so mobility-impaired individuals can have access. We are looking at areas to provide the widest variety of opportunity, for example upland wildlife, deer, turkey, waterfowl or other migratory birds. Once the legislation is finalized, the rule making and permit process can be completed." Daugherty emphasize that the permit process is not to allow any special drawings for the hunting access. The Division current plans call for the areas to be open to all users. The permit is simply to ensure that only the mobility-impaired are utilizing the electric carts and to better measure the demand for the improved access.
The amendment has introduced and the first hearing was held on Tuesday, February 19. It is exciting to be part of the improved access for the disabled hunters.
Anytime we can get more people into the outdoors and share our heritage it is an exciting and a rewarding effort.
To view the resolution to the League of Ohio Sportsmen and the testimony I submitted on behalf of Buckeye Firearms Association, click here.
For more information, see HB473: Aiding mobility-impaired hunters.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award and 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year.