“Hunt for Disabled continues to grow in popularity”

Originally published in Ohio Outdoor News on January 5, 2007. Republished with permission.

By Robert Loewendick

Preparing to enter his hunting blind for an afternoon deer hunt, 26 year-old Steve Smith was eager to see deer. Smith’s enthusiasm was to be temporally harnessed by his guide, Brian Bodi, and Smith’s father, Ron, for a few minutes as they helped him into his insulated clothing. Once secured with his gear, the elder Smith steadied his son as they slowly walked the short distance to their hunting hideout. Bodi was busy gathering the remainder of Smith’s gear from their vehicle and soon joined them.

Steve Smith’s outdoor pursuits were drastically affected a few years prior. Sitting on an oil tank with friends, doing an ill-advised act of smoking, an explosion occurred. Smith’s life was changed forever, losing his motor skills and enduring other life-threatening injuries. He overcame the odds and survived, but the demands of everyday life created situations for Smith that he couldn’t do alone. It seemed his passion for hunting would go unused. But with the help of his father and volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Wolf Creek Chapter of McConnelsville, Smith was once again in his hunting environment.

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A weekend of white-tailed deer hunting was enjoyed by disabled hunters and their guides on the AEP Recreational Lands last month during the 5th Annual Wheelin’ Sportsmen Ultimate Team Up event. Hunting participants were paired up with a guide who assisted them while hunting the prime deer hunting lands near McConnelsville in southeast Ohio. Thirty-eight men and four women accepted the offering from the NWTF chapter which led to another successful experience for all involved which included 20 harvested deer.

The NWTF Wolf Creek Chapter, AEP, the National Guard Armory of McConnelsville, and the ODNR Division of Wildlife partnered to provide the opportunity. Additional support of hundreds of volunteers handled the surplus of tasks needed to conduct the three-day event. In addition to the deer hunting, daily meals, an evening banquet, and managing the hourly needs for both hunters and guides were welcomed by the dedicated volunteers. Many of those volunteers are regular participants at the annual event. The permanent, wooden hunting platforms were built by students from the West Muskingum FFA, from neighboring Muskingum County.

Hunters with various disabilities took part in the hunt, all of them were partnered with a guide which assisted them in the field, helping with positioning or simply an extra pair of eyes. “Each hunter’s needs are entered into the process of deciding where they will hunt and how they will be accommodated,” said Brian Cox with AEP. “Some hunters do well in the permanent platforms and some are able to use a portable, pop-up blind.” Whatever their needs, the guides were willing to take on the responsibility and excited to do so. “Each year during the planning process, we get offers from prospective guides that want to participate. They either heard from other guides of the enjoyment they get and the camaraderie the share with the disabled hunters, or just want to get involved for personal reasons,” explained Cox.

Cox, NWTF members and guide volunteers, accomplished numerous work parties preparing and baiting the hunting sites. The group had approximately 50 sites ready, with alternate sites the ready in a problem arose with a primary one. Everything for the hunter was paid for through sponsorship. The only expense to the hunting participant is the cost of their hunting license and lodging. Their first deer permit is supplied, if a second tag is needed, that is the hunter’s responsibility.

Veteran outdoorsman, Jake Jacobson of Cincinnati was heading off of one of the AEP Recreational Land roads as a passenger on a guide’s ATV, to set up and enter a tent blind for the afternoon. “I hunt several times through the season, including bowhunting,” said Jacobson. “But this event is a tremendous opportunity, a worthwhile event. All of the volunteers can not be thanked enough for all the hard work they perform.” A car accident in 1983 robbed Jacobson of some of his mobility, results of a spinal cord injury. “I enjoy coming back and seeing the younger people progressing in their hunting careers, interacting with others who share their passions and situations,” said Jacobson.

In 2002, 25 hunters participated in the first Ultimate Team-Up hunt with five hunters tagging deer. In 2003, 44 hunters participated with nine deer checked in. In 2004, 40 hunters enjoyed the improvements made by the current volunteers that included new platforms and site improvements. Last year, 56 hunters provided a 32 percent harvest rate. Approximately 350 people attended the banquet dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.

The NWTF is a leader in providing programs that promote outdoor pursuits for many. “The Wheelin’ Sportsmen events provide those with disabilities the opportunity to get back out into the outdoors,” said Mark Velthouse, Wheelin’ Sportsmen Regional Event Coordinator. “It’s not about pulling the trigger or hooking a fish, it’s about helping fellow outdoor enthusiasts enjoy their passions once again.” The NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen events have 30 to 40 thousand disabled people outdoors each year and that number continues to grow.

Although there are over 400 national Wheelin’ Sportsmen events each year, there are thousands of local events also. “As long as I’m alive, this event will be ongoing here in Morgan County,” said Shane McGrew, Wolf Creek Chapter president. “This chapter truly believes that you have never hunted unless you have hunted with a handicapped person.” The feeling of friendship and the devotion shared by hunter and guide is a benefit echoed by many of the guides and volunteers. “This hunt is talked about all year long; it doesn’t end at the end of the third day. For us, the heartfelt satisfaction has become an addiction. It’s an honor to hunt with these sportsmen.”

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Cheers to the NWTF: "Handicapped hunters track deer on special weekend"

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