Open Season For All
With dedicated volunteers – and a little creative engineering – the Wayne County Chapter in Ohio helps make mobility-impaired deer hunters’ dreams come true.
Wayne County Chapter members first heard about deer hunts for persons who are mobility impaired from the Tiffin-Seneca County (Ohio) Chapter. “We have 120 acres – a wonderful property and plenty of room – and several members who like to hunt, so it seemed like a good fit,” says Wayne County Chapter President Roger Schrader.
Chapter members began by building wheelchair-accessible deer blinds. “We had a hut-building party,” recalls Schrader. “WalMart donated $1,000 toward our building expenses and we worked with Whitetails Unlimited to get additional funding.” The blinds are about 6-foot square (large enough for one person in a wheelchair plus several people standing or sitting in chairs) with 3-foot walls to keep out wind and a roof to protect hunters from rain. After the initial costs to build the deer blinds, the event has been very inexpensive for the chapter to run. “We spend $100 to rent a wheelchair-accessible port-a-potty, about $65 for food (one of our members does all the cooking), and a little bit on gas for the tractors.” Tractors transport wheelchair-bound hunters deep into the woods on 4x6' trailers built specifically for this purpose by a chapter member. Ramp tailgates allow easy loading and unloading.
Chapter members move the deer blinds during the year – even during the hunt itself – to get them close to deer paths. “Deer typically have patterns they run through the woods,” explains Schrader. “If you find the right location to put the hut, you have a good chance a deer will run through. I’ve moved those huts multiple times. Initially I put them where the hunters would have lots of visibility, but many of these folks can’t shoot very far – the deer were about 60 yards away. So I moved the huts where they’d be 30 yards away from the deer. We want the hunters positioned where they can see the deer and have an opportunity to shoot.”
New hunters have the opportunity to visit the property a week before the event. “For any new person coming out, we do an orientation and take them up to the huts so they understand what they will need to bring, where they’re going to be, and how the event works.” The hunt takes place over four days, and each hunter has two days to hunt, increasing their odds of success. (The chapter now has 4 accessible deer blinds, so they can accommodate 8 hunters total.) The chapter provides two-way radios so hunters can call the chapter house any time during the day. “This year was warm, but we’ve had cold weather in the past. They’ll radio for us to get them and we’ll bring the hunters back to the chapter house to warm up at the fireplace and get a hot lunch. There’s a feeling of camaraderie – the hunters compare stories and get to know each other.”
“We advertise this event for experienced and inexperienced hunters alike,” says Schrader, “and offer to have a member go out with them (although experienced hunters usually prefer to be by themselves). It’s not just about getting the deer – it’s about the opportunity to be outdoors. Over the 9 years we’ve been holding this event, we’ve had 4 or 5 folks who were first-time hunters. Many of the other attendees were hunters before they became wheelchair-bound. One guy was a hunter for many years before he was paralyzed in a car accident. He showed up with all-terrain tires on his wheelchair. This year we had a man and his son who wanted to take grandpa hunting one more time. The 82-year-old grandfather was living in a nursing home and confined to a wheelchair. They had three generations together in that hut.”
Schrader says the chapter used to call the event a “wheelchair deer hunt” but changed the name to “mobility-impaired” because it encompasses a broader group of people. “One hunter was a kid who was legally blind and couldn’t shoot without help. Another wasn’t paralyzed but could not get around without a wheelchair.”
The deer hunt would not be possible without the chapter’s dedicated volunteers. The event requires at least two people per shift: 5:30 am to 12 noon and 12 noon to 5:30 pm during Ohio’s one-week shotgun deer season. Volunteers must be able to drive the tractor and track and field dress a deer, plus drag it back in. “We ended up tracking one deer this year for 3 hours,” reports Schrader. “Another year we were out there until 10 pm tracking a deer. Even the best shots in the world don’t make the best shots all the time. We really want to bring those deer back in because the hunter is excited and we don’t want the animal to suffer.”
One excited hunter this year was Mike Fortune. “Mike has hunted with us every year since we started the program,” Schrader says. “He went the first six years without a deer, so one of our members took him out to our shooting range to work with him. The next year, he got his first deer. This year, he got two! He was sitting in the wheelchair and said he wanted to get down out of the chair for a picture. Then he said he wanted to field dress the deer. It took a little while, but he told us it was something he’d always wanted to do.”
In addition to hunting successes, the event has member recruitment benefits. “This year we had three guests come to help out,” says Schrader, “which gave them a taste for our chapter.” But what makes this event so fun for chapter members is giving someone else the opportunity to use their property and tending to their needs while they are there. “The event is free. All they have to do is show up with a license and gun and legal orange. Everybody who works the event says it makes them feel like they’re helping someone who really needs help. And that’s what it’s all about.”
For more information about the Wayne County (Ohio) Chapter, visit the chapter's Web site.