Disabled Access Deer Hunt at Rice Lake National Willdife Refuge
October 7 - 10, 2010
Disabled Access Deer Hunt at Rice Lake NWR, by Walt Ford, Refuge Manager
The 4th annual deer hunt by persons with disabilities was held at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, McGregor, Minn. Oct. 7 – 10, 2010. Seventeen hunters participated this year and were rewarded with beautiful fall weather. Last year, the complaint was that the weather was too cold and rainy so that it was difficult to stay warm and dry. This year, with temperatures in the 70s the complaint was that there were too many mosquitoes!
The hunt started on Thursday, Oct. 7, all participants were strongly encouraged to sight in their rifles at the nearby shooting range, operated by the Minnewawa Sportsmen’s Club. Those hunters that did go to the range were aided by several volunteers to ensure everything was done safely and assistance was available when needed. Two of the hunters were legally blind, making it especially important that they worked out a method of sighting, communication, and firing their guns at the range with their respective volunteer assistants prior to going afield.
Following the firearms ‘sight in’ session, there was a mandatory hunter orientation at the Refuge shop, which was transformed into the deer camp. Tables and chairs replaced tool boxes and vehicles while the vehicle hoist became the buffet table. Hunt procedures, as well as state and Refuge hunting regulations, were reviewed. The McGregor Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association provided door prizes for all hunters. In return, two of the hunters provided a few door prizes for the volunteers that give so generously of their time in providing them this hunt year after year. It takes approximately fifty individual volunteers with a combined effort of 1,200 hours/year to make ready for and carry out this annual hunting effort.
Volunteers also cooked and served a delicious meal everyday at noon through the hunt and again every night, after the hunters came in from their stands. A few of the main courses consisted of venison brats, deep fried walleye fillets and bear stew, all very tasty and a culinary delight in any hunt camp! While the main courses were prepared on site, the desserts and salads were prepared at the homes of those also wanting to donate to the effort, but unable or not interested in volunteering any additional time. One day we had ten different cakes donated, but only two salads. In spite of what you might think, it was still a balanced meal as everyone tended to balance a second piece of cake on top of their heaped up plate!
During the four days of this hunt the Refuge remains open to all other users from sunrise until 12:00 noon. From 12:00 noon until the day’s end, all areas except one are closed to other public uses. The one area that remains open for small game and deer archery hunters is approximately 2,000 acres in size and offers plenty of opportunities for those that may not have gotten the message previously about the Refuge closing at noon for a special hunt. This arrangement has worked out very well; most of the disabled hunters are happy not having to ready themselves for an early morning of hunting, especially those with certain severe disabilities where sensory perception of cold temperatures on their extremities is usually non-existent, making frostbite or hypothermia a real possibility.
Four out of the 17 hunters filled their tag this year, including two of them getting 8-point bucks. While this was the fourth year of the hunt this is the first year that any bucks have been taken. Both hunters were extremely pleased with their luck and enjoyed telling their deer hunting story to anyone that would listen. For those that were offered a shot but missed, they too had a story to tell that at times was equally as entertaining as those that were successful.
The disabled access deer hunt at Rice Lake NWR has become a community event. While it seems that essentially everyone that lives locally knows about the hunt, it has also garnered interest and support from a great many people and organizations from around the state. While it’s no question that this hunt is a great deal of work for staff, the dividends it pays is enormous! We have opened up an opportunity for a segment of the population to fully participate in a traditional/wildlife dependent priority use that often is marginalized for those with severe disabilities. To ensure our continued success with the disabled we have a wheelchair dependent sportsman on our deer hunt planning team to assist us in making sure our goals and objectives for future improvements and modifications will actually be of use to the disabled. As Kevin Hoge, one of the volunteers has put it, “We’re not doing anything different than what I hope someone would do for me if I was disabled.”
Anyone wanting more information about the disabled access deer hunt at Rice Lake NWR should call Walt Ford at 218-768-2402. Or better still, plan on spending a day or two with Walt and his volunteers during next year’s hunt, Oct. 6-9, 2011.