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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Accessing America’s Great Outdoors: Disabled Hunters Have the Hunt of a Lifetime

Tina Shaw is a public affairs specialist for National Wildlife Refuges and the Office of Law Enforcement in the Midwest Region. She recently relocated to the Midwest from Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge where she worked in Visitor Services. Her interests include natural science illustration and photography.

Physical challenges change your life forever, but they do not have to take away your passion, your grace, or your spirit. Over Veterans Day weekend, I had the opportunity to meet a group of hunters who followed this mindset, regardless of the terrain they traveled in life.

The former Savanna Army Depot, now the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Ill. was the backdrop for a special deer hunt for sportsmen with disabilities. Assembling in the early morning hours, long before sun up, 25 hunters and their assistants layered in blaze orange readied their blinds for the hunt.

Quadriplegic hunter Terry Greenwood and Registered Nurse Doug DaltonQuadriplegic hunter Terry Greenwood and Registered Nurse Doug Dalton from Ohio. Greenwood maneuvers his specially mounted gun on target by manipulating a controller box with his chin. When a deer was in the crosshairs, he blew through a tube to engage an electronic trigger to fire the shotgun. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Blaze orange and safety are top of mind in all hunt situations whether the hunter is standing on his own two legs or trekking in a wheelchair. It was impressive seeing true sportsmen putting the best practices of hunting in motion and doing so with reverence and humility.

Refuge staff have organized this special hunt since 2007 and have strategically scattered hunters across the 10,000 acre sand prairie landscape, peppering them around the World War I and II structures that are usually closed to the public. An old army depot, crisscrossed with primitive roads, proved to be the perfect hunt location, with ground level, wheelchair-friendly blinds available for all participants.

While hunting and fishing are well-known recreational activities on many of our nation’s 555 refuges, access for sportsmen with disabilities across federal lands is limited, and opportunities like this draw a wide audience. Hunters travelled from nine states, including Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois.

Disabled Hunter Dave BuchnerHunter Dave Buchner from Pittsburgh, Pa. takes aim. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Over the course of our lives, seven of out 10 of us will experience some form of limitation due to a physical disability. This is a sobering thought and one that reminds us it's important to stay sharp and challenge your heart and mind. Throughout our lives, regardless of what comes our way, it is good to know that there are special places to connect, recharge, and to find anchor points within the natural world.

Click here to check out more pictures from the hunt,or read Refuge Manager Ed Britton's article about the event here.  

This is the best idea I have heard since being an employee of Miss. Wildlife and US F & W Service. This not only helps our wildlife population but the thrill it provides our veterans, most of whom have nothing much to look foward to in life. This one event can add years to their life. Think what states like Miss-issippi that have so many deer could accomplish with a program like this. You might even add Native Americans as guides and participants since their present generation knows nothing of what was once the livelihood of their forefathers and they are experts in the fields of conservation and markmanship.
# Posted By ema | 11/19/11 3:51 PM
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