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December 23, 2009

Mobility impaired deer hunts provide special day for hunters

In 1985, Mr. Danny Cain from Waterloo, South Carolina, fell from a tree stand while deer hunting and broke his back.  He has been in a wheelchair permanently since that time but his interest and love for deer hunting has remained strong.  Sometimes because of an illness or accident, sportsmen who enjoy hunting can unexpectedly find themselves unable to deer hunt again, without significant assistance. Mr. Cain asked the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 1995 to consider providing a special deer hunting opportunity for mobility impaired individuals within the Upstate.
As a result, a cooperative venture was formed among various Upstate private landowners, hunting clubs, sportsmen's preserves, industrial timber companies and the DNR to allow this group of devoted but disadvantaged sportsmen a truly unique hunting opportunity.  At these special hunts, participants are able to experience the challenges, enjoyment and thrills associated with hunting white-tailed deer at some of the most well-managed and exclusive private hunting properties in the Upstate.  The DNR has developed cooperative arrangements with a number of individuals and groups and works closely with them to co-sponsor two, two-day events each year in late October and early November during the peak of the rutting season.
The Upstate mobility impaired deer hunts are restricted to individuals who have very severe and permanent mobility impairments.  Although many sportsmen may have serious health problems that can cause varying degrees of mobility impairment, often their situations are very difficult to assess or measure accurately or fairly.  However, in order to participate in the Upstate events, an applicant must meet one of three, very specific criteria.  (1) Applicants must be permanently confined to a wheelchair, (2) permanently require some type of mechanical aid (walker, braces, canes etc.) to assist them in walking or (3) have had a single or double leg amputation.  Each participant can bring someone to assist him or her in a non-hunting capacity and all hunting is conducted from ground blinds.
There is no application fee or any other costs to participate in the events.  During 2009 at the two special hunts, forty–four (44) hosts provided opportunities for one hundred sixty-nine (169) hunters in Cherokee, Laurens, Newberry, Spartanburg and Union counties.  One hundred and thirty-five (135) hunters were able to attend the hunts and they harvested twenty-five (25) deer (14 bucks and 11 does).
All hunt participants and their assistants were invited to attend a barbecue lunch at either Tyger Ranch in Union County or Quaker Creek Farm in Laurens County at noon on Friday of the first hunt day before dispersing to their assigned hunt sites that afternoon.  Many of the hunters like to gather early on Friday morning to just socialize and enjoy a relaxing time together.  Some of the hunt sites provide overnight accommodations and the hunters assigned there have the opportunity to share their afternoon hunt stories during supper and before bedtime.  Many of the participants hunt again on Saturday morning. 
The mobility impaired hunters receive significant benefits from these events.  They certainly enjoy the hunting opportunity and the outdoor recreational experience along with the good meals and the fellowship among old friends and new acquaintances.  Many particularly benefit from the opportunity to compare notes with each other on the best or latest innovations, gadgets and customized equipment that may make it easier for them to hunt or help them to better adapt to their disabilities.
A number of organizations are co-sponsors of these events and assist in various ways.  The Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund has been a primary financial supporter of these events since their inception and also coordinates the handling of donations and finances.  South Carolina Disabled Sportsmen assists annually with compiling participant mailing lists.  The Paralyzed Veterans of America donated a mechanical, hydraulic-lift (Huntmaster) deer stand and this equipment is utilized at the Upstate hunts each year and also at other DNR co-sponsored mobility-impaired deer hunts around the state.  Mrs. Sue Smith donated a second Huntmaster deer stand and it is also available for use at various DNR co-sponsored mobility-impaired deer hunts around the state.  Georgia Pacific Corporation, a large timber company has helped to financially support the events for several years.  The Carolina's Fence Association has for several years donated materials to construct ground blinds from chain link fence panels and has plans for donating additional materials for building ground blinds.  The South Carolina Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers Association has provided a handicapped accessible golf cart, special financial support and personnel assistance.  The DNR's TAKE ONE MAKE ONE program has provided financial support and assistance in various ways.
The Wounded Warrior Project became involved three years ago as a co-sponsor and has arranged to have servicemen who have been severely injured in combat within Iraq or Afghanistan to attend the upstate events.  Outdoor activities such as hunting can provide immense physical and psychological benefits to injured service people as they transition back into civilian life as well as to other individuals who as a result of an illness or accident are forced to adjust to a different lifestyle that drastically restricts their mobility.
At each of the events after a great barbecue lunch for all the hunt participants and hosts on Friday, several very nice door prizes donated by some very generous individuals and businesses were given away by drawing to lucky participants attending the events.  A large number of volunteers provide annual assistance at these hunts and their help is absolutely essential to the success of the events.  Every volunteer certainly finds their contribution very rewarding and some look forward to these events almost as much as the hunt participants.  The list of individuals and groups who host mobility impaired hunters on their properties during the Upstate events increases annually.  These generous individuals are providing a very unique and special opportunity and the hunt participants and their families certainly recognize it and genuinely appreciate it.
The list of hosts accommodating mobility impaired deer hunters during the 2009 Upstate hunts included the following individuals and organizations: 

Applications for the 2010 Upstate hunts will be available in early summer, but you can contact the Union DNR Office at anytime to get your name on the mailing list for an application.  The office address is:  Union DNR Office, 124 Wildlife Drive, Union, S. C. 29379, telephone 864 427-5140 or you can download an application in the early summer from the DNR website. Information about becoming a host is also available from the Union DNR Office.  Dates for all DNR co-sponsored special hunts around the state will be published in the DNR 2010-2011 Rules and Regulations brochure and information will also be available from the South Carolina DNR main office at P. O. Box 167, Columbia, S. C. 29202, telephone (803) 734-3886.  Any qualified mobility impaired individuals who have an interest in hunting and are not attending these hunts are encouraged to give them a try.

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