There aren’t many instances when a little brother can claim victory over his big brother, but that’s what Gabriel Mangus did on the first deer hunt of the season. And he relished it.
On this day, he was the BMADC – Big Man At Deer Camp.
Gabriel, 8, killed his first deer, an 8-point buck. With blood smeared on his cheeks, the youth smiled ear to ear as everyone in the deer camp offered congratulations.
“That’s a good first deer,” said hunt organizer Bobby Bower as he tousled the boy’s ballcap.
“I’m telling you, that’s a nice ‘un,” landowner Blane Johnson told Gabriel. “My first deer, I could carry it like a rabbit.”
“Awesome” and “cool” were about all Gabriel could muster until he warmed up.
“Usually, you can’t get him to shut up,” said Joey Markowski, who brought his two stepchildren from Batesville. “You’re not going to get a Martin Luther King quote out of him today.”
Gabriel had bragging rights, on this, his third hunt with Dream Catcher, a non-profit organization that provides outdoor activities to the disabled or terminally ill. And he planned to rub it in on his brother.
“Yep … if he doesn’t get one, yeah I am,” he said. “When I was 6, I went on the Texas trip and my brother, Grayson, got a deer. Then the next year, I didn’t get one. It was too cold. Nobody got one.”
But now all was “cool” with the world, until word came down that Grayson, 12, killed a deer and was on his way back to camp. Gabriel was relieved when he learned it was “only a doe,” allowing him to retain BMADC rights.
With the motto of “Turning disabilities into possibilities,” the Dream Catcher team gave the wheelchair-bound boys, who both suffer from spina bifida, an experience they’ll cherish forever.
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Bobby and Cathy Bower had the land, the game and the idea to give opportunities to those who couldn’t easily get out in the field. A plan popped into Bobby’s mind, the hard part was starting.
“We had 1,000 acres leased up, just me and her was hunting on it,” Bobby said. “I walked out there one day, there’s like 40 something deer on that power line. I told my wife, if my grandpa was still alive, I’d get him right here and he’d kill a deer just like that."
“We both had disabled grandparents who love to be outdoors,” Cathy said. “We had hunted for years and just thought how wonderful it would be to take people out.”
So they found several people to take, including grandparents, and through trial and error figured out how to accomplish their mission.
“The first couple of hunts were kind of crazy because we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Cathy said. “We just went from there, and then we thought we wanted to do it full-time.”
Dream Catch Outdoor Adventures came into shape in 1999, but the Bowers found gaining 501(c)(3) non-profit status wasn’t an easy process. They were monitored for 5 years and had to account for every penny.
The organization now manages more than 2,000 acres on three locations in central Arkansas. Each site has handicap accessible facilities that aren’t open to the public. They’ve taken hunting trips for deer, dove, ducks and turkey and offered fishing excursions, all free of charge.
“Since 1999, we’ve probably taking about 500 people, something in that neighborhood,” Bobby said. “We’ve got applications coming in every week. Last week, a mom from Pennsylvania with a young kid with cancer called.”
Dream Catcher relies on fund-raisers, like the banquet and silent auction the night before this hunt. It was held in Bald Knob, where Izard County Sheriff’s Department personnel fried up a mess of fish helping bring in $6,700. It was the third banquet of the year organized by fund-raising coordinator Hunter Baughman, who was one of the first Dream Catch clients. (See “Normal … Nothing Else”).
Baughman was up until 3 a.m. cleaning up after the banquet, then slept a couple hours in his vehicle at a truck stop before heading to deer camp to see the first hunters come in.
This land is our land
Also up late was landowner Blane Johnson, who attended his son’s football game two hours away. Johnson was there for Avery Johnson, an Arkansas State recruit who scored six touchdowns under the Friday night lights, as well as the hunters he helped roll into a blind in the darkness early Saturday morning.
It was the second year this event was conducted on Johnson’s land in north central Arkansas, and he explains why he’s converted his deer camp for the disabled.
“Well, goodness gracious, you want me to start bawling right here in front of everybody,” he said. “First, I was raised to share what I had. And certainly raised to try to give people opportunity they maybe wouldn’t have if I wasn’t around.
“I’m lucky enough to live out here where we can hunt, and I thought this is a great cause. I can write a few checks and get some guys to make stuff handicap accessible, so I’m just a figure in the story. I’m not the hero.”
Both the Bowers and Markowski say they think Johnson has done some heroic things, as well as Tyler Cooper, who manages the property for him.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission also played a part, issuing unrestricted tags so the hunters could use firearms on the traditional archery opener, and two wildlife officers served as guides.Markowski marvels at how this Dream Catcher team provides such a great setup.
“This is incredible,” he said. “We couldn’t do this without them. They just need stuff that’s set up a little different. Doesn’t have to be a lot different. These people have taken the time … we can drive right up to these blinds, they can roll right in. This place has some incredible blinds that they build just for them.”
Bad boy comes out
Markowski and wildlife officer Ryan Warner were in the blind by 6 a.m. and set up Gabriel to shoot with aide from a tripod.
“About 7 o’clock, this bad boy came out” along with a spike and a fawn, Markowski said. “It took about 5 minutes to get things where they needed to be. We couldn’t get the safety off. He was wearing earmuffs so every time we had to whisper to him, we had to pull them off so he could hear us.
“He was looking at us, he goes. ‘I got butterflies, I’m cold, I’m cold. I’m really nervous. I don’t think I can do this.’ ”
Warner and Markowski assured him everything would be fine, and when the two-step safety was finally off, Gabriel made the shot.
“He shot and we looked up and they scattered, a spike and a fawn,” Markowski said. “Ryan ran into woods and tracked it. It was only about 300 feet. He shot it perfect. He couldn’t have had a better shot.”
Warner later pointed out the perfect shoulder hit. Everyone took photos of Gabriel and the deer, and with Gabriel and the deer. Gabriel had witnessed his brother’s heroic day, but now it was his turn.Markowski was thankful the boys were treated to such a great experience.
“It’s something they wouldn’t get to do otherwise,” he said. “There’s just limited stuff they can do to get outdoors. Any time you can get an activity they can get out and be outdoors, they love it. They don’t want to be cooped up.”
Despite dumping over once near his buck, Gabriel kept smiling. He got downright cocky when he and Grayson posed alongside their deer for a group shot, summing up the victory over his brother:
“An 8-point is better than a doe!”
For more on Dream Catcher, click here, or visit their Facebook page.