Disabled deer hunters get their shot

SMITHVILLE, Mo. (MCT) - When Andy Sturdivan guided disabled hunters during a special deer hunt years ago, he never considered that one day his role would be reversed.

But that's what happened when he participated in an event put on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Smithville Lake recently.

Beset by a long list of health problems - everything from Parkinson's to congestive heart failure to arthritis - Sturdivan was viewing the deer woods from a different vantage point.

"Back in my healthier days, I was one of the volunteers who took some of the disabled hunters out," said Sturdivan, 66. "I always thought of what a great program it was, giving some of these guys a chance to hunt again. A lot of them couldn't have gotten out if it weren't for this.

"Now I'm in their shoes."

Sitting in a blind with volunteer Bob Pruente at his side, Sturdivan smiled and celebrated his second chance.

He was back in the deer woods - and he wasn't taking that for granted.

"I used to hunt deer quite a bit," he said. "But when my health got bad, I thought I might have to give it up.

"The doctors didn't want me to go out by myself. But I can come out here and still have a quality hunt."

Not many hunters experience a day like the one Sturdivan did on this November Saturday.

It started when he shot a big doe that stepped out of the timber shortly after shooting hours opened. Then it got even better.

As he scanned the field in front of him, he watched an eight-point buck suddenly appear in a valley. He leveled his rifle, fired and hit his target.

"I was so excited, I thought I was going to have to take a nitro pill," he joked. "This is one of the best deer hunts I've ever had."

Sturdivan wasn't the only hunter saying that.

By midmorning, others in the group of 56 hunters in wheelchairs or with walkers or canes had built memories during the special hunt designed to give disabled people access to the deer woods.

Hunting out of specially designed blinds on ground that is normally off-limits to hunters, they made the most of their opportunity.

Take Mark Cline, for example. By midmorning, he already had shot three does - the second year he has done that in one of the hunts for the disabled.

That served as further proof that he still knows how to hunt deer, even after all he has been through.

Nineteen years ago, the Lee's Summit man was setting up a portable tree stand when the limb he was sitting on broke and he tumbled backward. He was paralyzed after the fall, and many doubted whether he would ever deer hunt again.

But there he was Saturday, making the most of his second chance.

"I've always loved to deer hunt, and I wasn't going to let my disability keep me from being out here," said Cline, 49, who was hunting with the help of volunteer Terry Acton of Shawnee.

Bruce Clark of the Corps of Engineers had hunters such as Cline in mind when he started the special hunt 17 years ago. He wanted to give disabled sportsmen a shot at a day they wouldn't forget.

He had handicapped-accessible blinds built at various locations on Corps land surrounding Smithville Lake, paying special attention to safety aspects. Then he recruited help from volunteers, who did everything from taking the disabled hunters out to providing a catered breakfast and lunch.

The first hunt was a big success - and it only grew from there.

Today, the Smithville hunt is nationally recognized and a model for other deer hunts for the physically challenged across the country.

"When you hear what some of these guys have been through, it's tough," Clark said. "I can't believe the health issues some of them have had to deal with.

"Hunts like this cater to them. We want to give them the opportunity to participate in deer hunting, just like everyone else."

The hunt is made even more appealing considering that is held on refuge land, which is off-limits to able-bodied hunters. There, big bucks roam the woods and occasionally are taken during the hunt.

John Reed of Princeton, Mo., took one of those deer.

Hunting in a blind with volunteers Don Bennett of Oak Grove and Bill Ford of Kansas City at his side, he watched from his wheelchair as a big buck walked to the edge of the woods and began checking a line of scrapes it had made (to attract does).

It started to walk away, but it turned when Bennett used a grunt call. That's when Reed pulled the trigger.

Moments later, he was admiring an eight-point buck.

His biggest ever? Hardly. He has a mount of an 18-point buck hanging on the wall.

"After my accident (in which his motorcycle was hit by a car) in 1978, I was paralyzed," Reed said. "But I knew I'd still be hunting.

"I have a John Deere garden tractor that I strap myself in and I go archery hunting. I have a winch that I use to get the deer out, and I've taken some big bucks that way.

"But this program makes it so much easier. Everything is designed in our favor, and that means a lot."

© 2007, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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