Handicapped youth whitetail deer hunt builds skills, pride and friendships
COAL GROVE, Ohio -- At just 14 years old, Jacob Burchette is learning the satisfaction of contributing to his family by helping to put food on the table this winter.
Burchette, a student from Raceland, Ky., bagged his first deer ever at 9:15 a.m. Saturday during the Second Annual Southern Ohio Youth Handicapped Whitetail Deer Hunt, which occurred Nov. 16-18 in Lawrence County, Ohio.
Burchette said he plans to "mount the head and feed his family," and his mother, Amy Hayes, who joined him on the hunt, said she was "beyond excited" at her son's success, and she looks forward to participating with him in next year's hunt.
That kind of excitement and pride were among the goals intended by organizer George McCalvin, who said he was inspired years ago by a "Buckmasters" episode in which volunteer hunters took handicapped kids into the woods of Alabama for a hunt.
"I thought, 'If they can do that there, why can't we do it here?'" McCalvin said.
It took five years of work to lay the foundation, but it finally paid off last year with the first hunt. And this year, the hunt was even bigger and better, with 25 handicapped youngsters and 36 volunteer guides participating.
"The people around here are so good," McCalvin said. "This is very expensive to put on, but with the help of our local community sponsors, this will continue as long as I breathe. And then, my daughter will take it over," he added with a laugh.
Although the list of sponsors is extensive, McCalvin said the hunt would not be possible specifically without the help from International Union Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, especially the Ohio/Kentucky Council for the IUBAC, including Local #7 KY and Local #39 OH. Other major sponsors include National Wildlife Turkey Federation, Southern Hills Longbeards Chapter of NWTF, Union Sportsman Alliance as well as the Lawrence County Commissioners.
The first hunt was kind of like a practice run, with no deer actually being harvested. But this year, "there is no comparison," McCalvin said. "Last year was great. But this year, the kids have advanced because the parents have worked with them real hard and it shows."
"So far this year, we've had six kids bag deer: four does, one buck and even one four-pointer," volunteer guide Keith Adkins said on Saturday. "That was the best part this year. Seeing the kids with their deer."
Rock Hill fifth-grader Andrew Doss said that was also the best part for him.
"I loved it," he said. "I like it better than last year since I actually shot my own deer on my own farm." Doss' friend, Isaac Hayes, 9, of South Point, also bagged a deer -- a four-point buck that he shot on Doss' family farm.
The weekend began for the kids at noon on Friday at the Coal Grove Church of the Nazarene, where McCalvin is a member. Kids spent time taking two refresher courses in hunting safety and gun safety. The kids then went to a local farm for target shooting practice. Finally, the day ended with a dinner at the church for a "Meet your Guide" evening.
Saturday morning, the kids hit the woods with their guides at 5:15 a.m. A total of 12 local farms were used throughout Saturday and Sunday for the hunt. Guides and hunters hunted until dark Saturday evening. Then, they gathered at the church once again for a catered dinner complete with door prizes as well as a silent auction to raise the start-up money for next year's hunt. Keith Taylor, of South Point, catered the dinner while local celebrity Howie Damron provided the entertainment.
During the dinner, Lawrence County Commissioners read a proclamation declaring the third weekend in November to be Youth Handicapped Hunt Weekend.
Kids then had the option of returning back to the church on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. for Sunday school with Pastor Jeff Canfield. Once services were finished, kids returned to the woods again with their guide in hopes of increasing the harvest count for this year's hunt.
Additionally, a nationally recognized film crew, Smoked-em Outdoors, traveled from Maryland to accompany the hunters throughout the weekend, to film footage of the hunt. Smoked-em Outdoors plans to donate a video to each hunter, allowing the kids to relive their moments in the woods.
Film crew members Jon Miller and Danny Enck said they were impressed by how open and accepting the young hunters were toward them.
"We began by listening to their stories of last year's hunt and by the end of the hunt we were giggling and laughing right along with the kids as if we had always known each other," Miller said.
The crew is hoping for national coverage of this hunt. In the meantime, they will upload their video to YouTube for others to see.
Parents also sang the praises of McCalvin and the volunteers who made the hunt possible.
Tiffany Myers, mother of Andrew Doss, donated her land for the hunt and said McCalvin is a wonderful person.
"You don't find many people in the world willing to give these kids such an opportunity," she said. "He's a 'hometown hero' in my opinion."
Dale Schwab, whose children Allison, 16, and Jacob, 9, participated in the hunt, said it was successful in her book, even though her children didn't bag any deer.
"This is a great way for these kids to experience the outdoors in way they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do," she said.
Beth Bennett, mother of Dakota, 17, of Minford High School, also expressed gratitude for the many volunteers and sponsors. "It really touches me that these union guys want to help out our kids. It's so good for him to out in the woods," she said of her son.
Ultimately, according to first time volunteer guide Rick Jones, NRA representative for the 6th Congressional District, the hunt was about the kids. "We helped these kids see nature and gain a basic understanding of conservation," he said.
Now that the hunt has experienced two years of success, McCalvin said, they have a new goal for next year. "We hope to elect officers and form a Board of Directors. Then, we can apply for 501C non-profit status.
"Seeing these kids in the woods with smiles on their faces -- that's what its all about," he said.
Anyone wishing to learn more about ways to support or participate in the hunt are encouraged to contact either George McCalvin at 740-646-6590 or Dave Tibbetts at 740-442-0749. Or, the group can now be found on Facebook by searching SOYHWDH.