Inugural hunt for disabled sportsmen a success

By Tim McNellie, Staff writer October 30, 2002

It was a weekend of firsts for Tyler McErwee. The 16-year-old Shippensburg resident shot his first deer Friday evening.
That animal happened to be the first and only deer taken during South Fayette's hunt for disabled sportsmen.

And the township-organized event was the first of its kind in the state.

"It was a well-run event for its first year," said Tyler, who has used a wheelchair since he was injured in a ATV accident on his parents' farm a few years ago. "I would do it again next year."

About a half-dozen hunters turned out for each of the event's three days.

At least twice as many volunteers showed up each day, escorting the hunters and walking through the woods, attempting to drive deer into clearings.

Other segments of the community also showed support.

South Fayette butcher Joe Lunn offered to process and pack what the hunters shot, and numerous companies donated equipment.

"I have no idea how to thank these guys for what they've done," said Keith Hockenberry, another hunter from central Pennsylvania.

Hockenberry drove nearly four hours with Tyler to attend the hunt.

Hockenberry, who has also suffered a spinal cord injury, but retained use of his legs, said he came out specifically with the hope that Tyler would get his first deer.

At first it seemed like it might be another dry spell. Neither got a shot off on Thursday. The same was true for most of the next day, until late Friday afternoon, when Tyler spotted a deer darting across a clearing.

His first shot hit the mark.

"He was so excited he was doing wheelies in his chair as he made his way to the deer," said Greg Jones, of Washington County.

Lunn processed the animal, and the next day Tyler was in Hockenberry's truck, returning to Shippensburg triumphant.

Although he was the only hunter to nab a deer, he wasn't the only one feeling good about the weekend.

South Fayette commissioner Tom Sray, who helped organize the hunt, held a post-hunt cookout at his house Saturday afternoon. Between huddling around a fire, cheering Pitt's victory over Boston College and sharing hunting stories, everyone wore a smile.

"My wife never wakes me up to go hunting, but today she did," said Bob Krek, a volunteer from Bridgeville. "It's nice to know you're going out and helping people."

His 77-year-old friend Walter Jablonski volunteered the entire weekend, and never showed a sign of fatigue.

"I was amazed at how some of those older guys walked all three days," said Ron Deceder, of South Fayette.

Jablonski felt it when he got home, though.

"On Thursday night he didn't move from the recliner," his wife Marge said.

The next day, though, Jablonski was back in the woods. And he says would do it again.

"Next year?" he said. "I'd do it next week."

All-in-all it was a successful weekend, according to township Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Males.

"For hunters supposedly being thoughtless and cold-hearted, these guys showed a lot of emotion," Males said. "They were pleased to see Tyler get that deer."

©Bridgeville Star 2002

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