Wheelchair-bound get into hunt

By CHUCK MARTIN
Staff Writer

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MATTHEW LEASURE/Times Recorder
Ryan Stillion patiently waits for a deer during the annual Wheelin' Sportsman event held in Morgan County.



MATTHEW LEASURE/Times Recorder
John Henry of Lakewood looks for signs of deer during the annual Wheelin' Sportsman event held in Morgan County.



For more information

Disabled hunters who want to find out about participating in next year's hunt can contact Dave Dingey at (740) 962-1205 or Brian Cox at (740) 962-1215.




McCONNELSVILLE -- Forty-four disabled hunters arrived Friday for the second annual National Wild Turkey Federation Wheelin' Sportsmen Ultimate Team-Up event. By Saturday evening, only eight had bagged a whitetail deer, but there were no unhappy faces in the crowded banquet hall at the Morgan County Fairgrounds.

To John Henry, 73, of Lakewood, the hunt has been a success. Just being out, enjoying the day and having the opportunity to hunt makes it one. As for getting a deer, he was looking forward to this morning's hunt. A drive that sent some deer into the range of other hunters didn't help him Saturday, but Sunday's drive was to be in the other direction and he was optimistic.

"This event is being run beautifully this year," he said. "It's twice as large as last year."

He was accompanied by a friend, Fred Elliot of Vermilion, who said, "It feels real good to help someone else; it gives life more meaning."

One of the three hunters who were successful Saturday was Marion Lee Birkey of Cleveland, who shot a nice 10-point buck in the afternoon. Five deer were taken Friday.

"We saw it in the morning," Birkey said, "but it was 75 yards away, and we thought it was only a six-pointer. When they staged the drive in the afternoon it came back out of the tangled growth. When it got to a safe angle, I took the shot."

The Marine veteran was appreciative of everything that went in to staging the hunt.

"I want to thank Morgan County for the use of this facility -- having a hot shower this morning -- and I appreciate everybody, the local people and organizations, who put this on," Birkey said.

This was also the second year he has attended. He shot a big doe last year.

His guide this weekend was John Bechtel, also of Cleveland, who found out about the hunt through a cousin of AEP Forester Brian Cox. He credited Cox with picking out a good spot and getting it ready for the hunt.

Also on hand for the event was Kirk Thomas of Alabama, who founded the Wheelin' Sportsmen program in 1996. He explained that he was coming in from a hunt in 1992 when a freak accident occurred.

"A tree fell on me," he said. "I had friends and family who helped me to get out and hunt and fish, but I started to think about it and would ask other people with disabilities that I met whether they hunted or fished, and they usually said no. They had no opportunity or no support."

The idea of the Wheelin' Sportsmen events came to him at 2 a.m. one morning. He enlisted family and friends to put on a fishing event.

"We thought if we had 150 show up it would be a success," Thomas said. "We had 456 show up. After that, it got bigger and bigger."

In 2000 the National Wild Turkey Federation came to him with the proposal to take the program nationwide and now it sponsors hunting, fishing, shooting and outdoor education events nationwide.

He first came to McConnelsville three years ago to meet with Gary Kaster, the AEP supervisor in McConnelsville, about the possibilities for an event here. He wasn't able to come to the event last year, but what he has seen this year, he said "has been phenomenal."

"There are 56 million disabled Americans, our largest minority," Thomas said. "They just want a chance."

Events like this give them a chance to enjoy the activities they might otherwise have had to give up.

Shane McGrew, president of the Wolf Creek NWTF Chapter, co-sponsor of the event with AE and the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said, "It's really going great. It has grown tremendously.

"If it wasn't for all the public support and volunteers, we couldn't do it."

Kaster and Dave Dingey, Recreational Programs director for AEP, pointed out the many sponsors who donated money, door prizes and raffle items.

Dingey especially wanted to note the support of the large number of volunteers, including those who prepared the food and all the guides.

He also singled out all the support Whitetails Unlimited provided. Three local taxidermies Daniels Taxidermy in Roseville. Dixon's Taxidermy in Stockport and Baxter's Taxidermy in New Lexington will each mount a deer from the weekend hunt. Whitetails Unlimited will pay for mounts of any other deer the hunters take this weekend.

One of those deer that may be mounted was taken Friday by Robert Bowman of Malta, who was the first hunter to check in a deer Friday, a small buck. He was back out again Saturday and will be out again today.

"We didn't see any deer all day Saturday," he said. "They just weren't moving."

cmartin@nncogannett.com

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Originally published Sunday, November 9, 2003



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