With the coldest temperatures in decades forecast for the three-day hunt, participants in the 2014 Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt never wavered. They had all faced much tougher situations than the 9-degree temperatures.
The 11 hunters who came to Sedgefields Plantation in west central Alabama were dealing with obstacles that ranged from traumatic brain injury to lymphoma to IED (improvised explosive device) injuries, so a little cold weather wasn’t going to hamper this opportunity to hunt white-tailed deer on some of the best hunting land in the Southeast.
Four of those participants were from Alabama and only one did not bag a deer during the outing, although he had a fleeting chance on the first afternoon.
Charles Kilgore of Opelika, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when a dropped firearm discharged and struck him, saw a couple of shooters that first afternoon, but the deer didn’t present a good shot and so Kilgore passed.
Kilgore, who was sponsored for the hunt by the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association, lost most function in his left arm and some of the function in his left leg after a stroke occurred after the injury. But that didn’t stop his education or hunting. When sufficiently recovered, he went back to Auburn University to finish his doctorate in biology.
“It took me two years to get back into the woods,” Kilgore said. “When Chris Jaworowski (Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries wildlife biologist) asked me if I wanted to come to Buckmasters, I said, ‘Let’s go.’
“I use a Caldwell Deadshot Fieldpod to hold the rifle, but I have to use my right arm for everything, so it’s kind of hard to make a quick shot. On the first hunt, we saw about 20 deer, mostly does and three pretty nice bucks. We just couldn’t get a shot.”
Ozark native Stephen Ayhens, a disabled Marine who participated in a fishing event with A HERO Foundation near Montgomery in 2011, managed to get into a friendly contest with fellow disabled soldier Bobby Dove of Florida, who served in the U.S. Army.
“It’s the Marines versus the Army,” Ayhens said. “I think the Marines are winning. I got a nine-point and Bobby got an eight-point, so I think I win.”
Ayhens has been able to hunt deer around Brundidge and Quantico (Va.) and duck hunt in Maryland since an IED took both his legs in Afghanistan.
“This is outstanding,” Ayhens said of the Buckmasters’ hunt. “This is a great way to get outdoors again.”
Ayhens showed up for the hunt with his new-to-him “tank” chair, a wheelchair equipped with tracks that help those who are wheelchair-bound or have other disabilities to get through certain terrain and into the hunting woods.
“Another Marine, Jeremiah Arbogast, had this and couldn’t use it because of his spinal injury,” said Ayhens, who has maintained a mischievous sense of humor through his recovery. “It would jar him around too much. They found this one in pretty bad condition, so Hope for the Warriors and a couple of other groups came together to fix it up and make it bigger. And it’s a lot more powerful. This is the first time I’ve been able to use it. I’m still getting used to it, but I like running over peoples’ toes.”
On Ayhens’ hunt, it didn’t take long for the action to start that first afternoon. No more than 10 minutes after getting settled in the shooting house, deer started showing up.
“We had a doe, fawn and small buck come in right away,” he said. “They ate around and then left. Then the nine-point came in with a small party, two does and a small buck. The nine-point came in the field at about 300 meters. He came a little closer to 216 meters, and that’s where I shot him.”
Ayhens didn’t need any adaptive equipment to shoot, other than his prosthetic legs, shorter versions called “stubbies.” He made the shot with a Ruger .280.
“I just stood up, rested the gun on the shooting house ledge and fired,” he said. “I hit it a little far back, but we got him anyway. I felt good when I squeezed the trigger. He ran about 25 yards behind some foliage. Then we saw him stagger and fall.”
Ayhens wasn’t the only Alabama hunter to bag a deer.
Rhett Bailey, who was invited by Atlanta Braves star reliever Craig Kimbrell, shot an eight-point, while Taylor Lee Robinson of Thorsby took a nine-pointer during the event, which also featured a return visit from New York Yankees’ reliever David Robertson.
David Sullivan, director of Life Hunts and Disabled Services for Buckmasters’ American Deer Foundation, said many of the hunters at the Life Hunts require significant adaptive devices to be able to participate.
“We were able to purchase two mechanicals rigs where the hunters can totally control the firearm with a joystick and a sip and puff tube,” Sullivan said. “Plus, those rigs have video devices on the scopes, so they don’t have to get down and get the right eye relief on the scope. That’s one of the things the American Deer Foundation does is provide this equipment through our sponsors like Wildgame Innovations. Travis Peercy (Island, Ky.) used a tripod with a military-type mount that we get from a guy in Texas. Travis is unsteady and used that to take his 11-point on the first afternoon. He was all smiles.
“We’ve had people who are paralyzed on respirators who we’ve taken hunting. If they put their mind to it, we can make it happen.”
Sullivan said the largest hurdle for those with disabilities and illnesses remains access to hunting property. He even designed a trailer that will help with that access problem. He named it the Quincey Assault Vehicle after his late stepson, David Christopher Quincey, who was killed in a training accident in the U.S. Army as he was preparing to be deployed to Pakistan.
“I designed a trailer that took me a couple of years to build,” Sullivan said. “I started out with one thing, but we ended up tearing it apart and starting again. It’s now got ATV tires with torsion axles. It’s a real smooth ride and we can roll a wheelchair into it and tie it down. We’ve got toolboxes to hold the equipment. There’s room for people to sit back there with them to keep them safe. This really helps with access, especially in muddy areas. We had another volunteer who built another one for us.”
Sullivan said the Hinton family, which has hosted the Life Hunt Classic for more than a decade, makes it a lot easier to hold a hunt for those with disabilities.
“Getting out and hunting is the main goal, period,” Sullivan said. “Having a place like this to come is icing on the cake. It’s the experience, camaraderie and some of the best hunting in Alabama and the Southeast. We couldn’t do it without the Hintons and all the volunteers.”
Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters CEO and founder, said the Buckmasters Classic has been in existence for 23 years in one form or another.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long,” Bushman said. “To have so many different kids here and our soldiers here and to watch their dreams come true, I never get tired of this. This is my favorite three days of the year. We couldn’t do it without the Buckmasters members nationwide. And we’re trying to take more. Thanks to our sponsors, like big Bill Busbice, his wife and family, Nationwide Insurance this year and the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association, we can put on another great event. We’ve got a lot of nice folks and great volunteers that make this happen, as well as the Hinton family.
“Fortunately, we got ahead of the game on the first day and got seven deer. That way we didn’t have to try to get seven deer on the last day, like we did last year. It’s always fun to be here and see the smiles on the hunters’ and their families’ faces. It’s just priceless.”
— Photos courtesy of David Rainer & David Sullivan