By Greta Locke
-- On Monday, Jan. 19, the Buckmasters crew, along with generous volunteers, gathered for the eighth Buckmasters Classic Life Hunt, held annually for seriously ill and disabled kids and a few select disabled hunters.
The event is held at Sedgefield Plantation, an 11,000-acre private property owned and managed by the Hinton family, who have hosted the event and its participants for each of its eight years.
“This property and the generosity of the Hintons is key to getting the hunters out in the woods,” said David Sullivan, Buckmasters American Deer Foundation director of disabled services.
“The life hunt is a really big deal for us,” said Jimmy Hinton Jr. “We start thinking about and preparing for this hunt months before it starts, and many of our guys take vacation to volunteer to take these kids hunting. It’s just an incredible experience.”
This year had 10 hunters scheduled to attend the Classic, six kids, two adults and two soldiers nominated through the Takin’ Heroes Huntin’ program. As is the nature with the Classic, however, two of the hunters were too ill to make the trip, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.
While the hunting and travel can be a challenge for the ill and disabled hunters, many say they look forward to the hunt for months before it takes place. Almost always, that anticipation is answered with extremely high success rates for Classic hunters.
Abby Kempher of Nashville, Ill., harvested her first buck. She has been hunting for two years and suffers from a kidney defect, but it didn’t slow her down this week.
Arkansas’ Brayden Martin was born with a heart defect and basically has half of a heart, at least physically. Brayden hopes to have a heart transplant when he’s a teenager and stops growing, and his passion is hunting. While he hadn't yet taken a buck on the trip, he smiled as he talked about the friends he’s made through the three-day hunt. "I've enjoyed playing with Abby,” he said. “She is really a great kid.”
Abby and Brayden played football and other games almost every minute they were out of the deer stands. They didn't even stop to eat, keeping plates nearby, where they would grab quick bites on occasion.
Nominated for the Classic by a friend who attended a previous Life Hunt, Skylar Blair from Huntsville, Ala., is a 17 year old boy with muscular dystrophy. Skylar is an avid hunter and has been hunting for seven years. He harvested a nice 8-pointer on Tuesday, his first buck.
Dylan Burson is a 12-year-old cancer victim from Livingston, Texas. “I'm enjoying going hunting and meeting everyone," Dylan said. He also taught Buckmasters founder Jackie Bushman a new trick for staying warm in the stand. Dylan, who lost his hair through cancer treatments, takes disposable hand-warmers and puts them on his head before he puts on his cap. Jackie, famous for being cold-natured, said he plans to give the “hat trick” a try next year.
Simon Bowman of Tuscaloosa, Ala., is a 16-year-old with a condition that is causing him to lose his vision. Simon loves to hunt, but just a little more than he loves to eat. While he hadn't taken a deer by Tuesday, he commented on how much he was enjoying the terrific food. “I think the best part of this trip has been the really good food, and I love my new clothes," he said, pointing to the clothing and gear donated by Buckmasters sponsors.
Adult hunters at the Classic included Streamlight Hunter of the Year Dave Townsend of Hammond, La. While he missed his first opportunity at a buck, he made good on his second chance on Tuesday.
Another adult was Tennessee’s Mike Schmitz. Mike volunteers as a hunt coordinator for other special hunts and was invited to the Classic as a “thank you” for all he does for other hunters with special needs. Mike is quadriplegic, but it doesn’t slow him down or keep him out of the woods every chance he gets.
The two attendees from the Takin’ Heroes Huntin’ program were Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jeurissen and Sgt. Curtis Vaughn. Both are stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Both men were wounded while stationed in Iraq.
While the Classic is a first-class hunt, the event is more about hope and friendship than hunting. Each year, hunters enjoy the camaraderie of evening campfires, complete with ribs, sausage, steak and all the fixings. This year, the hunters had a special treat. The Organized Seafood Association of Alabama, Inc. (www.eatalabamawildshrimp.com) stopped by from Bayou La Batre and donated their cooking abilities and food. These special people prepared unbelievable seafood meals for the hunters and volunteers to enjoy.
Special thanks go to the Hinton family and volunteers, and to Buckmasters sponsors Yamaha, Remington, Federal Premium Ammunition, Scent-Lok, Nikon, Realtree, Morrell, Mission Archery, Tink’s, Easton Arrows, Moultrie, Muzzy, LaCrosse, Streamlight, NAPA, U.S. Army, IMR, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, Summit, Hoppe’s, Pennington and Outdoor Channel. Streamlight is the presenting sponsor of the Buckmasters American Deer Foundation and the Buckmasters Life Hunt Classic.
-- Greta Locke
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