For special group of sportsmen, deer season arrives early
The 56 hunters, ranging in age from 8 to 94, who've descended upon Chatham County this morning have at least one thing in common — being in a wheelchair won't keep them from doing something they love.
The hunters are participating in the third annual Back in the Woods Again, a deer-hunting event for individuals who use wheelchairs. The group met Friday morning, and will hunt throughout the weekend in southern Chatham County, according to Deanna Jones, a business representative for the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services who assists jobseekers with disabilities.
"I hope we re-enforce that people are able to accomplish a lot when they are given the opportunity," she said.
Jones has volunteered with the Back in the Woods Again event since its inception three years ago, and the group receives a special permit for the early hunt by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The event is free for participants, and their families attend for two full days of hunting, fellowship, an award ceremony and activities.
"October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and several years ago, I was looking to get involved with a project that would bring awareness to people with disabilities," she said. "That's when I heard about Jerome Davis."
Davis was dubbed the "Carolina Cowboy," and was one of the world's best professional bull riders in the mid-1990s. Three years after becoming the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Bull Riding Champing in 1995, he was thrown from a bull and broke his neck — leaving him paralyzed him from the waist down.
An avid outdoorsman, Davis wanted to keep hunting and to include others who used a wheelchair, Jones said. And thus the first Back into the Woods Again event was born.
"Overall, the hunters have a great time," she said.
Tommy Estridge, one of the lead organizers, said people take the simple things for granted until they are gone.
"It gives them the opportunity," he said. "Some of these guys used to hunt when they were younger but then got in an accident or got sick. It really took away their experience to do something they love."
Seven of this year's participants don't have mobility in their hands, and the group has purchased specialized equipment for those hunters, Estridge said.
"It has turned out to be such a wonderful thing," he said. "The community has come to work together."
Jones will be serving as a guide for the group's first female participant this weekend.
"She was paralyzed in a car wreck, and this is her first trip going hunting," Jones said. "She is so excited; she's bought pink camouflage for her wheelchair."