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Youth deer hunt forges special bonds

I know I don’t have to tell you that hunters and hunting get a bad rap these days. If you follow the news and any kind of social media, hardly a week goes by without something negative about hunting and guns being said. Those who pose with a game animal they have taken run the risk of enduring all sorts of scorn and ridicule.

Yet time and time again I have seen it. Those who come from an outdoor background, hunters and fishermen, are absolutely some of the best people that trod this planet earth. Through floods, fires, famine, and whatever disaster assails our fellow man, the camo crowd is always the first to show up.

I saw it again last week.

Several states now feature special youth hunt days during various seasons. Last week a one-day youth hunt for antlerless deer was held in West Virginia. I am proud to say the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources sponsored an event for young hunters ages 8-17 to go deer hunting. Many of these young people may not have had the opportunity to go hunting if not for this event.

As you might imagine the planning and logistics to make something like this happen is extensive. Transporting the young hunters to and from the hunt, taking care of Hunter Education requirements, conducting gun safety lessons and allowing for time to be spent on the shooting range are just a few other items that had to be taken care of. It’s all part of being a hunting mentor and helping a young hunter get started.

Fourteen young hunters participated this year, twice the number of last year. The crowd of DNR law enforcement officers, wildlife biologists, and many local volunteers were more than up to the task and everything ran like clockwork. This was more than just a deer hunt; the youngsters learned about hunter safety, marksmanship, and heard inspirational talks from several speakers including West Virginia House of Delegates member George “Boogie” Ambler.

“What a great event this was for the kids that were able to attend,” he said. “I think they learned more than just about hunting, but also about friendship, helping one another, and the comaraderie of hunting. This hunt also shows the dedication of DNR personnel when it comes to promoting hunting opportunities when it comes to our young people,” Ambler continued. “I am very thankful that I could be a part of it and I hope that it will continue.”

There is no doubt that one young hunter caught my attention soon after I arrived at the Monroe County site of the deer hunt. Cameron Wiley is from White Sulphur Springs and was there with his mom, Sara Feury. I could go on about Cameron’s day at the youth hunt, but I thought maybe it would be best to let Sara tell you about it. Here is her account of the day.

“On October 21, my son Cameron was given the opportunity to hunt for the first time. I thought to myself boy, this is going to be an amazing experience. My main concern was how is this going to be possible? Cameron is in a wheel chair. Am I going to have to carry him in the woods? Will there be something for him to sit on where we are going? These were all concerns that I had.

“As the day went on and Cameron learned all about hunting and gun safety, when it was time to shoot the gun he would be hunting with for the first time. I was not quite sure how this was going to go since it was his first time with a rifle and scope. He sat proud at that table telling the DNR officer which way to move the gun. When the gun fired all I heard was the sound of the metal target being hit and everyone was cheering.

“At that moment my heart melted and I knew that everything was going to be OK. These fine gentlemen would make sure of that. Now it was time for lunch by the pond where there would be hot dogs, chips, cakes and drinks. Everyone sat down as a hunting family and blessed the food we ate.

“After two hot dogs and a Little Debbie cake it was finally time for Cameron to try and claim that deer he was so excited about. The ATV carried us and his wheel chair to the box blind where we would try and keep Cameron quiet, as he was very excited.

“Two hours passed and the leaves started to crunch; a deer was finally walking towards us. Cameron stood up in his chair and got ready; after 7 long minutes of waiting he pulled the trigger and the race was on to find where the doe fell. Cameron took off out the door and there she lay about 200 feet from us. Never have I seen him smile as big as he did when he saw this deer.”

One more person I thought you should hear from about this day is J. R. Bradley from Monroe County. Every hunter had two helpers with them on the hunt and J. R. assisted Cameron along with DNR Officer Josh Toner. “I was given a very special opportunity to help guide a young man on the deer hunt,” J. R. said. “I had no idea how special this experience would be.

“Being an amputee myself, I knew this was who I wanted to help guide, we spent a wonderful evening in the woods and I can’t tell you the joy we felt as we watched this boy go to his deer! This young man captured my heart; he lets nothing stand in his way and was a true inspiration to me. This is a memory I will have forever and hopefully I have made a friend for life!”

Friends, if I could just talk to you from the heart for a minute: Watching them and listening to them tell their hunting story— Cameron, Mr. Bradley, Cameron’s mom Sara and Officer Toner — well, it was special.

Yes, hunters are pretty terrible people, coming together like this to take a special young man on his first deer hunt. It was something he will no doubt remember the rest of his life.