EDGEFIELD, S.C. — Thirty hunters with disabilities from across the Southeast enjoyed two days of sharing stories, lots of laughs and some white-tailed deer hunting during the eighth annual Wheelin’ Sportsmen NWTF Ultimate Team-Up, held Nov. 12 to Nov. 13, 2008, at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s headquarters in Edgefield.
The event paired veterans with disabilities with experienced hunting mentors and gave all participants an opportunity to forge new friendships and enjoy time afield.
Since its founding in 1973, the NWTF has made continual advancements in its mission of wild turkey conservation and protecting America’s hunting traditions. Its Wheelin’ Sportsmen NWTF outreach program provides people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing and archery.
Other partners in the event included the Disabled American Veterans, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Columbia, S.C., Primos Hunting Calls and Ameristep Hunting Blinds.
One pairing at the Ultimate Team-Up included Clint Jones, who is stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., and was injured by shrapnel while serving in Afghanistan, and Benny Smith from Anderson, S.C. The duo shared a hunting blind just outside of Edgefield, and Clint used Benny’s .30-06 rifle to bag a nice doe at dusk.
“My hands were shaking the whole time,” said an excited Jones, who immediately called friends and family to spread the good news as soon as he was able to get a cell phone signal. “This is awesome to come out here and take part in something like this.”
The two shared mutual excitement with other hunters back at NWTF headquarters as they admired the day’s harvest. Just hours before, many of the men had been strangers, but after a couple of hours of experiencing the fellowship of hunting they were buddies.
“I told Clint my gun was sighted in straight and true, and he didn’t miss,” said Smith, patting his new friend on the back. “He might have been shaking like a leaf the whole time, but he didn’t miss. I just want to say thanks to the NWTF and their partners for making this happen, as well as the local landowners for letting us hunt on their property.”
Illana Burkhart, Wheelin’ Sportsmen NWTF program coordinator, said that seeing the enjoyment on peoples’ faces as they experience the thrill of the outdoors is one of the most satisfying parts of her job.
“Getting people involved and helping them discover a new hobby, or rediscover something they loved to do before an injury is really rewarding,” said Burkhart. “The NWTF has always been a proud supporter of our servicemen and women and their families, and this is just our way of showing our appreciation for all that they do for our country. We also want people to know that just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they have to give up a way of life that they love.”
To learn more about Wheelin’ Sportsmen NWTF or to set up an interview with someone from the program, contact Brian Purtymun at (803) 637-7667 or visit http://www.wheelinsportsmen.org.
About the NWTF: In 1973, Tom Rodgers founded the National Wild Turkey Federation in Fredericksburg, Va., as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation and education organization with a mission dedicated to conserving wild turkeys and preserving hunting traditions. Shortly thereafter, Rodgers relocated the NWTF to Edgefield, S.C., where it’s still headquartered today.
At the time NWTF was established, there were only 1.3 million wild turkeys. Today that number stands at more than seven million birds throughout North America, thanks to the efforts of state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members and partners.
Growth and progress define the NWTF as it has expanded from 1,300 members in 1973 to nearly a half million today. With that growth has come impressive strides in wildlife management as the NWTF has forged dynamic partnerships across the country to further its conservation mission. Together, the NWTF’s partners, sponsors and grassroots members have raised and spent more than $279 million upholding hunting traditions and conserving nearly 14 million acres of wildlife habitat.
While wild turkey restoration is nearing completion, the NWTF still has much work to do. Across North America, supporters are working to enhance habitat for wild turkeys and other wildlife while providing hunters with more opportunities and access to public and private land. In addition, NWTF volunteers and partners are introducing youth, women and people with disabilities to the outdoors through special educational events.
If you would like to become a member of Team NWTF, join a committee or start a chapter, please visit our Web site at www.nwtf.org or call us at 800-THE-NWTF.