After months of planning, we embarked on our first annual Young Guns Special Needs Youth Hunt on October 31, 2015.
Philanthropist Orrin Ingram donated hunting land and an event barn for the event and host several hunting opportunities for children.
It's an incredible uplifting feeling to be a part of making a dream come true for a child with special needs.
On opening day of Tennessee's 2015 youth deer season, a drizzling rain ensued, but that didn't stop Preston Bryan and his father Mark Lake. Preston is a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He is unable to use his legs or right arm, unable to speak and has very limited use of his left arm. His heart however, is so big it touches the lives of grown men.
With such limitations, Preston would have been a spectator rather than a participant on a typical hunting trip. Preston and his father desired to deer hunt together and to share an experience in the outdoors. His father, Mark, is an avid hunter but doesn't have private land and the use of special wheelchair accessible blinds and shooting equipment to make Preston's dream possible. Also, a third person has to be able to drive in and drop them off and pick them up at the deer stand since Mark can't leave Preston alone.
TWRF's Development Director, Johnny Allred, connected with Mark and the effort began to take Preston hunting - Real hunting… not the sidelines. Johnny was surprised when he began getting text messages from Preston asking if he would see deer. "I had no idea he could text. The young man is amazing at what he can accomplish with his limitations" said Johnny. Johnny replied to Preston's message with reassurance he would see a deer on his hunt, but in the back of Johnny's mind, he worried the rainy weather would spoil the opportunity.
Preston and his father where brought to a covered blind early in the morning, and his wheelchair was lifted onto blocks to raise the height to increase his ability to see the field. Sandbags were used to hold the rifle on a gun rest and an iScope attached to the back of the scope. iScope is an application and mount that enables a smartphone to view on the large screen versus having to physically lean in and view through the actual scope.
TWRF volunteer Mark Moore stayed in the blind with Preston and his father to assist in helping make a shot. Sooner than expected, a 4-point buck came into view. They worked hard to get everything adjusted to the appropriate position, but unfortunately, the shot never presented itself. Preston was delighted to see the deer and came back in to take a break and have lunch.
Meanwhile, the rain continued and Preston sat by the fire in the event barn and sent text messages to his friends about the deer sighting. During the break, Joe Cunningham from the television show "The Best of the West" stopped by to say hello and to give some hats to the children that were hunting. Johnny got an idea.
The event barn had a covered station outside that is set up for long range shooting. We hold our Heritage Club Long Range Shoot Out event here and it overlooks a vast amount of wildlife habitat. Johnny borrowed one of The Best of the West rifles from Joe. This was a particularly good idea because The Best of the West rifles can be dialed in to specific distances so that the crosshairs can be placed on the target for accuracy at long distances. Using a shooting bench, gun vise and the iScope, the team assisted Preston with getting into a shooting position. Preston gave a big thumbs up that he was able to see through the scope. Everyone watched the fields for about an hour. Eventually, four deer made their way into a field to feed at a distance of about 300 yards. Johnny dialed the scope in for the distance and adjusted Preston into position. Preston indicated that he could see the deer in the crosshairs. When everything lined up for a good shot, Preston reached up with his let hand and pulled the trigger. It was a perfect shot!
Everyone stood there in awe of what they just witnessed. Every man there had tears in his eyes. They understood the magnitude of this moment. To see this child overcome so many obstacles and achieve his dream of a successful hunt with his father was worth everything.