It used to be that the only connection between a wheelchair-bound or physically disabled person and the sport of deer hunting was a wish that he or she could be a part of it. Not anymore.
Thanks in large part to a couple of Flomaton outdoorsmen who found themselves confined to wheelchairs, male and female hunting enthusiasts from the surrounding area who are in a similar situation can still participate in the activity they love.
More than two dozen such individuals, part of Wheelin’ Outdoor Adventures event, gathered at Poarch Creek Hunting Club this week to hunt deer, renew friendships and swap stories about the ones that got away and the ones that didn’t.
“Some of them can walk, some of them can’t, and some of them are tied to wheelchairs,” pointed out PCHC board member Kevin Rackard of the camouflage-bedecked group. “Some of them have disabilities further than others, and for some of them, this is pretty much the only way they can hunt. We try to accommodate them all.”
Many of the huntsmen and huntswomen have special rigs attached to their wheelchairs, including the one that allows Mark Christensen of Commerce, Ga. to activate his gun trigger by blowing through a tube. Most of the attachments are the handiwork of Atmore resident Raymond Jerkins, who fabricates them mostly from car parts and parts from campers.
“He helped design and build a lot of them,” said Gene White, president of WOA. “Raymond has been a real good help to us.”
White said he and co-founder Virgil Armstrong formed the organization so that locals with disabilities could still enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
“There wasn’t anything like this in this part of the country,” he explained. “Me and Virgil went to a couple of hunts, one in Georgia and one in Florida, and we thought about trying to help people in this area, give them the opportunity to get out. We started out small, with just three or four hunters. Word kept getting out, and you can see how much it’s grown. It keeps getting bigger every year.”
He expressed appreciation to Poarch Band of Creek Indians officials, who let the group use tribal land for the second year in a row and even fed the horde of hungry hunters.
“I talked to them about coming over here, with all the land they’ve got, and they stepped up real good,” he said. “They decided they were going to feed everybody, too. We usually have to do a raffle or take up donations to buy what we’ll need.”
The organization has gained White and Armstrong a degree of notoriety, although they didn’t seek it. The pair was invited to visit and stay at Victory Junction in North Carolina, which is owned and operated by NASCAR notables Richard and Kyle Petty.
White said most WOA hunts draw men and women from the immediate area who not only enjoy hunting but also the company of others who live similar lives.
“We usually get people from Atmore, Brewton, Bay Minette, Pensacola, Mobile and Monroeville, those from around a hundred-mile area,” he said. “It’s not all about everybody killing something, although it don’t hurt if you do bring home a buck or something.”
Ronnie Rolin, also a member of the hunting club’s board, pointed out that this year’s hunt was a little different, as far as the geographic makeup of the hunting party.
“There are folks here from South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida, with most of the rest from around here and all over Alabama,” Rolin said.
Although the stereotypical deer hunter is male, WOA’s rolls also include a few females, including Kimberly Jernigan of Atmore, who was injured several years ago in a hunting accident.
“I came last year; it’s fun,” she said as she, husband Steve and Brewton couple Joey and Amanda Blackburn feasted on the huge burgers, hot dogs and fixings provided by Wind Creek Hospitality’s Good to Go Food Truck. “I always have fun, whether I get a deer or not. It’s been about five years since I killed one, because I shoot the big boys. I’m not shooting a mama doe.”
Many of the wheeling outdoor lovers have a family member or other chaperone with them, but more than 40 volunteers, most of them members of the Poarch Creek tribe, also played a role in the weekend hunt.
“Most of them are accompanied by either a guardian or a friend that will sit with them while they hunt,” said Rackard. “If they don’t have someone with them, one of the guys from the club will sit with them.”
Rolin said he found out last year that the WOA hunters and huntresses are a hardy bunch.
“Last year was our first year hosting them.” He recalled. “I woke up one morning, and it was about 20 degrees, so I figured they wouldn’t want to go hunting. I was late, and when I got there it was ‘where were you?’ They said they were ready to go, that they loved to hunt in cold weather.”