Bruce Smith of Mt. Zion pulls Cliff Scott’s wheelchair through heavy grass to his hunting position at Lake Shelbyville Friday. Volunteers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel helped hunters carry gear and get them set up in blinds. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.
The State Journal-Register
LAKE SHELBYVILLE—Cliff Scott of Yorkville was able to drive his car to within 50 yards of his deer-hunting blind Friday afternoon.
But traveling those final yards in a wheelchair through thick grass tangled with downed branches was virtually impossible without help. So Bruce Smith of Mount Olive pulled while Scott tried to keep the wheels turning.
Together, they moved Scott, his gun, backpack, extra clothes and other gear to the blind, where he finished getting ready.
Among the thousands of deer hunters that took to the woods all over the state Friday were 25 with various disabilities who came to Lake Shelbyville for a special hunt.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sponsor the hunt, which is in its 21st year.
The first segment of the traditional firearm deer season began Friday and runs through Sunday. The second half is Dec. 2-5.
DNR said 370,000 hunting permits have been issued for this year’s firearm season.
After helping Scott settle into his blind, Smith – one of the event’s volunteers – took Scott’s car back to the main road.
“This is great to be able to get out and hunt,” Scott said. “And to have all these gentlemen (like Smith) take off work and give up their day to help us – it’s huge.”
Scott is participating in the special hunt for the 13th year.
“Until I can’t come anymore, I’m going to keep coming to this event,” he said.
Park rangers conducted a drawing to match hunters with blinds before everyone took to the field.
Lake Shelbyville ranger Brock Key has taken charge of the hunt for two years now.
“Some of these guys wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise,” he said.
Lake Shelbyville has 41 deer hunting blinds, about half of which are accessible by wheelchair.
About twice as many applications were received as could be accommodated.
“We can always use more volunteers,” Key said.
Key was driving out to check on hunter Brian Considine, who chose not to come in for lunch. His blind was set up not far away, at the edge of a field cleared of brush.
“This is heaven,” said Considine, a Moreno Valley, Calif. resident. “I plan my whole year around getting to come back here.”
He comes back to the area to visit family each Thanksgiving.
Considine already had bagged a small buck from 65 yards, but he wasn’t budging from his spot until sunset.
“I’ve seen eight deer so far,” he said. “And I saw an eight-point buck, and I messed up. It was totally my fault.”
He asks Key to come back at the end of the day and turns his attention back to hunting.
By lunchtime Friday, eight deer had been tallied on the dry-erase board inside the building at the Okaw Bluff Group Camp, where the hunters are bsed.
Among the successful hunters was Bob Miller, who lives outside of Decatur. He bagged a doe first thing in the morning, a significant accomplishment since Miller was blinded in a farm accident back in 1995.
Miller, 81, used to hunt around his farm, but has been participating in the Lake Shelbyville hunt since 1997. He shot his doe Friday with the help of Smith, who helped him aim his gun.
“He stands behind me and pushes me on the back, which way to go – left, right, up or down,” Miller said. “When he taps me on the head, I pull the trigger.”
The event drew praise from Miller.
“They’ve done a wonderful job,” he says. “It’s well-managed and they treat us good.”
Josh Livingston of Arcola shot at a small buck Friday with the help of his dad, Jerry, but the duo missed. Josh has used a wheelchair since an automobile accident in 1996 and communicates using a message board because he cannot speak. His mom, Jodi, helps translate.
He headed out after lunch with his parents to try again.
Asked what he thinks of the event, he drew his fingers across the message board attached to the armrest of his motorized wheelchair.
“I love it.”
Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.
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