Despite suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, Drew Burton, 15, of Germantown Hills shot this Peoria County doe last fall during archery season.
Teen experiences thrill of the hunt
Germantown Hills teen won’t let his disability keep him from love of bow hunting; ‘Right now, all I want is a buck’
Drew Burton sounds like any other bowhunter when he discusses archery deer season.
“Right now, all I want is a buck,” Burton said.
That’s a common desire among archers eager for the Oct. 1 Illinois opener.
But Burton, 15, is far from a common hunter. The Germantown Hills teenager suffers from an inherited disease called spinal muscular atrophy. As a result, he’s undergone numerous surgeries and has seen the inside of a hospital too many times. A steel rod in his back helps him sit straight, yet his hips ache when he stays in any position for too long. He relies on a ventilator to breathe and his weakened immune system means even small illnesses can be life-threatening.
Despite all that, and with the considerable help of stepfather Todd Largent, Burton shot his first deer last bow season. The doe is mounted on a wall in the TV room where Burton spends his free time rooting for the Cubs and Bears.
“That’s my biggest accomplishment,” Burton said, nodding toward the doe and smiling.
But there’s plenty of room for a buck on the basement walls. It’s with that in mind that Burton and Largent will travel to southwest Ohio for a bowhunt Oct. 1-3. That they will be in the woods is a testament to the devotion of both hunters.
For Burton, every trip outside increases the chance of illness. While that creates nervous moments for his mother, Ava, it’s a risk Burton is willing to take.
During his first hunt two years ago, when a group of deer spooked after hearing his ventilator, Burton had a simple order for his stepfather.
“He said, ‘Shut it off,’” Largent said, tears welling in his eyes as he recalled the moment. “He was that determined to make it happen.”
That confident, too. After receiving his first crossbow, Burton told his mother, “It looks like I’ll be the one putting the meat in the tacos this year.”
Problem was, that first bow bolted to Burton’s wheelchair and was difficult to aim. So while he could join his six brothers and sisters during family archery practice, he was unable to take a deer in three hunts.
Several modifications later, Largent devised a motorized system Burton can run with a trigger and two joysticks (actually the fletched ends of arrows).
Using a 12-volt battery and two door openers from a van, the movable platform allows Burton to shift his bow from side to side and up and down. He aims using a green laser light.
Designing a specialized crossbow platform was not entirely new for Largent, whose business ADA Total Access specializes in assisting the handicapped, disabled and elderly.
“We had to get special permits to hunt with the system in Ohio, but it’s worth it,” Largent said.
So was the extra effort required last Nov. 14. That was one of two hunts Burton made last fall and required fast work by Largent after an ill wind forced them to switch spots.
Scrambling paid off. With darkness rapidly descending, a doe approached the blind in which Burton and Largent were positioned. Just when it appeared she would walk right in, the doe spooked and ran a few steps.
“Luckily she stopped and looked back,” Largent said.
Though the 38-yard shot was longer than Burton typically practices, he let a crossbow bolt fly. The doe dropped instantly, then got up and ran before crashing in the timber.
Faced with the mixed emotions of taking his first deer, Burton said simply, “I love you, Dad.”
“I appreciate that to this day, buddy,” Largent said, tears forming in his eyes once again.