Talon News - Good Local News

By Rashel Korte



Rashel Korte

Craig Hunter at the San Juan Wildlife Federation

They aren't your traditional hunters. They don't hike miles into the outdoors after a deer, sometimes their trigger finger isn't a flesh and blood finger at all, but a contraption activated through a blow tube to pull the trigger. They're the physically disabled hunters, disabled by paralysis, amputations, multiple sclerosis, and strokes. Even though they may not have the use of their legs or arms they are still able to get outdoors and go hunting.

Through the Outdoor Buddies program, and under the training of Craig Hunter, disabled civilians and veterans are able to put in and go hunting. The process starts just like any other hunt - putting in for a tag and hoping to get lucky. The Outdoor Buddies program has 28,000 acres located in Northern Colorado specifically for disabled hunters and youth to put in to draw out for. To this day they have had disabled hunters from 36 different states come to hunt.

After drawing out, the lucky few get with a coach to prepare for their hunt. In our area, that's Craig Hunter. For the past seven years Hunter has been volunteering with youth and disabled alike, helping to prepare them for their hunts. While the hunters have to provide their own gun and ammo, Outdoor Buddies provides a Half Track unit to use for mobility while hunting. The Half Track is a wheelchair fully equipped with rifle mounts, controls and off road terrain tracks. They are equipped for shooting all kinds of guns, whether hunting ducks or an elk. The Outdoor Buddies allows hunters to use these at no cost. In some cases hunters elect to hunt out of a vehicle rather than maneuver a Half Track. After practicing, Hunter accompanies hunters to the field to (hopefully) complete their hunt.

Hunter, a Vietnam Veteran, was laid up in a hospital in Japan when he decided he would do anything he could to help veterans who had lost limbs and suffered other debilitating injuries return to a semi normal life. "I was there seeing all these people coming in for these terrible injuries. I saw them and could just imagine what they would have to go through the rest of their life," says Hunter. "All I could think was 'If there is anything I can do to help improve their status in life. I will help'."Hunter, who had volunteered at the San Juan Wildlife Federation with the youth Air Rifle team, approached the board to gain approval to get involved and establish a program in partner with Outdoor Buddies. After gaining approval he started setting up and working with people in this area. Last year he worked with four people, one of which has started shooting and becoming involved at the Wildlife Federation's other matches. As Hunter says "It's about getting outdoors and doing something. Setting goals and having these accomplishments to overcome your disabilities". In preparation for the hunt, hunters will practice driving up 200 yards from the target and getting set up and firing, all within seconds. For duck and geese hunters there is property set aside with pits dug in the ground. Hunters are able to set up in their Half Tracks in the pits to shoot at fowl. Hunter told me about one such hunt he was able to go on with a double amputee, Vietnam Veteran. They were able to set up in one of these pits, Craig Hunter called the birds in while his partner shot them.

Hunter doesn't just mentor the disabled. Outdoor Buddies also has youth shooting programs that Hunter is involved with. Last year he was able to work with a local youth to take her out on an antelope hunt. That same youth has put in for another hunt again this year.

The Outdoor Buddies program has been made available solely through donations of land, time and money. If you or someone you know is interested contact Craig Hunter at (303)514-7810. Every third Tuesday of the month from 9am-12pm there will be practices. You don't have to be preparing for a hunt to come out, those looking to learn or improve their marksmanship are welcome. The program is completely free.


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