By Rod Slings
Central Iowa Long Spurs Member
Hunting safety expert and retired Iowa DNR law enforcement supervisor,
“This day changed lives!”
A quote heard over and over, from our hunters and our volunteers, at the 2015 Wheel’n Sportsmen Turkey Hunt. The weather was not what we had ordered. Conditions were strong winds and heavy rain beginning at sunrise and that came in waves. However, that did not dampen the spirits of our hunters in the turkey woods. At the end of the hunt, 11-year-old Quinton was the one hunter that harvested a turkey.
As the hunters and volunteers began to arrive at 3:00 a.m. (yes, that’s in the morning), the excitement began to build. The camouflaged clad silhouettes came in, one at a time, armed with big smiles and filled with anticipation of what the day had in store. Without hesitation, handshakes, hugs, the reestablishment of old friendships and establishing of new ones began. Those in wheelchairs, power chairs and those that needed just a little guidance were welcomed and made comfortable to find a place at the breakfast table.
Welcoming everyone was first on the agenda, followed by introductions, a prayer for safety and thanks for the resource about to be enjoyed. A hot breakfast was served, along with the Pledge of Allegiance and a safety briefing was all part of the plan.
Then, Team Todd, Team Cole, Team Angie, Team Quinton, Team Matthew, and more, began to load up and head for the turkey woods with guides and helpers ready to begin their hunt. Blinds had been set, those that needed to be lifted into Utility Terrain Vehicles were lifted, those that need to be driven to the door of the blind were carefully guided in the dark.
This event is about people helping people, kindness, respect and love of the outdoors all rolled into one event. It changes people in just a few hours; it creates life long bonds between those that do not have the luxury of easy mobility and those that before this event took it for granted.
It’s about sitting beside an American hero and hearing their stories of war in a dark hunting blind.
It’s about sitting next to someone whose life changed in a moment in time, then reflecting on one's own life.
The harvest of a turkey is just a small part of being part of this spring morning in Iowa.
It’s about life.
It’s about empathy, courage and watching the world wake up in a place where everyone is equal in creation.
Listening closely, watching for someone who cannot see.
It’s about being their eyes, being their helper, or just being their friend.
Some think this event is about harvesting turkeys, but it is so much more than that.
It’s about life; it is about improving the quality of lives.
It’s about a new adventure for a person that is now a hunter that just happens to be mobility challenged.
It’s also about a helper who is now surrounded by a new environment, which even brings rejuvenation to their soul.
It’s about the guide that is helping share the gift of the hunt in this wild outdoor place.
Finally, for everyone involved, it’s the excitement of the sound of a gobble or songbirds singing the praises of a new day.
For these hunters, it’s not like their yesterday, it’s about making memories today, for their tomorrow.
The results of this event cannot be measured. It can only be shared, enjoyed and become part of our individual life stories. It’s not certain whose lives are most improved or impacted by this experience. We can only hope it improves those lives that this event is intended for, only if for a few hours, or reflecting on their memories made and the photographs taken.
A very special thanks to the American heroes at Camp Dodge, whose passion for helping disabled veterans participating in our hunt is always beyond the call of duty! The Rangers and Staff at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Saylorville Lake and their never-ending hospitality with meeting space, for planning, site preparation and scouting for success. The Staff at Polk County’s Jester Park and hosting our base camp for the event and providing hunting blind locations. Thanks to our volunteers for giving of their time and skills to serve as guides and helpers those who make this event possible. Also, to our cooks who serve a wonderful breakfast and celebration lunch to all of those who attend. Most importantly, thanks to our extraordinary hunters and their families.
We want to thank each of them for allowing us to honor them with an experience we hope they will treasure as much as we do.