Courtesy of Neil Gottfried
Wheelin’ in the woods
It’s spring turkey season, and those with the urge who are able have been out in the woods every morning looking to bag a big one.
Unfortunately, not all with the urge are able.
That’s where members of the Lima Crossroads Limbhangers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation came in on Saturday, May 5th, when they hosted a turkey hunt for hunters with disabilities at Letchworth State Park.
It was a big step for the fledgling chapter, which is now just a year and a half old, but it’s just the beginning for them.
“We’ve got lots of different programs on tap,” said event organizer Neil Gottfried. “We’re working through the Wheelin’ Sportsmen program that the NWTF sponsors, and it’s about more than just turkey hunting. You can hunt anything, go fishing, or do whatever you want.”
On Saturday, though, it was all about turkey hunting, and four individuals got a chance to experience what most of us can do just by picking up a gun and walking into the woods unaided.
“Since it was our first time, we were happy with just the four people,” said Gottfried. “There was a lot of setting up to do, and it gave us the opportunity to find out what we needed to do without getting overwhelmed.”
Fortunately, the only people who were overwhelmed were the participants, but only with emotion.
“Awesome! Wonderful!” said Patti Loquasto, who came in from Grand Island, NY. “We had a great time. There was lots of noise from the birds, but none of them wanted to play,” she laughed. “But it was great to get out there, I saw some things that I wouldn’t have ordinarily, like a woodchuck and a raccoon, and I’m pretty certain I saw a bobcat. I only saw it for an instant, but it was the right size and I didn’t see a tail, so I’m thinking that it was.”
Afflicted with polio since early childhood, Patti was very appreciative of the effort put forth by the Limbhangers. “Those guys are awesome. I wouldn’t have been able to go hunting without this, so I’m really grateful, and I can’t thank them enough. It’s hard to accept help, but sometimes you gotta, and they just give it so freely, it really warms my heart.”
Dansville’s Rick Plaff is another who has been forced to deal with a disability for a long time after a loader bucket came down on him 22 years ago. But like all the participants, the event was about enjoying what they can do, and not dwelling on what they can’t.
“It was great,” he said. “It was exciting just to hear the birds. We saw a couple of hens, but they weren’t attracting any attention from the gobblers, so they didn’t show. Still, it was a great time, and it was a great thing they did. They really put a lot of work into it, scouting and setting up blinds, and I’d really like to commend them.”
Another local man who was very appreciative was Livonia’s Joe Aman. An avid hunter and fisherman before breaking his neck four years ago, Joe has been on a mission ever since to reclaim his passion. So much so, that the first thing he did when he returned from rehab was to get out in the woods.
“It was the first day of shotgun season,” he said, “so after getting home and saying hello to everyone, I got some help and went out and set up for a deer. I hadn’t been home for more than an hour and a half.”
That didn’t mean things went well right off the bat.
“It was real difficult at first,” he said. “I couldn’t hold the gun or even pull the trigger by myself. So I did some research and found some wheelchair innovations that have helped, and I’ve worked hard to get my motor skills back to where I could do more.”
What has also helped Joe do more is his new tracked wheelchair, which he used in Saturday’s hunt.
”It’s great,” he said. “It has really expanded where I can go and what I can do.”
Combine what he already has with people willing to help out, and you had the makings of a good day in the woods on Saturday.
“Those guys did a great job,” said Joe. “They put everybody on birds.”
And that may be a small thing to you or I, but it’s a huge thing for someone who can’t do it alone.
“We’re glad as a chapter to help people in our community get outdoors and enjoy themselves and do things they might not be able to do on their own,” said Gottfried. “We are also very grateful and would like to thank Park Manager Roland Beck and his staff for all they did to make this a great outdoor memory for everyone.”
If you’d also like to contribute in a small way, the Limbhangers are sponsoring their first “Strutt & Putt” Golf Tournament at Lima Country Club, on Saturday Jun 16th, with a Shotgun start at 10 a.m. For an entry form, email club president Brian Gottfried.