Buckmasters Classic gives disabled children chance to hunt

Published 5:19 pm Monday, February 2, 2009

Skylar Blair needed redemption at the 16th annual Buckmasters Life Hunt Classic at Sedgefield Plantation in Dallas County last week.

He’d missed a nice 8-point the afternoon before. He knew he couldn’t afford another miss with kangaroo court set for the final day of the three-day event, which brings about a dozen disabled hunters from across the nation to the prime hunting land owned by the Hinton family in west central Alabama.

Blair, like his dad, David, suffers from muscular dystrophy. The Blair’s have a form of the disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological disorder that causes damage to the peripheral nerves that carry signals from the brain and spinal cord to muscles, as well as relay sensations, such as pain and touch, to the brain and spinal cord from the rest of the body.

“It makes life a little harder, but you learn to live with it,” said the 17-year-old Skylar, whose family hails from Huntsville.

But he’s not blaming his disease for his miss on the opening day of the hunt. “I don’t know what happened,” Skylar said. “I guess I got in a hurry (aka buck fever).”

It was cold and blustery on the second morning, and Skylar and his guide, Clayton Lynn, had only seen does and yearlings.

“We were actually climbing down out of the stand,” said Skylar, who was nominated for the hunt by the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association. “We had been rattling and we were climbing down. We looked up and there were two bucks walking right at us. They were getting closer and closer.

Skylar climbed back into the stand and got his rifle reloaded.

“Finally we stopped him at about 40 yards,” he said. “I don’t remember how Clayton stopped him. I was focused on the shot. I wasn’t going to miss again.”

After the shot, the buck ran over a hill about 50 yards away and disappeared. Fortunately, the buck had gone down just out of sight.

“When we got down and went to him I didn’t realize how big he was,” Skylar said. “I walked over to him and said, ‘Wow, that’s a really good deer.’ It’s going to make a nice mount. This was my first rack buck.”

The elder Blair said he is not an outdoorsman and can’t take any credit for his son’s love of hunting.

“But I do think it was genetic,” David said. “When he was young and had the opportunity to watch cartoons, he never would. He was always watching The Outdoor Channel and the outdoors shows on ESPN and Buckmasters. It’s always been in his blood, and I don’t know where it came from. He’s lucky that we have a lot of family members who like to hunt, so he goes with them.”

Skylar added: “I hunt all the time. I hunt mainly deer, but I duck hunt sometimes, and I go squirrel hunting some. Hunting is a big part of my life.”

Making dreams – like Skylar’s – come true at this hunt is the main goal for Jackie Bushman, who founded Buckmasters in his hometown of Montgomery in 1986.

“We’ve been doing this 16 years, and I can’t believe it’s been that long since David Sullivan called me about doing a show on the old TNN,” said Bushman. “I told David I needed help to get through that first hunt. After that episode aired, our phone lines just lit up, and we basically became a network for disabled hunters, which we’re real proud of. Now, I think we’ve done between 5,000 and 6,000 disabled hunts.

“We’re in a recession, but when you come down here nobody is having a bad day. To have the opportunity to help these kids and adults get their first deer or first nice buck, it’s priceless.”

Bushman stays busy videoing episodes of Buckmasters and the Jackie Bushman Show, but he’s never too busy for the Life Hunt Classic.

“I say this every year–we do 39 original shows each year, and if the networks said I could only do one show, this would be it,” he said. “It means more to me personally because of all the kids, parents, the Hinton’s and the guides who work so hard to make this happen. To see the smiles on these kids’ and adults’ faces, it makes it all worth it. For some of them, it’s their first deer. It’s an honor for us to do this.

“We’ve seen a lot of different disabilities in the 16 years, but we’ve never seen one that we couldn’t find adaptive equipment to make the hunt happen. It’s a neat three days, that’s all I can say.”

Soon after that first disabled hunt, the aforementioned David Sullivan became the director of Disabled Hunter Services for Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, the non-profit wing of Buckmasters.

“Our goal is to touch people’s lives and give them hope,” Sullivan said. “We hope that some will take home a trophy deer. But I’ll tell you some of the best hunts we’ve had, people have gone home without a deer but just had a wonderful time.”

Sullivan said he and his staff scrutinize applications and end up with about 50-60 viable applicants for the Classic. The ones who aren’t chosen for the Classic are included on other hunts.

“The thing that amazes me is that all the volunteers seem to get more out of the hunt than the hunters do,” he said. “And we’ve been able to accommodate a variety of disabilities from people who were completely blind to quadriplegics who couldn’t move anything from the neck down to one young man who didn’t have any limbs, and he was able to take a deer.

“It’s a team effort. The Hinton’s do a wonderful job. They get their friends and family to help out. We’ve got our blind building down to a science, and we pretty well know where to put the blinds. The only things we can’t control are the deer and the weather, and the Good Lord always takes care of that for us.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also offers opportunities for disabled individuals who enjoy hunting, shooting and fishing.

The Alabama Hunting and Fishing Trail for People with Physical Disabilities features 17 areas available for hunting across the state, as well as 11 shooting sites and 20 fishing venues.