This past weekend I was blessed to be a part of an amazing event. The Special Youth Challenge Ministries of Northwest Iowa held their annual turkey hunt, and I was fortunate enough to get to participate as a guide during the hunt. It was definitely an experience I won't forget!
SYC is a non-profit, volunteer ministry that exists for the purpose of reaching people for Jesus Christ. The organization's vision is to empower physically challenged youth to enjoy hunting and the shooting sports and diminish a portion of their disability by teaching them to overcome barriers of the outdoors through the use of special methods, equipment or assistance from volunteers who desire to share their passion for shooting and hunting.
The event kicked off Friday afternoon when the hunters and guides began to arrive. The hunters are given the opportunity to get familiar with the equipment they will be using. The guns are modified so that hunters with limited mobility can use them by looking at a small video screen that shows the view through the scope and pressing a push-button controller that squeezes the trigger. Here is a picture of the setup.
Here is a short video I took of one of the hunters getting familiar with the gun. This was the first time this young man had ever fired a gun. (You can also click here to check out the video.)
On Friday evening a banquet was held where a delicious meal was served, a speaker delivered a message from God's Word, and each of the hunters were introduced. This year's event was one of the largest ever, with a total of 23 hunters participating. Each hunter is usually accompanied by a parent or guardian, and they are paired up with at least two guides for the hunt. There are also many behind the scenes volunteers who prepare food, landowners who donate the use of their property, and lots of people setting up and tearing down before and after the event. So altogether there are several hundred people who are involved to make the weekend a success.
The first hunt was scheduled for Saturday morning as all 23 hunters took to the field with their guides in search of that trophy longbeard. Despite some windy weather, that morning's hunt turned out to be great as five of the hunters harvested a turkey.
I was paired up with a young man from Minnesota named Zach Olson. Zach was involved in an automobile accident a few years ago that left him in a coma for 5 1/2 months. The injuries he suffered during the accident also affected his mobility which is improving, but he primarily has to remain in his wheelchair. I was also accompanied on the hunt by two other guides - Greg Somers and Josh Nelson.
During the first morning's hunt we heard turkeys gobbling all around us, but we just couldn't seem to coaxe one within shooting range. So we came back to camp empty handed on Saturday morning. But that evening proved to be a different story!
When we got to the blind that afternoon, the rain was steadily falling and at one point it was literally a downpour. That's when we noticed a hen and a gobbler walk out into the cornfield to our right about 100 yards away. The turkey calling duties had been assigned to me, and I tried my best to get the gobbler's attention with the slate call, but the rain was coming down so hard that he couldn't hear me. About 30 minutes later, after the rain subsided, I started hitting the call again. By this time the gobbler was out of sight, but I got him to respond to the call.
We could hear him answering back with a loud gobble almost everytime I hit the call over the next half hour. The rainfall hitting the blind and the sound of my slate call had apparently sung Zach to sleep, so as he snoozed the other guides and I kept our eyes peeled for the bird. After about a dozen gobbles from the tom in response to the call, it finally sounded like he was closing the distance. We could tell he was not far behind our blind, and when I looked to my right I saw him walking in directly to the decoys.
That's when all three of us guides began to frantically try to wake Zach up! We finally got him awake and ready to make the shot when we realized the safety on the gun was still on. So we got the safety off and helped Zach get realigned on the bird again. The slow day of nodding off in the blind quickly turned into about a minute of tense adrenaline. Zach fired the gun and made a great shot! The bird was standing 26 yards away, just past the decoys, and Zach hammered him with the 20 guage. Josh and Greg had no problems recovering the bird. We all celebrated, high-fived, and enjoyed the moment. The bird was an old tom that had a 10 1/2" beard and 1" spurs.
Congratulations on harvesting your first turkey Zach! I also should mention that SYC has taxidermy work done for each of the hunters who harvested a bird so they can show off and enjoy their trophy!
There were lots of memorable moments from the weekend, and one that I don't want to fail to mention was the opportunity I had to meet a young man named Matt Stutzman.
Matt is such an inspiration! He was born without arms, but has become one of the best archers you will ever see shoot a bow. How does he shoot a bow you might ask? Check out this video of Matt in action! (You can also click here to check out the video.)
As you can tell, it was a weekend full of inspiration and ministry. For more information about SYC Ministries or to make a donation check out their website at http://www.syciowa.com/. Here are some more pictures from the event.