Disabled hunters find support in hunting and each other

Disabled hunters find support in hunting and each other
By: Carly O'Keefe

MAKANDA, Ill. - A few years back, glaucoma stole Dongola resident Jeremy Holderfield's sight. At first he thought the disease would take even more than that.
"I couldn't drive or work no more; I thought I'd have to give up hunting and everything all together," said Holderfield. "I was a deer hunter before, and taking that away from me really hurt."
Holderfield is now completely blind, but with the encouragement of his family and the help of an annual archery hunt for individuals with disabilities at SIU's Touch of Nature, he's regained his ability to take part in the sport he's always enjoyed.
"Now that I'm back at it, I love it," Holderfield said.
Jeremy's not the only hunter who's learned through the event that having a disability doesn't mean you're down and out.
"I had a drunk driver hit me and I have metal plates in my back, I have difficulty walking," said hunter Bob Prescott of Fairview Heights, Illinois. "But with the aid of my helpers, I got two deer, a button buck and a doe."
"These individuals have varying types of disabilities, but that's not going to get in their way, they're outdoorsmen," said archery hunt coordinator Vicki Lang.
It's not just hunting that keeps hunters coming back year after year. Some say even if they don't harvest a deer--the friendships they build make the whole weekend worthwhile.
"The camaraderie of people who's injured like me, I learn things to help me with my hunting and with my life in general from other people in chairs, other people with disabilities," said hunter Arthur Hunt of Harrisburg.
"That's what it's all about sitting together at evening time and hearing everybody's stories," said Holderfield, "If you get a deer, that's just a bonus."
The annual hunt is organized through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources--but is funded entirely by donations and hunter entry fees. Only Illinois hunters who are permanently disabled are permitted to take part in the event. This year 15 disabled hunters were approved by IDNR to participate.