United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA) held its 20th anniversary IL Dream Hunt in Harrisburg on October 7th-10th. Twenty special hunters attended from six states, some as far as Georgia and South Carolina. The kid’s target practice with their mentors on Friday with a follow-up hunter refresher course. Then received their hunting license, orange vest and hat, t-shirt, hearing protection, backpack with a compass, flashlight, and other hunting accessories, and a beautiful handmade fleece blanket. You could sense the excitement among the crowd as they talked about the deer hunts that would begin early the following morning.
Before sunrise, all the children were in their blinds with their mentors and parent or guardian, hoping a deer would come out into the field they were hunting. While back at camp, the rest of the group waited anxiously for news from the hunters.
Twelve-year-old Jalen, his dad Joshua, and mentor Greg Robinson entered an elevated redneck blind sitting over a food plot. As the morning progressed, Jalen noticed a deer in the field off to his left and whispered, “here it comes…here it comes!” When the deer got into shooting range, Greg asked him if he had the crosshairs on it. He answered yes, and at 7:30 am, Jalen took the shot, and the deer dropped. Jalen said, “I felt happy when my dad told me about the deer hunt because it was my first time. The best part for me was sitting in the blind and getting the deer in the crosshairs, and it’s important because if you don’t, you will miss.” Greg said, “It was a beautiful morning, beautiful hunt; we got to see some turkey and other deer; it was a great experience, and thankful to be here and part of it.” Joshua added, “Watching the sunrise over the treetops and the dew leave the grass was an amazing experience as the forest sprang to life. Seeing God’s beautiful creation while my son bagged his deer was breathtaking for us.”
Eleven-year-old Kayden, his dad, and mentor Rick Stillman saw six deer come out into the field but too far out to shoot. Shortly after the deer left, a nice doe came into the shooting range. Rick said, “Kayden made a perfect shot; the deer spun around a bit and dropped.” Kayden said, “I was so excited because it was my first deer!”
Early that afternoon, eighteen-year-old Zachary, his father, and mentor Rhett Guidry got set up again in the blind, and in a short time, the deer came into the field from the right. Rhett said, “His dad and I told him the deer was at 70 yards to take his time. Shortly afterward, he took a shot and dropped the deer at 70 yards with a crossbow which I have never seen before.” Robert said, “When he pulled the trigger, we watched the arrow arch down, thinking it wasn’t going to make it to the deer, and incredibly the doe ducted right into the arrow as it hit the deer, and my son dropped it right there.” Zachary said, “I shot the deer with a crossbow 70 yards down the field, and it dropped in its tracks; it was unbelievable.” Then, while looking down at the ground and smiling with so much emotion, Rhett added, “it was great, yes, great!”
Fourteen-year-old Bradly Gaston was ready to experience an afternoon deer hunt with his dad and mentor, Steve Lewis. They had sat patiently observing the landscape that morning, but no deer had come out into the field. They returned to the blind around 2:00 pm and settled in; after a couple of hours of scanning the field, two deer walked out and began grazing as they walked along. Steve said, “I helped Bradly position the gun and told him to take his time because it’s important to take a good ethical shot.” Favorably, the deer got closer and closer to the blind. Bradley said, “finally, one turned broadside where I had the perfect position to shoot using a single shot!” Steve nodded in agreement, “he dropped it cleanly with one shot. I padded him on the back and told him I was proud of him and the great shot he just made.”
After a morning sitting with no deer in sight, fifteen-year-old Kate, her mom, and mentor, Mike Stone, headed back out to their blind at 4 pm. Mike said, “Kate sat still for 2 ½ hours and never said a word to anyone; she communicated with us through sign language. We all laughed when she said, using hand gestures, “I know a deer will come out because I don’t like getting up in the morning.” Then Kate said a prayer and shortly following, her doe came out into the clover field, and it was down in a blink of an eye, thanks to Kate’s persistence and faith.
Thirteen-year-old Anthony and his father, Kevin, and mentor Allen Jones went into an area with an open blind in a cornfield early that morning, but with the full moon, they didn’t see any deer. Allen said, “We knew we had the right setup and things in place, so we were very excited to return to the same location.” Later in the evening, seven deer came out all around them in the field, and then an hour before dark, a 4-point buck in velvet came out and into shooting range. Aaron said, “With no hesitation at all, Anthony was able to go over techniques we practice and then pick up the bow and pointed right at it, which was just under 90 yards. He shot it in the right spot flawlessly, put it down, and had nothing but smiles.” Anthony added, “It was my first deer, and I was a little nervous yet excited!” Kevin said, “The excitement on his face after he pulled the trigger says it all; I think I have myself a lifetime hunter, a new hunting buddy forever.”
Fifteen-year-old Abby and her mentor Lukas Shelby did not see a deer in the morning, but they returned later in the afternoon, hoping a deer would come out in range of their ground blind. Finally, around 6:30 pm, Lucas spotted deer to their left in the woods. Lucas said, “we had to resituate and get the gun out the left window, and there was a tree in the way. So she had to shoot over me a little bit. It was not too far, but it was not an ideal shot, but she made a good shot on it.” Abby said, “when I first learned about my hunt, I was excited but a little nervous, and now I feel accomplished.”
Thirteen-year-old Destiny and her mentors, Robie Pruitt and Dalton Brownfield, returned to their ground blind later in the afternoon on Saturday. Robie saw two deer out the side window left of the blind grazing and motioned for everyone to be quiet so the deer would get in shooting range. While quietly watching the deer, Robbie and Dalton helped Destiny get the 20-gauge up in the stand and shoulder it. After looking through the scope, she pulled the trigger and dropped the deer in its tracks. She was smiling ear to ear and said, “one shot and down!!”
The excitement around the camp was contagious, with seven does and one buck bagged by the kids on opening day! Anticipation of the following day filled the room as they hit the sack early.
15-year-old Bobbi was excited that her sister had gotten a deer the night before and was determined to get one too. In time she and her mentors saw a deer come out into the clearcut and stop around 120 yards from their hunting blind. Bobbie looked through the scope, put the crosshairs on the doe, and squeezed the trigger, and it only went out 20 yards and dropped! Aaron Snider said, “this was my first time mentoring, and it was an outstanding experience. Anything you can do to help other kids is wonderful. “Help them all,” he said with enthusiasm, “It’s what makes the world go around.”
Ten-year-old Ava, her father, and mentor, Britt Martin, hunted out of an enclosed tower stand. They saw several does the day before but could not get a shot on one. Then around 8:30 am, a nice 6-point buck came into their field of view, and shortly after, Ava, with the guidance of her mentor, bagged her first deer. She was extremely excited and overwhelmed with joy. They waited in the blind, then tracked it about 30 feet from where the deer was standing. Kris added, “the most impacting moment for me was the kids and families I met throughout the weekend. A very humbling experience.”
Thirteen-year-old Bryonna and her mentor Shannon Rome saw only a doe in the field before the sun rose on opening day. However, the following day more deer were moving, and Bryonna said, “I shot at a buck first but missed, and they went to trail it but didn’t find it.” Her dad said, “We had seen about five deer earlier in the morning, but the action was slowing down, and our hopes of getting a deer were as well.” Then around 7:45 am, Bryonna spotted a doe on the other side of the field walking in the woods. It came out into a nice clearing at about 65 yards. She got the deer in her sights, waited for a good shot, pulled the trigger on her 20-gauge shotgun, and made a perfect shot. The deer dropped right where it stood, and Bryonna was excitedly shaking. Her dad said, “I couldn’t have been prouder of my daughter watching her regain confidence quickly from her earlier miss and bagging this nice doe.” He added, “Shannon and all the other mentors were some of the most selfless people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.”
Fourteen-year-old Ian, his mother Kayla, and their mentors Jeremiah Hanks and 10-year-old Hadley had an exciting opening day. An outdoor experience most of us only dream about experiencing! They counted 54 deer in the morning and 24 later in the evening, Ian was excited about seeing all the deer, but unfortunately, the buck he wanted didn’t come into the shooting range. Jeremiah said, “the following morning, we saw several deer, then a nice 4-point buck came out into the clearcut. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop moving and made it impossible for Ian to take a shot.” Then very soon after, a nice doe followed the buck, and Ian was so excited he took a perfect shot and dropped it in its tracks. Everyone was delighted, including Hadley, who gave up her hunting privileges to help mentor Ian’s hunt.
Garrison, his dad Gary and mentor, George Hanks, saw around 27 deer on Saturday but too far out to shoot with a bow. George said, “Garrison was very patient and would get excited when he saw deer.” George noticed a doe about sixty yards away paralleling them and got right even with the hunting blind and turned right and came straight towards them and stopped at 15 yards. “It was meant to be,” said George. They had the bow set up on a rest, making it easy for Garrison to move it and point it toward the deer. While Garrison was looking down the scope, George asked him if he could see the deer, and he answered, “yes!” Then around 9 am, the young man took a shot, and the deer ran about 75 yards and dropped. When they got out to the deer, he was excited. George added, “I’d rather see a child shoot a deer than shoot one myself. I have hunted most of my life, and this is my first year mentoring for a special kid, and if the Lord’s willing, I look forward to participating next year.”
Jeremiah turned 13 years old on the first day of the hunt, and what could be a better birthday present than to experience your first deer hunt? With his brother Isiah, and mentor Josh McKlusky, they enter the blind on Sunday afternoon, hoping a deer would come out of the hardwoods. Isiah said, “We were out glassing a 6-point buck to the west, and I turned around and saw a nice doe about 150 yards out.” He whispered to his brother and Josh that a deer was behind him. Jeremiah turned around in the blind and made a difficult but perfect shot right through the heart. Jeremiah said, “I didn’t feel anything until I shot my deer; then, I was shaking intensely. The best part of my hunt was walking up on the deer and seeing it lying there, and it was only 50 yards away from the truck.”
Sixteen-year-old Morgan said, ” it’s always been my dream to hunt in Illinois.” While sitting in a deer stand with her father, Bill, and mentor, Brian Walker, they saw a few does and a nice buck come out on the first day of the hunt, but none piqued her interest. Morgan said, “this morning, we saw deer everywhere. But none I wanted to shoot, so I passed on it, hoping to see a buck this afternoon. But at 6:30 pm, right before it was too late to shoot, this 3-point buck from yesterday walked right back out and stopped in front of me, and I took the shot, and he went down!” Brian said, “this has been my first year mentoring, and we experienced ups and downs, and it wasn’t exactly what she hoped for but had a great time got a nice deer. As a father and grandfather, I look forward to introducing other children to the great outdoors and mentoring next year’s hunt.” Bill said, “It meant so much to me to spend time with my daughter doing something she really enjoys. But, the best part for me is coming to this camp and seeing all the children, parents, and guides and how much they put into this hunt, a memorable hunt for everyone involved.” Then, with emotion, he added, “If you can get a kid into something like this rather than the bad things in the world, it’s worth doing whatever you need to do!”
In all, the kids bagged three bucks, and twelve does. Shout out to all the USSA hunters for a job well done, and may the beautiful memories continue to live on long after your hunt!! Much gratitude for the hard work and devotion of the guides, landowners, volunteers, and Oxford Youth Camp for making it a memorable event.
We appreciate the financial support of Whitetails Unlimited National Headquarters, Alexander County Whitetails Unlimited Chapter, Black River County Chapter Whitetails Unlimited, Random Lake Rod & Gun Club, IL Federation for Outdoor Resources, Hartland Lake Country Rotary Club, and Joe Morris Excavating LLC, and other local sponsors and donors.
Lastly, we would like to thank Mike Stone, his family, and the IL Dream Hunt Committee for their time and dedication toward the USSA’s Mission of free outdoor accessibility for all! God bless!
If you know of a deserving child or veteran who might want to attend a free hunting trip, don’t hesitate to contact United Special Sportsman Alliance.