Corps host turkey hunt for disabled hunters in SD

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - There is nothing quite like the thundering sound of a tom turkey announcing its presence to all the hens in a given area.

For most turkey hunters, chasing those wily birds is, in theory, fairly simple; pick a weapon, find a call, draw a tag and start walking. But for the small group of hunters who drew turkey tags for the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area it isn’t quite that simple.

“All the hunters have some handicap to where they can’t get around,” said Mike Stanley, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The turkey hunt was an idea that Stanley spearheaded as a way to take advantage of another resource and give disabled hunters another opportunity. Each hunter can bring a caller or, if they need it, a volunteer can be on hand to give them some help, Stanley said.

The Corps has partnered with the Game, Fish and Parks Department to hold a deer hunt for disabled hunters every fall for around 20 years, Stanley said. Every year, as many as 12 deer hunters are able to participate in a two-day rifle deer season at the recreation area. They are the only hunters allowed in the area.

The turkey hunt was an extension of the same idea.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Oahe Downstream Recreation Area District Park Supervisor Pat Buscher who works with the hunters to try and give them the best opportunities.

Stanley applied for a grant through the National Wild Turkey Federation aimed at establishing food plots for the recreation area’s turkey population. The Corps and GF&P; also worked with several local organizations to build a set of 10 semi-permanent hunting blinds for the deer hunts. Those blinds are also a convenient place for turkey hunters to hide.

“What this hunt does is introduce new people to turkey hunting” said Colin Smith, a regional biologist with the federation. “It just really is part of our mission.”

That fits with the organization’s national Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt initiative. It also provided an opportunity for the Corps to advance some of its wildlife habitat goals.

“It’s great for us because we’re able to accomplish things that our budgets would have curtailed,” said Corps of Engineers Natural Resource Manager Phil Sheffield.

Each blind features a door that acts as a wheelchair ramp when opened and a shooting rest designed to be wheelchair friendly. The blinds are accessible by vehicle so it only takes a minimal amount of overland travel to access one.

“We have it set up just for them to, hopefully, harvest a deer or turkey,” Stanley said.

A total of five South Dakotans drew turkey tags for the Downstream Recreation Area this year. The state offered four resident tags and one non-resident tag this year, Stanley said, but no non-residents applied.

Members of the National Wild Turkey Federation from around the state volunteered to hunt with anyone who needed them, Smith said.

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