- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

SELMA, Ala. The five youngsters all disabled or terminally ill said their biggest wish was to go hunting for white-tailed deer. They got their wish and five white-tailed deer.
"Who can say no to a kid whose heart is set on a deer hunt?" asks Jimmy Hinton Jr., whose father has served on the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board under five governors.
Begin this story by envisioning a small shop nestled among Spanish moss-draped trees, one that sells two-pound bags of unshelled pecans for $1. "Because we pick 'em off the ground in front of the store," the clerk said. Up the road, near the town of Safford, the 12,500-acre Sedgefield Plantation opened its private gates to the five youngsters.
Sedgefield isn't a place where a deer occasionally scoots across a farm lane. It's an intensely managed property that can produce dozens of trophy bucks every hunting season, not to mention scads of quail and wild turkeys. But it is not a commercial hunting facility. The owners, engaged in a number of nonfarm businesses, use Sedgefield as a refuge from workday pressures and now and then invite friends to share in its incredibly rich wildlife bounty. Over the years, the legendary Alabama football coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, spent many happy hours at the plantation, as did sports broadcaster Curt Gowdy and a covey of national and local politicians.
The plantation is just the kind of place that the guru of American deer hunters, Jackie Bushman, 46, dreamed of when his 350,000-member Buckmasters organization delivered what certain wish-granting charities no longer are willing to let young people do.
"Buckmasters has taken it upon itself to take kids hunting if that is their wish," says Mr. Bushman. The epitome of a Southern gentleman, Mr. Bushman will not say a negative word about the national Make-A-Wish Foundation, which not long ago caved in to animal-rights activists and announced that it would cease granting hunting wishes.
Said Mr. Bushman: "We were into this long before animal rights groups became involved, so what we do is a no-brainer."
When the inevitable why-not-go-to-Disney-World question was asked, Mr. Bushman quoted a child who had cystic fibrosis.
"My wish is not to go to Disney World or get a new bike," he recalled the boy as saying. "My dream is to go hunting with you."
Mr. Bushman made sure that the wish the youngster's last was granted.
"I want to help," Mr. Bushman said. "All it takes is a little help. These kids want no sympathy."
Thanks to the Hinton family, which owns Sedgefield, Mr. Bushman and his Buckmasters American Deer Foundation a separate, nonprofit corporation that listens to requests from disabled hunters of all ages enjoy favorite-visitor status at the plantation.
So the Buckmasters receive red-carpet treatment in Alabama, where Mr. Bushman founded his now national group.
To generate additional excitement for his 16th annual Buckmasters Classic Life Hunt, the savvy entrepreneur asked some of his friends and fellow hunters to join the festivities. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy gladly obliged; so did the first baseman for the Cleveland Indians, Jim Thome, as well as NASCAR driver Ward Burton and entertainer Irlene Mandrell of the musical Mandrell sisters. Even the governor of Alabama, Donald Siegelman, showed up to support Mr. Bushman's program.

Toolmaker Paul Webb and his wife, Donna, came to Sedgefield from Brogue, Pa., to be with their 14-year-old son, Andrew, a ninth-grader with leukemia whose biggest wish was to hunt deer and meet his hero, Mr. Bushman.
Andrew is due for a bone marrow transplant at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, but when the doctors discovered he had a chance to hunt deer in Alabama, they urged him to go. The bone marrow transplant could wait.
Andrew began hunting with his dad when he was only 10, and the prospect of shooting a buck on the Sedgefield property had him more than a little excited. "I called the Buckmasters' David Sullivan, the director of the group's Disabled Hunter Service," Paul Webb recalled. "I really didn't think he'd invite Andrew, but David immediately told us to come on down." Mr. Sullivan's invitation, by the way, extended to mom and dad. The Buckmasters American Deer Foundation picked up the bill.
On the afternoon of the hunt's last day, Andrew, waiting in a tree stand with an adult guide who pointed out whenever a deer might be close enough, shot a 7-point buck. To say he was elated is putting it mildly.

On Day 2 of the three-day hunt, Frank Thome lowered a motorized lift on the side of a specially equipped van and pulled his wheelchair-bound son, Brandon, 17, into a forested area by the edge of a succulent, green winter wheat field. Brandon, the nephew of Jim Thome, was dressed warmly in camouflage hunting clothes and a fluorescent-orange cap.
It was absolutely heart-warming to watch Brandon's father tirelessly push and pull his son's wheelchair across narrow, water-filled ruts and over rain-softened ground toward a field edge where several Sedgefield employees had hastily erected a ground blind for Brandon, a quadriplegic whose spinal cord was severely damaged in a swimming pool accident last year.
Brandon sat for hours in the blind, but his patience paid off. As the sun settled slowly behind tall Alabama pines and oaks, a well-fed 8-point buck cautiously entered the winter wheat. Brandon executed a flawless 200-yard shot. There was jubilation in camp when Brandon and his father returned in the pitch dark, but flashes from cameras soon illuminated the night.

An out-of-town reporter sat in one of Sedgefield's many deer stands a box blind atop four strong metal legs at the junction of a wheat field and dense patches of young pines.
In the distance, maybe a quarter-mile away, stood huge oaks that this year bore record crops of acorns.
The combination of acorns, other forest mast and fresh wheat shoots has turned the Sedgefield deer into well-fed butterballs, but lest you think they're patsies for hunters, think again.
Sedgefield's deer are wild, wary and dispersed over nearly 13,000 acres of farm and woodlands. Only a couple of houses are on the entire property so forget about these split-hooved critters being "backyard" deer.
The reporter, hoping to shoot close-up photos of the whitetails, waited in the dark of the blind for hours on end.
Four does and one buck approached at the far end of the field, but they apparently picked up the human's scent and retreated.
At sunset, five new deer appeared from behind the viewing box, "smelled a rat," as the saying goes, and departed in great haste.
These animals definitely were not trained to the food supply but instead were wild as can be. They obeyed every early warning system nature has built into their fine-honed senses.

A postscript: All of the young people brought to Sedgefield by the Buckmasters organization went home with a deer they shot. For a couple of joyous moments, these youngsters would have agreed that all was right with the world.

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