- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

You had to be there to believe it. Gary Young plucked his son, Chris, who has a debilitating brain disease, from a wheelchair, carefully slipped the 22-year-old across his back and told him to hold on tightly. With the son's arms clinging to his father's neck, the elder Young began the tedious climb up the wooden rungs of a ladder that touched the floor of a well-concealed, box-type tree stand.
Some 10 feet above the ground, he made his son comfortable on a bench inside the blind. The two would sit there for hours, looking out of a narrow opening, waiting for deer that this time of year feed on a winter wheat field in front of the hunting stand.
A newspaper reporter who observed this loving, selfless act by a father had to swallow several times to remove a lump in his throat.
In another sector of the 12,000-acre Sedgefield Plantation, John Bumgardner of Dillon, S.C., helped maneuver his son's wheelchair into position inside a ground blind to make sure the boy, who has spina bifida, could easily lift a rifle and shoot if the occasion demanded it.
John and Wen Bumgardner showed how great the difference can be between everyday hunters and those whose bodies can't always follow the dictates of their brains. When any 14-year-old goes deer hunting with his father, it surely is a bonding experience. But if Wen and his dad do it, it can be the adventure of a lifetime.
Welcome to the annual Buckmasters Classic, a private hunt for disabled or seriously ill children and young adults whose dream it is to hunt deer.
Hey, not everybody wants to go to Disney World.
The hunt is conducted by the national Buckmasters organization, based in Montgomery, Ala., whose Buckmasters American Deer Foundation (BADF) grants hunting wishes to mostly young people who, in its words, have "uncertain medical futures." Add into the mix the owners of the massive Sedgefield who have rolled out the red carpet for the disabled ever since the national Make-A-Wish Foundation stopped granting hunting wishes. The Make-A-Wish group caved to the animal rights movement, so the founder and CEO of Buckmasters, Jackie Bushman, stepped in to fill the void.
Sedgefield has so many deer that its owner thinks nothing of removing up to 190 does in one season. "We simply have too many does," said Jimmy Hinton, the son of Sedgefield patriarch James Hinton Sr. The males, the buck deer, are selectively harvested and when the Buckmasters Classic guests spread across the huge property, along came volunteer guides all of them deer specialists who would make sure that top-of-the-line breeding stock would not be shot at.

The indomitable spirit of Frank Dennis, a lineman from Jennings, La., is so uplifting that the moment you meet the man who lost both arms in a high-tension electric wire accident, you feel like hiding somewhere for ever complaining about all the meaningless, silly things that people tend to gripe about.
Despite the tremendous mishap that befell Dennis, he will not allow it to hamper his daily activities. The man whose "hands" now consist of metal claws is the president of a South Louisiana Buckmasters chapter. He loves to hunt and fish and actually came to Sedgefield to accompany the Young family of Eunice, La.
When the Buckmasters organization heard about Chris, the Youngs and their ever-cheerful friend Dennis soon were on their way to Sedgefield, where they would be provided with accommodations, a skilled guide and sumptuous Alabama country lunches and dinners.

Wen Bumgardner was the first of the 11 special Sedgefield guests to shoot a deer a slick-looking, well-fed buck who apparently had broken part of his right antler beam during a recent rut fight.
His father, John, looked at Wen, an eighth-grade honor student, and said, "It's such a privilege to be able to hunt with you." Wen smiled from ear to ear, happy to be one of a tightly knit clan of hunters.
As he sat in his wheelchair, savoring the warmth and brightness of an evening campfire, he nudged his father, a Presbyterian minister, and whispered, "Can I call Ma and tell her?"
Wen's dad laughed and said, "OK, let's do it."

Kenny Crawford, 19, of Hattiesburg, Miss., shot a beautiful buck on the second day he was at Sedgefield. Crawford, confined to a wheelchair since an auto accident nearly three years ago, shot the deer with a .270-caliber rifle from well over 250 yards away.
His great-uncle, Jonathan Black, who saw to Kenny's needs while at the deer-rich Sedgefield, said, "He's quite a hunter, and he's got just the right amount of cockiness in him to succeed. Gosh, that boy loves to hunt. He's been doing it all his life, and he won't let that wheelchair stop him.
Then there was leukemia victim Brent Flowers, 9, of Augusta, Ark., whose parents, Deb and Mike, took the boy to a deer show in Little Rock not long ago. It was to be a kind of birthday present for Brent, but they didn't know just how big a present it turned out to be.
Friends at the show let David Sullivan of BADF know about the little deer hunter whose father spent so many happy hours with him in the woods. Before you knew it, Brent, along with mom and dad, were on their way to Sedgefield. Brent soon basked in the glow of meeting Bushman, the cowboy-hatted Buckmasters boss. He also shook hands with country music star Aaron Tippin, of "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly" fame, and spent wonderful hours in tree stands and blinds, seeing plenty of deer, but biding his time.
Brent could afford to be picky. A fine buck would surely come along eventually.
On his second day afield, Brent Flowers got his trophy.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail:gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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