Adapt and overcome: SRS Ultimate Turkey Hunt inspires Wheelin’ hunters

So many times, we take the little things in life for granted: getting up, getting dressed — even getting to our favorite spot to find ol’ tom gobbling away. For a portion of our hunting friends, even these tasks take extra effort.

Navigating life in a wheelchair, with a walking cane or without sight can make everyday activities a challenge. Add in the desire to hunt, and those challenges rise. From their camo to a multitude of adaptive equipment, hunters who face mobility challenges have one thing in common: They adapt.

The NWTF’s Wheelin’ Sportsmen program has helped provide an opportunity for people with disabilities to not only enjoy the outdoors during events held by local chapters, but also find ways for them to experience the wild throughout the year.

For the past 13 years, the NWTF has worked with the United States Department of Energy and the USDA Forest Service to organize the Savannah River Site Ultimate Turkey Hunt near Aiken, South Carolina, for these hunters.

“The Savannah River Site Ultimate Turkey Hunt continues to be a much anticipated event for both the hunters and volunteers involved,” said Teresa Carroll, NWTF Hunting Heritage Programs coordinator. “Providing opportunities to recruit and reactivate hunters with physical challenges is part of NWTF’s mission of preserving our hunting heritage. This event would not be possible without the partners and many local sponsors who give of their resources each and every year.”

This year, hunters from across the country, ranging in age and with varying degrees of challenges, filled the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Conference Center eagerly awaiting their time to scout assigned hunting areas.

Employees of SRS annually volunteer their time to take these hunters out for a chance at an Eastern gobbler, said Tal Mims, USDA Forest Service-Savannah River wildlife program manager. Mims, a former biologist at SRS, coordinates the hunts.

Many hunters wore adaptive equipment, some of which the hunters invented or have modified to meet their specific needs. Chad Waligura was one of those hunters. Waligura, founder and editor of Able Outdoors, hunted growing up. After an accident damaged his spine and left him paralyzed, getting back outdoors became a priority.

These words from Anne Frank adorn Waligura’s website: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…”

“That quote has been on the front page of my Follow Me Outdoors site ever since I first read it,” Waligura said. “Seemed to me like it exposed a simple truth of what my life as a disabled hunter has always been about, and also what I’d like Able Outdoors magazine to be built around.”

His mantra, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” has seen him through difficult times.

“Hope is the best thing you can give someone,” Waligura said.

He found hope, and he spreads hope to others not just through his magazine, but also by visiting the rehabilitation facility where he fought through his own injury and talking with hunters who face challenges.

His magazine and its website feature stories of triumph, new gear and a place to find others who are winning battles every day. To learn more about Waligura’s story, find adaptive equipment resources and read inspirational stories, log on to ableoutdoors.net.

Along with the partners, a host of sponsors makes this annual hunt possible. Sponsoring this year’s hunt were Centerra Group, LLC; Aiken County NWTF Chapter; Aiken Sertoma Club; University of Georgia; Savannah River Ecology Laboratory; Savannah River Nuclear Solutions; and Savannah River Remediation.

Article Category