Mississippi Volunteer Receives National Award for Saving Youth Event
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NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Thanks to Chad Dacus' unflagging efforts to save a premier NWTF event that was on the brink of cancelation, 80 youth with disabilities were able to harvest 45 deer on one November weekend.
"It kind of got to that point," said Dacus, referring to the near-cancelation status of the 2012 NWTF Wheelin' Sportsmen Deer Hunt for Youth with Disabilities before he put in the many extra hours needed to save it. "I felt it was an event that we needed to preserve."
For his efforts to successfully resurrect the Mississippi event, which required hours of coordination, negotiation, sponsorship recruiting and solution finding to numerous logistical issues, Dacus was selected NWTF Wheelin' Sportsmen Volunteer of the Year. Dacus received the award Feb. 15 at the NWTF Convention and Sport Show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
"It is truly amazing, the selfless, tireless efforts put forth by Chad and other members of Wheelin' Sportsmen event committees to make events happen," said Wheelin' Sportsmen national coordinator Randy Green.
The assistant director of the Jackson-based Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Dacus has volunteered with the Wheelin' Sportsmen Youth with Disabilities hunt for seven years.
But he was especially needed in 2012, when people that had organized the event in the past were no longer involved.
Dacus had seen enough in the past to motivate him to do all the additional work required.
"The parents at the event over the years have been amazed," Dacus said. "Kids that were talking tough when they got there had tears of joy in their eyes.
"I actually think we get more tears from the parents than from the kids." The hunters, ages 10 through 17, had plenty to celebrate, considering the abundant harvest.
"The harvest rate was unbelievable," Dacus said. "I've told people I could take 80 adults out there and probably not come back with 45 deer."
Dacus' task was daunting considering the scope of the three-day Youth with Disabilities hunt centered in Pearl, a Jackson suburb and home of the Mississippi Braves minor-league baseball team.
Dacus had to find nearby landowners and hunting clubs willing to donate enough land to accommodate 80 hunters with guides, and often family members.
He had to find sponsors to provide lodging and meals for the weekend. He also coordinated arrangements for the welcome banquet at the Braves' stadium, a visit from the Bass Pro Shops' Santa Claus and a Sunday worship service.
Dacus recruited hunters and guides and sorted through registrations from throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, making sure the participants had hunting licenses. At the event, he even helped cook meals.
But Dacus said his toughest job was matching hunters with appropriate hunting properties and lodging that could accommodate their particular disability.
"I really have to thank the landowners and the clubs for their generosity," Dacus said. "They really wanted to help."
Dacus said he hopes to expand the youth Wheelin' Sportsmen calendar in the future. His goal is to have smaller "satellite" events in different regions of Mississippi. In past years, the Pearl-based event has had more than 100 participants.
"We're in central Mississippi," Dacus said. "I'm sure if there were other sites, we could get a lot more youth involved."
Wheelin' Sportsmen, which provides outdoor opportunities to hunters with disabilities, is one of three major NWTF outreach programs focused on increasing the number of hunters, thus helping to preserve our hunting heritage. The others are JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) and Women in the Outdoors.
The NWTF, a nonprofit organization, is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation. Through dynamic partnerships with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members have helped restore 17.3 million acres of wildlife habitat, investing $412 million.
Since the NWTF's founding in 1973, the North American wild turkey population has increased from 1.3 million to 6.5 million with wild turkey inhabiting 99 percent of suitable habitat.
For more information on the Wheelin' Sportsmen Volunteer of the Year Award, NWTF outreach programs or convention highlights, call (800) THE-NWTF, visit www.nwtf.org or go to www.facebook.com/theNWTF.