The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted the 9th annual Bill Nesbit Memorial Hunt Dec. 19 in Elk Garden, West Va.
The annual hunt gave eight handicapped hunters and disabled veterans the opportunity to harvest a deer with the help of safety instructors and dozens of volunteers.
The annual hunt began nine years ago when rangers at the lake began noticing a deer population problem.
“When the lake was constructed, they stopped all hunting so there hadn’t been hunting in the area for 20 years and the deer population exploded,” said Stephen Rexrode, retired sergeant with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. “We suggested that a handicapped hunt would be a good idea.”
It has become an event that the local community looks forward to every year. The event gives participants an opportunity to get back to hunting.
“Just last night at the fire hall I had one of the participants tell me it is the first time he has been able to make it out in the woods in 14 years,” said Tom Craig, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jennings Randolph Lake park ranger.
The event gives hunters a comfortable environment to get back out into the woods and accommodates for their disabilities.
“Hunting is an activity that a lot of us take for granted but for these gentlemen, the opportunity to get out there means so much,” said Bill Donnellan, USACE Jennings Randolph Lake park ranger.
Many of the participants experienced traumatic events that prevent them from participating in routine activities.
“A lot of people that we have here have hunted in the past and when something traumatic happens to them they think it’s over and they can’t do anything anymore,” said Rexrode. “When people go hunting, it’s really something they look forward to and when they think it’s over – it’s disheartening to think they can never do that again and we’ve given them another opportunity.”
Several local sponsors and community organizations contribute to make the hunt a success.
“The Elk Garden Fire Department got involved a few years ago and they’ve really been a life saver. Their ladies auxiliary prepare all the food for all the hunters every day,” said Rexrode.
Every year USACE also reaches out to local veteran’s hospital for Wounded Warrior participation.
“This year we had a Wounded Warrior participate,” said Rexrode. “As a Vietnam veteran, I’m really glad we were able to provide this opportunity and personally it’s very special to me,” said Rexrode.
Participants are accompanied by a volunteer hunter education instructor in the blinds to ensure safety during the hunt. The wooden blinds are heated to create comfortable conditions for the hunters.
“I’d give up my whole hunting season for these guys,” says Rodney Brelsford, who sat alongside Charles Harris, a disabled veteran whose humvee was hit by an IED in Afghanistan.
Many of the participants plan to participate next year to express their gratitude.
“It’s a great opportunity to get these guys out here. I’m looking forward to coming back next year and volunteering to give others the same opportunity,” said Harris.
Rangers at Jennings Randolph see this event as a way to give back to those who sacrificed for our country.
“The project means a lot to me. It’s a great opportunity to get these guys out in the woods, give back to the community and the veterans that serve our country,” said Craig.
The gratification of giving back brings volunteers back each year. Donnellan said many of the volunteers even take vacation days to help out with the hunt.
“Last year, we had a 70-year old gentleman who was paralyzed and brought him from the nursing home and he was able to come out and harvest a deer. It is experiences like that which keep me coming back,” said Rexrode.