Sportsmen on wheels

“We wanted to do something to honor him and people with disabilities that enjoy hunting.”

The hunters gathered at Sawtooth Oak Farm before the two-day hunt. (Photo: Jeff Balry

RICHFIELD — Hunters were in the woods around Stanly County this weekend with state-of-the-art technology and a mission to bag a trophy deer. The technology went well beyond guns and ammunition on this hunt. This hunt was designed for hunters with disabilities, including many who needed wheelchairs. Some of the hunters sported “track chairs” that replace wheels with tank-like tracks to provide mobility over rough terrain.

The hunt — sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation’s “Wheelin’ Sportsmen” — provides all people with disabilities opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. The hunt is hosted by Sawtooth Oak Farm near Richfield with 65 hunters in attendance.

Matt Barringer, one of the organizers and a co-founder, said that 85 hunters applied for the hunt. Barringer said the group held a lottery for the 65 available spots, which included free lodging for hunters and their traveling companions.

Robin King rides his track chair at the Sawtooth Oak Farm. (Photo: Jeff Balfry

The group supports disabled hunters throughout the year. Robin King, one of the hunters in a track chair, received his chair from the group. Barringer says they have donated three chairs, which cost about $12,000 each, in the last five years. During this year’s hunt, the group donated a three-wheeled off-road trike, valued at more than $5,000, to a youth hunter.

“I had a disabled cousin named Brent Barringer, and my brother and I used to take him hunting,” said Barringer. “Brent died about 13 years ago, and we wanted to do something to honor him and people with disabilities that enjoy hunting.”

That desire resulted in the annual hunt which started a dozen years ago with eight hunters.

“It has just kept growing ever since,” said Barringer.

Brooke Caddis, 22, from Clinton, has spina bifida and bagged an eight-point buck on her first trip to the Wheelin’ Sportsmen hunt. She is pictured with her father (center) and her guide, Zach Almond (right). (Photo: Jeff Balfry

Hunters started arriving the morning of Dec. 7 and culminated with a Saturday night banquet after two days of hunting. Local churches and other volunteers cooked the meals and provided other support for the event. Barringer said the group’s primary fundraiser is a gun raffle which raised $35,000.

The hunting was fruitful and spanned all of Stanly County and four surrounding counties. The hunters — who came from as far away as New York — bagged 58 deer. Barringer’s group processed the meat and distributed it to all of the participants.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission was an important part of the event as well. The state agency had wildlife experts on hand and used jaw bones to age the deer that were killed. The commission has special rules to facilitate disabled hunt opportunities. The Disabled Access Program allows for ATV and other vehicular access on game lands that might not otherwise be accessible by disabled persons. The Disabled Sportsman Hunt Certification program provides a certificate for disabled hunters who do not already have a disabled veteran or total disability license.

Barringer said that the gun raffle, banquet and more than 100 local businesses funded the event. He says they hope to continue the hunt at the same level next year. Expansion is not in his plans due to the limited number of accessible hotel rooms in the area. The group will also sponsor a turkey hunt in April for 25 hunters.