Alan Brackett never dreamed he'd be hunting whitetail deer from a wheelchair this season, but he joined 55 other physically-challenged hunters Sept. 27-28 for guided hunts in Chatham County and took a 9-point buck that was the weekend’s biggest.
Tyson’s Creek Baptist Church held its third annual “Back in the Woods Again” deer hunts for wheelchair-bound and disabled hunters, and Brackett, 52, from Browns Summit, led the pack.
“I used to be a big deer hunter,” Brackett said, “but I hit some ice on Highway 61 north of Gibsonville in 1987 on the way to (work). My car ran off the road and hit a telephone poll.
“I guess I was kinda lucky,” he said. “I couldn't get out, the (EMTs) had to cut me out, and I'm smelling gasoline. I said, ‘Guys, you might want to be careful; a spark could touch off this gasoline.’ But they got me out, I didn't get burned, and they didn't either.”
Brackett wound up with a broken back that caused paralysis from the waist down.
Brackett joined other wheelchair-bound and partially disabled hunters for the event headquartered at the Bear Creek church’s fellowship hall. He won this year's largest-buck honors with a 9-pointer after capturing largest-doe awards the previous two years.
“(Brackett) was really patient,” said his guide, Ennis Loflin. “The big deer was standing perfectly still for five minutes, watching a little one that came out, and (the buck) never twitched (a muscle).”
Brackett shot the deer with a Marlin rifle he won the previous year for downing the biggest doe.
“We got all kinds of support from the (Tyson's Creek church and) community and surrounding communities and businesses,” said Tommy Estridge, a sportsman and Tyson's Creek Church member who is an original organizer of the handicapped hunts – along with Whitsett's Jerome Davis, a former champion bull rider who was paralyzed in a 1998 bull-ring accident.
“I took Jerome to a wheelchair hunt in Alabama, and we started talking and decided this was something somebody needed to do in North Carolina,” Estridge said.
The 2011 hunt drew 20 wheelchair-bound hunters. In 2012, 44 hunters took part, and this year, 56 were fed breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with their wives, girlfriends, children, assistants and guides. Donations paid for hunters’ rooms at Sanford’s Quality Inn, and sponsors offered dozens or door prizes.
Hunters took 50 deer during the two days of hunting.
Gary Edwards, hunting with guide Jordan Baxter, took the largest doe. Billy Joe Bowers took the smallest doe. World-champion paraplegic water skier Robbie Parks of Lexington shot a doe at 110 yards with a .25-06 rifle, while Dallas Ybarra was the only hunter to bag two bucks – an 8-pointer and a 3-pointer.
“We're probably taking care of as many people as our facility here will handle at Tyson's Creek,” Estridge said.
The organizers gave a special prize, a Savage .308 rifle and gun case, to Afghanistan war veteran Mike Verardo of Charlotte, who lost a lower leg to an IED. He hunted in 2012 and won a rifle but had to sell it to pay for fees related to medical treatment for his leg injury.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission offered a special exemption so firearms could be used only by hunters at this event. Archery equipment normally is the only weapon allowed at most piedmont counties during September.