Hunters, volunteers, committee members of the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge employees all participated in the 2014 Special Access Hunt Friday night and Saturday morning.  (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)
Hunters, volunteers, committee members of the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge employees all participated in the 2014 Special Access Hunt Friday night and Saturday morning. (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)

Bayou Cocodrie brings wheelchair hunters together in hunt

Published 12:01am Sunday, January 12, 2014

FERRIDAY — This weekend was the moment several hunters have been waiting for, and so has Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge.

Friday and Saturday marked Bayou Cocodrie’s fifth year hosting the Special Access Hunt along with the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), though the hunt itself has gone on for much longer.

The hunt allows wheelchair-dependent hunters to participate in gunning down white tail deer and hogs.

The hunters set out at 2:30 p.m. Friday to start their hunt and returned to Bayou Cocodrie at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. After a lunch break, the hunters headed back out to look for deer and hogs at 2:30 p.m.

Refuge manager Deisha Norwood talks with Gil Banta about the two deer he saw earlier in the morning. Banta and approximately 15 other hunters participated in the special access hunt sponsored by the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation at Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge. (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)
Refuge manager Deisha Norwood talks with Gil Banta about the two deer he saw earlier in the morning. Banta and approximately 15 other hunters participated in the special access hunt sponsored by the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation at Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge. (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)

Refuge manager Deisha Norwood said though the hunt was only for handicapped individuals, each hunter was required to have someone with them during the event.

“Several brought a friend or family member, or we provided them with a guide so someone can go out and return the game,” Norwood said.

The hunters were allowed to use any legal firearm to harvest deer or hogs. Two deer harvested per day (one buck and one doe) was allowed.

“Once the hunters harvest the animals, (NWTF) will process the meat for them,” Norwood said. “(NWTF) also provided lodging and snacks.”

Norwood said the NWTF played a major part in hosting the hunt, and their work didn’t go unnoticed.

Though no one shot any game this year, hunters like Marlee Phillips and James Mullins said they still had a great time. Phillips has been attending the Special Access Hunt for seven years, and she still remembers when she shot her first deer

“My first year, I shot a deer, and I’ve seen several since then, but that was my only kill,” Phillips said. “It keeps me motivated to keep coming back every year.”

Phillips is one of the hunters that have participated the longest, and she said she gave plenty of advice to the new hunters.

“I tell them just don’t panic.” Phillips said. “I still get nervous when I see a big deer, but it’s not worth it to get nervous and miss, because I’ve done that before.”

Mullins said he heard about the hunt when a member of the NTWF gave him an ad about it while attending a hunter’s safety class.

It was just Mullins’ second time to participate in the hunt, and he said he has yet to spot any game, but he hopes to get lucky in the future.

“I can definitely see myself coming back for years to come,” Mullins said.

It’s not often that a lot of game is shot during the hunt, but Phillips said the weekend is about much more than bringing down a buck.

“It’s not always about the kill, we just come and have a good time and fellowship with other hunters,” she said.

Mullins said he looks forward to meeting new people at the hunt every year.

“Most of the people are from somewhere else, but I live locally in Vidalia, so it’s nice to meet new people,” he said.

Norwood said the hunters enjoyed the event, and it is their main goal every year to give the handicapped participants a chance to enjoy the outdoors.

“They come back every year,” she said. “It’s not a competition, it’s just to have fun. Our main goal is to provide the opportunity to hunt.”

Norwood said approximately 100 people — hunters and volunteers — came out between Friday and Saturday.

She said that was the largest crowd the refuge has hosted for the hunt, and the numbers were up from the 70 people that participated in last year’s hunt.

While the refuge is putting on the event to help others, Norwood said the hunters are helping the refuge as well.

“We have a huge problem out here with hogs, so any that can be harvested on the refuge is a plus,” she said.

The NWTF will host its annual banquet to raise money for the committee at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center. For more information and tickets, call Lisa Smith at 318-729-8304.