Hunting on wheels

Published 12:02 am Sunday, January 15, 2012

FERRIDAY — Brusly, La. native Gil Banta sat patiently in his blind enjoying the sights and sounds of nature around him Friday evening at Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge.

Eventually, at approximately 4:30 p.m., a doe came out of the bush at approximately 80 yards from Banta.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Chris Drake, left, and Jonathan Mansfield mingle during the Wheelin’ Sportsman Hunt Saturday afternoon at the Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters.

“It came out from left to right, and I watched her feed for about 10 minutes until I could make sure there was nothing behind her,” Banta said. “Once I figured out she was alone, she presented a broad shot.”

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Banta placed the bullet and harvested the 115-pound doe.

Banta has been a hunter since he was a small boy, he said, but he was forced to stop 28 years ago when an injury took away his ability to walk.

“Twenty-eight years I’ve been in the (wheelchair),” he said. “And I stopped (hunting) for a while and picked it back up 15 years ago.”

Banta was one of 16 disabled hunters that took to the woods this weekend for the third annual Wheelin’ Sportsman deer hunt hosted by the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge.

“It’s a blessing to be able to work with these people,” Wheelin’ Sportsman coordinator Paula Tarver said. “I wish we could get more of the community out and get more people involved. If you can’t walk away smiling and have your heart touched there’s something wrong with you.”

The Concordia Delta Longbeards host the event at the refuge and provide guides, food and services like cleaning and packaging the deer meat for the hunters to take home, Banta said.

“The people from the management, environmentalists, biologists, the Concordia Delta Longbeards, everyone across the board does an excellent job,” Banta said. “All of our needs are taken care of. That and the people are why I keep coming back.”

Banta said many of the disabled hunters have created a community that participates in several hunts each year.

In between morning and afternoon hunting sessions Saturday, the hunters enjoyed a meal of barbecue chicken, sausage, potato salad, baked beans and a wide variety of sweets. Banta said mealtime is an overlooked aspect of the hunt that he very much enjoys.

“I just love sharing the stories,” he said. “We’ve had some of the same (hunters) coming since I’ve been (coming). Ninety percent I am on a first-name basis with.”

This year’s hunt did feature one new hunter, and he ended up harvesting some meat that was not on the menu Saturday morning.

Brandon Armstrong from Winnfield, La., had his eyes out for a buck, but a hog wondered out of the brush and into the sights of Brandon’s rifle at approximately 220 yards away.

“I popped it when I saw it,” Armstrong said.

The kill was Armstrong’s first hog harvest.

Daniel Strother from Glenmora, La., also harvested a deer over the weekend while hunting with his guide, and friend, John Willis. Willis and Strother are long-time hunting buddies, and Willis said the Wheelin’ Sportsman hunt is one of the best draw hunts they visit, and they try to do as many as possible.

“I take him on every hunting trip we get drawn for,” he said.

Tarver said a lot goes into putting the Wheelin’ Sportsman hunt together, and she wanted to thank each of the sponsors and volunteers for their support.

The hunters are taken out to the blinds together in a trailer that is pulled by a truck. Then each hunter is helped into his or her wheel-chair accessible blind and the hunting begins.

Tarver said the event has come a long way since its inaugural year three years ago.

She said the Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the NWTF raised funds to have a building built on the Cross Bayou side of the refuge to shelter the hunters in case of bad weather. The NWTF also donated the seed for the food plots on the refuge.

John Fontenot, a biologist at Bayou Cocodrie, said the Wheelin’ hunters get the crème of the crop when it comes to hunting area as well. The areas hunted this weekend are closed to normal hunting, and hunting pressure in the other areas of the refuge pushes the deer into the areas where the Wheelin’ Sportsman event takes place.

“We give them the best we’ve got,” Fontenot said.

The Concordia Delta Longbeards like to specialize in events for youth hunters and disabled hunters. Many of the resources for events like the Wheelin’ Sportsman hunt come from donations to the organization, Tarver said.

Concordia Delta Longbeards president Lisa Smith also wanted to thank each member of the Longbeards chapter for their support of the event, she said.

The Concordia Delta Longbeards chapter of the NWTF will host its annual fundraiser starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

For more information about the chapter or the fundraiser contact Concordia Delta Longbeards president Lisa Smith at 318-729-8304.