Hunting accessible for all
By Nick Longworth
Simply because you are confined to a wheelchair, or suffer from some other disability, does not mean you should be restricted from enjoying nature, in all its beauty and activity.
UFFDA was founded in 1994 by Daniel Hendricks with the goal of offering equality in outdoor hunting endeavors, while opening up opportunities to people with disabilities.
It all began with one fateful fall in 1973.
“I fell out of a tree stand in 1973 and ended up lying in the woods for a couple of hours,” said Daniel Hendricks, President and Founder of UFFDA.
“It made me think long and hard about what if I had been five feet higher up or 50 pounds heavier? I probably would have broken my neck. How would I go hunting then?” Hendricks said.
The organization offers yearly hunts throughout both Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, the annual hunt at Camp Wilderness north of Park Rapids has been running for 19 years straight.
“It’s an all-expenses paid trip. Participants come up to the camp for four days. We house and feed them. We take them in and out of the woods and all it costs them is a $20 membership each year,” Hendricks said.
UFFDA almost entirely runs on volunteerism. Willing volunteers offer their time to help set up hunts and guide participants. Landowners also offer their property to use for hunts.
The United Foundation for Disabled Archers (UFFDA) has been operating under this premise for nearly two decades now. Bill Jones, of Park Rapids, is a volunteer guide who has been offering his efforts and expertise since 2006.
“When they have a hunt in the area they ask some of the local people to volunteer as a guide. Some people volunteer property to hunt on while others physically go out and work with the handicapped people in the camp,” Jones said.
Invited by a friend to join on a hunt, Jones has been hooked ever since.
“I would meet with the individual they assigned me and I would take him into the woods to an area where I have set up a blind,” he said. “If they want me to sit with them I will otherwise I won’t. This year I wasn’t in the stand, but was close by when a deer did come by. After the shoot, I went out and tracked the deer, field-dressed it and brought it back in. Then we both brought it back to the camp and everyone celebrated.”
UFFDA also relies heavily on sponsorship and donations to keep operating each year.
Delaney’s Sports, the Minnesota Deer hunter’s chapter of Park Rapids, local grocery store donations and a yearly raffle and auction are all counted on to make these hunts happen.
Both Hendricks and Jones see invaluable merit in watching participants marvel in the joy of the hunts they provide.
“When you’re working with these people with disabilities and you see the problems that they have and look back at yourself you realize you don’t have any problems anymore,” Jones said. “Some people, when they get hurt or are born with disabilities tend to get down on themselves. They sit back and feel like they can’t do some things. We in UFFDA want to help them get out and physically go deer hunting or just get out in the woods. It gives people an opportunity to keep on with life.”
“When they get a deer and you see how excited they are despite their limitations that they can do that – that’s what it’s all about. The joy we get just from watching these guys enjoy the woods,” Hendricks said. “All you have to do is come to a hunt and when you see the joy these people experience and the fun they have, not just the disabled hunters but the guides and landowners, it’s pretty amazing.”
Barring any major setbacks, the future of UFFDA looks bright.
“We actually had to turn some hunters away this year. We had four new hunters this year that had never been to a hunt before,” Hendricks said.
“It’s going steady and if anything were growing,” he added. “But we’re only able to take so many hunters a year, typically around 30. A lot of us who started it, we were pretty young and were getting older now. I would like for the younger generation to start taking over in time. Perhaps expand into other states if someone is willing to step up and lead.”