QUINCY, Ill. — As each customer passed by the all-terrain wheelchair parked in the main aisle Thursday inside GameMasters, they stopped and lingered.
They leaned on the arms, testing the wheelchair's shocks and sturdiness. They pushed it to see how the tank-like tracks moved. A couple of them even sat in it.
"I'm lucky I don't need anything like this," said Mike Miller, a customer who had stopped in to buy extra shotgun shells for the start of the Illinois deer firearms season. "If I did, I'd thank whoever invented this. This is first-class.
"This is something that will make a disabled hunter's dreams come true. They won't ever be told them can't go where they want again."
That was the hope of the Mississippi Valley Hunters and Fishermen's Association membership.
In cooperation with VFW Post 1984 of Canton, Ill., the MVHFA acquired the all-terrain wheelchair to aid the club's mission of providing hunting opportunities for wounded warriors. Although none of the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces hunting this weekend need to use the vehicle, there will be opportunities to use it in the future.
And it won't be limited to wounded warriors.
Glenn Sanders, a retired sergeant with the Illinois Conservation Police and president of the MVHFA, said the club has been already been contacted about helping local disabled hunters get in the field and they want to make that happen.
"We're not going to turn anyone away," Sanders said. "We've had hunters in wheelchairs go with us before. We were able to take them to the woods. We were able to get a wheelchair into the woods. We weren't able to get them to the best possible hunting spot.
"Now we can do that. We can give them the experience they want and they deserve."
The MVHFA is already doing that.
The club was to host several wounded warriors last weekend, a couple of whom have been here most of the week and took advantage of the opportunity to bowhunt in preparation for the shotgun season. Neither Tony Shattuck nor Ross Colquhoun has harvested a deer yet, but it hasn't diminished the experience.
"You don't know what to expect," said Shattuck, a chief petty officer in the Navy who was shot while in Afghanistan. "We're not going in with any preconceived ideas. We're just thankful. So we show up, and they cook dinner for us. They take care of us. They were there to get us deer. They've made this experience tremendous."
A retired Navy veteran from San Diego, Colquhoun has served a vital role in the Wounded Warrior Outdoors organization as the outdoor field and stream program manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for the last eight years.
So he has been a part of similar trips nationwide to hunt or fish. Still, this trip has been as meaningful as any.
"It's small communities in middle town America that open their hearts and souls to any veteran, bring them in and treat them like their own flesh and blood," Colquhoun said. "That is absolutely amazing."
Learning what Sanders, Mike and Randy Stark and other members of the MVHFA are doing to promote the outdoors for kids and providing youth hunts convinced Shattuck and Calquhoun they'd come to the right place.
"Going down to the Gardner Camp has been amazing. Out of this world," Shattuck said. "As far as we're concerned, out of this world."
The only thing needed to make it complete would be a deer on the ground.
"Our guide promised us one," Shattuck said with a laugh. "We'll see if he comes through."
Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig, http://bit.ly/1BUCeL7