Resource Topic: Deer Hunting »

How can I get an application for Options Accessible Deer Hunt held at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge?

Options and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is pleased to announce that applications for the 22th Annual Accessible Deer Hunt for people with disabilities to be held at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge are ready to be released.  The dates of the hunt will be October 11th, 12th, and 13th, 2018.  Those interested in an application can request one by calling 1.800.726.3692 or emailing randy@myoptions.info, .

Go to the Oct 2017 newsletter and you can open an application form.  Know this is not what we designed this for but we are making it work.  

I would like to know about other deer hunts for people with disabilities?

Options has another web site that lists other deer hunts people with disabilities can access.  Just go to www.optionsoutdoors.org and go to the events tab.  When the page appers with pins that list each event you may filter the pins by type of event by narrowing it to "Deer Hunting."  Prior to filtering both fishing as well as hunts will be listed.   Once the map is up you can go to a page that explains each hunt by clicking the pin and then clicking for "more information" on the line shown when a description box comes up or you can scroll down past the map to a listing of the hunts where you can open a page to access additional information for each hunt.     

I would love to start a deer hunt for people with disabilities how would I do this?


Places to hunt for people with disabilities, as well as all people, is becoming a greater and greater problem. Hunting in the United States is becoming more and more an elitist sport much like hunting in Europe from my perspective. It is admirable that more is being done in facilitating access for people with disabilities within our public lands but I just wanted to say, as a sideline access alone does not always insure that people will be able to use the hunting resource. One of the things you have to take into consideration is that people with disabilities for the most part are stationary. Being stationary works for some hunting such as where you find waterfowl blinds along a line of a refuge boundary but does not work as well for deer hunting where the only people that are stationary may be the person with a disability sitting at the designated accessible deer blind. (A picture is shown of a blind located within an area open to public hunting). This blind has access via a limited use road and is located in a wide-open area. On its surface it would seem that it has everything for the hunter with a disability but there are flaws. I have what is called a cauda-equina lesion of the spinal cord this refers to spinal damage of the lower spinal cord where the nerves branch down to the lower extremities. As a consequence of the injury I have limited use of my left leg, being paralyzed from the knee down, and missing my lateral hamstrings as well as part of my gluteus maximus. I used this stand the first year after it was erected along with a good friend of mine who was Executive Director of Options prior to me taking the position. He had a spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia. His level of injury was the highest you could have without possessing quadriplegia. Jay, my friend, had had much experience in hunting so came very prepared. Not only would he bring the essentials that every hunter would bring, he brought those things that a hunter with a disability needs in order to insure that they can hunt the day. He brought blankets, tarps, a propane sunflower heater, extra catheter kit, hand warmers, and various food items that were high in sugar that could be metabolized quickly.

We got to the stand long before sun-up drove right next to it, unloaded and set up. I then drove the van back to the main road parked on the side and walked back to the stand. Hunting in northern Minnesota in November can be cold. The weekend we were hunting this was true, especially on day two. The stand faces into the prevailing wind, which in our area is north in the fall and winter, and when the wind comes from this direction it is generally cold, considering our close proximity to Canada. On day two of the hunt the whether was rainy and with the wind chill was probably below zero. The stand was also off an embankment so when the wind blew it not only hit you in the face but also came rising off the embankment through spacing between the boards located on the floor of the stand. This gave us a multiple impact from behind and below besides in the face. We were very exited at the start of the hunt, the area looked good and we had a large visual field. But as time went on we learned of some other flaws, some we had never thought about when evaluating whether we wanted to hunt there. Most of the refuge was open for public deer hunting and the road where I had parked the Van and that we used to get to the access road to the stand was one of the main roads used by other hunters during the day. Consequently, many hunters would slow down or stop pull out their field glasses and scan the area thinking that if a stand were put there it must be a good area. We had hunters stop and walk around us many staying at least 300 yards away with only a few walking right up to us to ask if their were any other stands they could get or to ask how the hunting was there. With all the traffic we soon started to question whether we were truly hunting or part of a welcome committee. The only deer we saw was due to a lull in road hunting, we spotted a lone doe making its way towards us. At about 500 yards it was scared off when a road hunter stopped and tried a clip full of pot shots at it.

I only mention this experience so that you consider more than physical accessibility when setting up stand locations. Set the stand in an area that can be sheltered, many disabling conditions result in people not being able to control their body heat, face them away from prevailing winds, if you can put a canopy over it. If it is raining and a person gets wet their chance of getting hypothermia will greatly increase. Intermix locations so that persons with varied abilities can use the stand. Do not build a stand with a large platform, a wide expansive area works well for an overlook but is not well suited to a stand. The only persons that would be able to use a large stand are those persons that can reposition themselves easily in order to move from one area of the stand over to the other. Remember for the most part people will have to reposition their wheelchair or chair in order to face another direction and if the stand has a large platform they may even have to wheel or move many feet so that the rail on the other side of the stand does not block their shot. Look for areas that have a shooting lane, a location where the terrain brings the animal towards a person in a limited area so that once a person is set up he/she will only have to aim or move in a small radius. Look for areas that are secluded where there are natural terrain barriers blocking most of the other hunters from walking through but will still give the person with a disability the benefits of the other hunters flushing the deer towards them. If you can close a small area around the stand off to other hunters so the other hunters do not infringe on the hunters with disabilities this would be good.

When the opportunity came to us to collaborate with the Rydell National Wildlife Refuge to assist in coordination of a hunt we choose to conduct it in a manner that would enable people with disabilities to get past many of the hurdles that we encountered and that Jay encountered when he first started hunting. The main philosophical points that have guided us in the development of the hunt is that of letting people with disabilities participate at the highest level possible by being consumer directed which means letting the person with a disability tell how we can best facilitate a good hunt for them and providing a forum for peer mentoring by designing the hunt so that people have a chance to interact on a personal level, to exchange information on the tricks of the trade.

Philosophy, from our perspective is very important and guides our every action. We try to run the hunt like we would for people that do not have disabilities, if the person does not ask for an accommodation we do not assume they need one. This is the hardest to implement especially with volunteer and staff are new to the disability world.

I used to work at a camp for people with very severe physical disabilities and in some cases cognitive disabilities. As part of the recreational activities people could participate in or as some would call it “programming,” we would assist people to fish. You would have a volunteer who is very well meaning push the person out to the end of the dock, bait the hook, cast out the bait, then prop the poll against the person in the wheelchair or stuff it where ever until a fish struck the hook. When the fish struck the person would run over grab the rod set the hook then real in the fish and proudly announce to the person with a disability “good job!! Look at the fish you caught!” The person with a disability did nothing accept act as a rod holder, the person helping had good intentions but the participation level on behalf of the person with a disability was lacking. Most of our volunteers have been with us a while so they anticipate but are careful not to interfere unless requested. Here is a picture of a person who shot one of the biggest bucks ever taken at the hunt. He has a spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia he never requested any assistance with any part of the hunt. He wanted to do everything and he did. This person came to our hunt with his own ATV and tree stand. He drove his ATV through the woods to a tree that overlooked a trail system he wanted to hunt over. When he got to the tree he threw his stand, gun, rope, and other gear at the base of the tree and then drove his ATV away from the tree, concealed it and transferred off the ATV. He then dragged himself to the tree stand and strapped himself on the lower part of the tree stand and did pull ups up the tree stripping off the branches that interfered with the stand going up the tree. Later he shot a buck, lowered himself down the tree, crawled to his ATV drove to where the deer fell, gutted the deer, loaded the deer, his gear, and himself then drove back to the headquarters. If we would have generalized what he needed based on other people with similar disabilities we would have not given him the ability to experience the type of hunt he would have wanted.

We wait until people tell us what accommodations they need. Certainly there is some amount of judgment needed on behalf of the volunteers in order to judge nativity/lack of experience and instances where a person wants to challenge themselves and deciphering what is safe. As volunteers become seasoned they learn to be patient, to observe, and to anticipate. Additionally, our application gives us a baseline of information about the hunter including years hunted with and without a disability, type of disability and skill questions that can assist us in judging experience.

I would dare say that most of hunting opportunities provided to people with disabilities are opportunities similar to the provision of a box stand I talked about previously. It is provided on a first come first serve basis or where a person reserves a stand for the day they will be hunting. This works wonderful if you get past the basic layout problems but does not facilitate the kind of hunt we wanted to initiate. We were looking for a hunt where people could share with each other how they hunted, what types of adaptive equipment they found beneficial, how they dressed in order to prevent hypothermia, and to meet people with similar disabilities that have gotten past the barriers others may view as insurmountable.

This is the essence of peer mentoring learning from someone who has learned the skills of something you want to participate in so that you can shorten the learning curve and in some cases reduce those factors that could be life threatening. We hope that people with disabilities that have hunted will sign up again for the hunt at Rydell or that people who have a lot of experience hunting as a person with a disability sign up. Through this we can insure that people new to hunting will have a wealth of information from which to draw on from more experienced hunters with disabilities.

The hunt is open to visitors who will drop in and talk with the hunters. We have had parents who have a son or daughter with a disability that they would like to bring hunting visit us to see the adaptive equipment and ask hunters questions. We have had the same thing happen in instances where an adult has incurred a disability and wants information on how to hunt or get back into hunting.

To accomplish a dialogue between people we provide meals, we have a group of volunteers who come in and cook for us. The money we use for the food we get through various donations from sporting clubs, charitable gambling, and civic organizations. The visitors center of the refuge does not have cooking facilities per say. We have collected various pieces of equipment and a large tent we set up which acts as our cook shed. We use paper plates and plastic utensils since we do not have a dishwasher etc. We don’t have any designated eating time just feed people prior to going out hunting and coming off their stand. We have found most of the people hang around to see how the others have done. As they are waiting people talk to each other. We try to facilitate conversations between people if they ask us a question and we know a hunter that would be able to answer the question well.

The Rydell Hunt is truly a collaborative effort. The partners are the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Options, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Whitetail Association Min-Dak Border Chapter, varies charitable gaming organizations, private businesses, donors, and volunteers. The usual out of pocket expense that Options incurs to put on the hunt is around $ 3,000.00. This includes the costs for insurance, food, and various hunting items that we add to our stock such as camo, extra orange jackets, hats, and staking. The refuge has built various permanent stands that can be moved throughout the refuge dependent on deer location but we also set up ground stands in various locations using natural elements found in the area in addition to various types of camo so the stand is hidden.

The partners have various roles some such as charitable gaming organizations, Min-Dak Border Chapter of the Whitetail Association, and private donors that help fund our hunt while others have more administrative roles such as Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The Minnesota DNR provides permission to us so that we can hold the hunt prior to the regular deer-hunting season; Minnesota has provisions that enable hunts to be held for people with disabilities. Since we use Rydell as a tool to teach people with disabilities how to hunt deer it is much safer if we hold the hunt prior to the regular season when the whether is normally less severe. Both Federal and State Conservation Officers are usually present. The conservation officers try to stay close by the Refuge in case we need them. I would like to say that we have not had any trouble while conducting the hunt but people are people and it makes no difference whether they have a disability. In the past we have had people that have attempted to drive areas instead of staying on post, shot a buck when it was doe only, and shot more than one deer. When violations occur it is up to the conservation officer’s discretion on how they would like to handle it on their end and for ours most people have been told they have to leave the hunt and then been blacklisted from future hunts.

The pool of volunteers that have been involved in the hunt are one of the reasons the hunt has been such a success. Many of our volunteers have been with us since we started in 1996. We have volunteers divided into two main areas, food preparation and assistance with hunting. Most hunters have people that they bring with them that assists them while in the blind with our volunteers assisting with getting people out to post and back again, setting up ground stands, and assisting the hunters after a deer has been shot or wounded. The volunteers out in the field have a great deal of experience assisting people with disabilities in addition to hunting themselves. The common tasks that our people assist with out on post is tracking, guiding, dispatching any wounded animals, gutting, and loading up the animals and getting them to the refuge. At the refuge the deer are registered and then loaded up so that the hunter can take the animal home. If the hunter does not have the means to skin and process the animal we will assist. By process I mean boning the animal and bagging it. The individual can then cut the larger roasts into steaks and have the trimmings ground. We usually process 2 – 4 animals. Most people make arrangements for processing prior to the hunt.

For persons that come to the hunt without an assistant we will assign one of our volunteers to assist out in the field if they choose. As the hunt progresses if we feel that the person is not getting deer due to lack of experience we will ask if they would like one of our volunteers to go out and assist them. We are always cognizant of various types of disabilities and the possible impact it may have on a person so watch for situations where the hunter may not be as aware or able to initiate the request for assistance. If we believe it is a safety issue on any level, a hazard to himself or others we will discuss with the individual the need for one of our volunteers.

Within the packet material there are copies of this years forms we use for administration of the hunt. The first forms that are sent out to people interested in participating in the hunt is the Fact Sheet, Interest letter and application. These materials give the individual the basic information about our hunt and the application if they choose to participate. We have set the number of hunters at 20 the most we have ever had at the hunt is 23 with the least at 16. After the applications are collected through to the cut off date, we review the applicants and choose 20 hunters. If more than 20 are received we choose hunters based on the hunters inability to hunt without being part of our hunt, severity of disability, and whether they have participated in one of the Rydell Hunts in prior years. When the hunters have been chosen we send them a congratulatory letter, along with a USFWS volunteer form, media release, and release of liability form for them to fill out. A hunter confirms their entrance to our hunt when they have gotten a photocopy of their valid Minnesota Hunting License to us by the next cut off date. If we do not receive a copy of the license we usually call to see if there is a problem and if there is, brainstorm solutions. If we find they are canceling we go to an alternate application.

I remember when we first started designing the hunt we asked ourselves what constitutes a disability, we were fearful that people would say they have a disability in order to gain access to the Refuge. As Juancarlos said the area was a private preserve prior to it becoming a refuge so many people in the area had seen the high deer population located there and so we thought people may stretch the truth in order to get on the Refuge. Consequently, we discussed such things using Social Security disability determinations as proof, accessible parking placards, and doctor’s slips. Everything we came up with had pitfalls, we would either be missing populations or we would spend so much time asking for documentation that the administrative burden would be too large. What we ultimately decided is that we would not put ourselves into the position of gatekeeper that we would simply ask the question. This is what we do, we ask applicants to name and describe their disability. We have been fortunate in that we have only had one year where we had received more applicants than the refuge can handle, in Rydell’s case around 20 persons. During that year we informed some hunters with less severe disabilities that had been to the hunt before that they would not be able to attend but to please try again the following year. Historically, we have a mix of people who have participated in the hunt with persons who have never been to the hunt. Disabilities have included people who have spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, manic depression, blindness, deafness, heart conditions, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, to mention a few. We also try to introduce hunters that are in close proximity to each other.

The main tool we use to insure that we have a hunt that fits the needs of the people, the hunt is designed for, is the application for the hunt. The application gives us the basic information we need to assess the type of disability that the applicant possesses, how much experience hunting both prior to the disability and after incurring a disability they have, if they need volunteer assistance, accommodations they may need, whether they possess the adaptive equipment that is needed for a successful hunt, and what personal goals and expectations they have if chosen for the hunt.

Part of the experience we offer hunters is the chance to come to the refuge prior to the hunt and choose a stand location, which we call the pre-hunt. All the hunters are asked if they will participate in the pre-hunt. As part of the application review process we specifically review the type of shooting devise a person will use, their physical abilities, experience hunting as a person with a disability, and whether the person will be coming to the pre-hunt. This analysis initiates the stand assignment process where we start to assess which stand locations would give the hunter the best opportunity to have a successful hunt. Because we have held the hunt for so many years we have certain areas that are better for persons with more severe disabilities where the deer usually come in closer, do not seem to flush as easily and are within a limited shooting lane. For persons who have the ability to shoot a long distance and do not have a disability where terrain is factor we do not assign a stand location until we have chosen stands for those with the most significant disability and for those who participate in the pre-hunt. Some persons who have hunted the refuge ask prior to the hunt to hunt a certain stand area, we will do that if it does not create a conflict. The day of the pre-hunt after people have defined the area they would like to hunt we review the remaining applications and assign stands.

The day of the hunt we check in each hunter go through their forms insure that all the paper work is in order including the paperwork for any people that the hunter has brought with that maybe accompanying the hunter out on stand. This includes license, signed waiver, signed media release and that the application material is properly filled out. If they have an assistant we ask questions to access their experience level if they are hunting with a hunter with not very much experience. This information is given to our volunteers who help out in field so that they have a heads up on who may need more assistance.

After the hunters materials are checked and if need be updated we give them an assigned number that corresponds with the stand they will be hunting from the first day. They will receive a hang tag and a jacket tag with their number and we will inform them that they are responsible to sign out as they go to stand, sign in when they get off stand and sign out when leaving the refuge for the day, so that we know at any given time where every hunter is. A large aerial map is set up where a pin is placed at each numbered stand location. As the hunter leaves to go on post they take the hangtag and place it on the pin that corresponds to the stand they will be hunting on. Each volunteer and hunter receives a similar map with the stand numbers and a list of hunters with their corresponding numbers. We will orient each hunter to their stand location as seen on the Refuge map and locations of other hunters. We will ask if they have a cell phone or need to use a walkie-talkie so that they can be in contact with us when the need arises.

After everyone is checked in we have an orientation where we go over the rules of the hunt, safety, how to contact us while on stand and introductions. When people are brought out to their hunting posts our volunteers go over Information given includes where roads are so they do not shoot across them, trail systems deer commonly use, refuge building sites, other stand locations, and that they must call in if they take a shot or if they want to come in. Hunters/hunter’s assistants are informed that they can only hunt from their designated stand location, that after every shot they must communicate with the hunt coordinator the shot and next steps to be taken. As the hunt progresses people can change stands if they believe another would be more productive. To change locations persons have to go through hunt coordinator so that we can insure the master map is up to date and we do not accidentally put people on top of each other.

The hunt at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge is advertised in the Minnesota hunting proclamation, by a mailing that we send out and through public service announcements. Usually we send out thirty to forty applications and receive anywhere from 17 - 23 back.

If the day is cold and wet we caution hunters on going out to early, some of the stand locations can only be accessed by going by other stands and we want to make sure as much as we can that hunters do not get cold and ask to come in prior to end of hunting time in fear that the commotion will disturb another’s hunt. We have found that the late afternoon and early evening is the best time to hunt at Rydell; I think it is partially due to the number of hunters we bring out and the noise created when accomplishing this. During the day the deer are used to people walking the trials and staff working through out the refuge. Prior to sun up they are not used to human activity, especially the amount of movement it takes to bring 20 hunters to their stand locations.

As the days of the hunt pass hunters are relocated to more productive areas, each year there a variations due to the feeding fields located on the perimeter of the Refuge. Trails used seem to stay constant as well as the times deer seem to move. Each hunter is asked about the productivity of the stand they are at, whether they are seeing deer, passing by on deer, or if the location of the stand needs to be tweaked. Hunters are welcome the whole weekend even if they harvest a deer and many do come back each day. Towards the end of the hunt as the number of people out in the field decrease stands are picked up and packed away leaving less work for the day after the hunt when all is taken down and put away for the year.

Some of the items we have collected include various sizes of extra clothing, walkie talkies, large cook tent, camo and staking to set up ground stands with, staking to mark each stand number designation, single and two man camo shooting tents, gun rests, cooking utensils, and sheets of plywood for the floors of the ground stands so people can move more easily.