Tommy Apala has always made sure that his son Jackson, 11, is able to enjoy the outdoors despite suffering from cerebral palsy and having to use a wheelchair to get about.
When the Watertown dad saw how thrilled his son was when he bagged a wild turkey on last month’s Young Sportsman hunt, he and some friends decided they wanted other physically-challenged youngsters to get the same opportunity.
Last weekend they took Jackson and three other area youngsters on a hunt on some Watertown farms, and Tommy said it was an unforgettable experience.
“It involved some work, but it was worth it,” he said.
Jackson bagged a second gobbler, and Lidda Willoughby and Ethan Judkins, both of Smithville, also got birds.
The fourth hunter, Amber Bowden didn’t get a turkey, but Sue Varney, one of the event coordinators, promised to take her out for another try during the season.
“It was the experience of a lifetime for these kids,” said Sue, who along with husband Troy operates Sue’s Taxidermy & Deer Processing in Liberty.
Sue, who runs the taxidermy part of the family business while her husband does the deer processing, plans to mount the kids’ trophies for free.
The day started with breakfast, followed by a morning hunt and capped with lunch at the Varneys. The youngsters proudly posed for photos with their trophy turkeys.
How were the participants selected?
“They are from around this area and the Varneys and I knew about them,” Apala said. “I’m sure there are others we aren’t acquainted with, and hopefully we can include them in a future hunt.”
Each young hunter was assigned an experienced adult hunter who was in charge of getting the blind ready and doing the calling. Bass Pro Shops sent three experienced hunters to help out, and also provided some gifts for the kids.
Parents and others were welcome to accompany each youngster.
“With a youngster in a wheelchair or on a four-wheeler you really need more than one person,” Apala explained. “Getting to and from the hunting site is not easy and we can use the extra help.”
Apala hunted with his son, and did the calling.
“We got a big turkey to come within about 80 yards and he strutted and gobbled for an hour and a half before he came close enough for a shot,” Tommy said. “I was more nervous than Jackson was.”
For the inaugural hunt Apala said things went smoothly, and he wants to expand it next year.
“This year four hunters were about all we felt we could handle, given the time and resources we had to work with,” he said.
Varney agreed. “Hopefully heading into next season we’ll have more time to get organized and get more people involved. We would like to double the number of kids we take out.
“It was a great experience for everybody involved,” she added. “The kids really enjoyed it, and we adults shared their thrill and excitement.”