No-Kill Deer Hunts: An Inclusive Hunting Experience
When seven-year-old Justin Hatton was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in 2004, doctors said he wouldn’t live past his 18th birthday.
On September 21 of this year, at age 22, Hatton brought down a 20-point buck with the help of family and volunteers. Fred Taylor, Hatton’s grandfather, flew from his home in Arizona to join Hatton, who is confined to a wheelchair, for the hunt, which was made possible by Ohio deer farmer Todd Dunn.
An Opportunity That Couldn’t Be Ignored
Dunn’s plan was to raise deer, collect their urine and produce a hunting lure that no buck could resist, but something even better grew from it. Dunn has to regularly examine and vaccinate the deer as well as remove the bucks’ antlers to prevent them from injuring each other. Since he has to tranquilize the animals to do so, Dunn developed a plan to give disabled children and veterans the opportunity to hunt the deer with dart guns. Now in its fifth year, Dunn’s True Lure No Kill Deer Hunt has hosted more than 50 hunters.
Guests don’t harvest just any deer—they harvest really big deer. Dunn explained that the farm gets its genetics from Dan and Pam Paden of Velvet Dreams, who graciously donate large bucks for the hunts.
How Do No-Kill Deer Hunts Work?
Hunters are given as much help and time needed to dart their deer on the 22-acre wooded enclosure. Afterward, Dunn has a local taxidermist mount the antlers on a plaque for hunters. Greg Messer, a 27-year member of Painters Local 555 and taxidermist, donates most of the mounts, while retired marine Randy Lewis of God’s Creation Taxidermist mounted the antlers for Hatton. The entire experience doesn’t cost guests a dime.
Hatton’s mother, Melissa Taylor, learned about the no kill hunts through an article in the local newspaper. Her father and older son have hunted together but Hatton never had the same opportunity. When she shared Hatton’s story, Dunn booked him for the first hunt of the season. Now Hatton is enjoying bragging to his older brother about his buck.
With A Little Help From Some Good People
U.S. Army veterans Rick Bell and Josh Mead assisted were there to assist. Bell, who was injured in an explosion that left him a paraplegic, is Dunn’s chief hunting guide. He uses a track chair and never misses a hunt.
“There needs to be more people like that,” Melissa said, adding that Hatton wanted to be in the military before he was diagnosed with what she described as “the worst form of muscular dystrophy.”
An Experience This Family is Grateful For
Hatton took his last steps in June 2009, and today, his heart is functioning at just 30 percent.
“I’m thankful every day for every experience we get to have with Justin,” Melissa said. She described the chance for her son to shoot a deer just like his grandfather and brother as a blessing to all.
“It is hard to put into words the awesome experience of sitting in the blind with my grandson,” Fred said. “Participating in this experience that neither of us imagined he would ever be able to do is a memory we will cherish forever.”
A former member of Laborers Local 83, Dunn’s ties to the union community in Ohio are strong. His three sons are union members, and union members have served as hunting guides on his farm and helped at the disabled youth and veteran fishing derby he hosted last April. So, it was only natural that conversations between Dunn and Fred led to the union. Though retired, Fred has been proudly carrying his union card since 1969.
Dunn’s efforts to improve access and opportunities for others to experience the outdoors falls perfectly in line with the USA’s mission. Recognizing that, USA’s Ohio State Conservation Dinner committee connected the USA with Dunn. To make Hatton’s hunt even better, the USA supplied him with Plano game calls, bags and other gear.
“We are beyond grateful for the package of game calls and other goodies you sent Justin. He loves the hat,” Fred said. “We are thankful to all the people who made this day special for Justin. Knowing there are people out there doing things for the disabled and making things possible is inspiring.”