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Published on: Sep. 20, 2011

from just a hunt to also a bonfire, a Halloween party and a Saturday evening visit to a corn maze.”

Volunteers make the varied activities possible. Some cook meals, while others operate a crafts, games and snack area for hunters who have bagged their deer or simply want to quit hunting for the day. A few volunteers stand ready to help field dress deer, bring them into camp and process the meat to send home with family members.

The first deer camps were for students from the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton. Later, students from the Kansas School for the Deaf began attending. Now hunters include students with hearing impairments who attend regular private or public schools throughout Missouri.

Craig Jones believes their deer camp model can be copied by others, too. “The hardest thing is finding a location,” he said. “Otherwise, all you need are volunteers, time and effort.”

Since this is a real, working deer camp, effort is required from everyone—including the young hunters.

A 5 a.m. wakeup call rousted Timmie and his fellow hunters out of warm cabin bunks and into chilly, pre-dawn darkness. Pancakes and eggs at the mess hall helped knock some sleepiness from their eyes, though, and the walk to their blinds put them wide awake.

The hunters generally harvest two to five deer each year at the reservation. It’s not a large tally, but not bad for brand-new hunters.

Value of the Hunt

Capps made sure Timmie had a prime center seat in the blind with good visibility in all directions. Pettit checked his son’s Rossi .243 single-shot rifle, a birthday present, to make sure the safety was on, and he helped him load a cartridge.

Morning brought squirrels digging for acorns beneath the leaves, a red-tailed hawk gliding over the treetops and the rise and fall of the wind. They could hear distant shots fired by other hunters on private property.

But no deer appeared before Timmie’s blind, and only one missed shot was fired by his fellow campers.

That did not discourage most hunters as they gathered for lunch. “I had fun,” Fetlework said. “I plan to go back out.”

After lunch, most guides and guardians in deer camp were thinking about naps, but Timmie was ready to head back to the woods. So, with fallen leaves crunching underfoot, the trio hiked back to the blind.

Again, hours passed and no deer appeared.

Timmie grew restless.

Then, suddenly in late afternoon, things changed.

“There’s one coming in,” Pettit said, “to the right.”

Capps started to raise his field glasses and then realized he didn’t need them, the deer was close.

“Oh my,” he said, “it’s a big one. Get ready.” Timmie saw the deer moving and tried to get the rifle shouldered and ready to fire, a process that was still underway as a very large buck deer with huge antlers sauntered nervously past the blind, probably within 30 yards.

The deer moved past the blind and through the trees, and then stopped for a moment at a distance. But before Timmie could find a good aiming point and fire, the buck slipped out of sight.

He did not speak but turned to his father, smiled hugely and pounded lightly on his chest to signal his fast-beating heart. Then he turned to gaze into the woods again, more anxious than ever, a deer hunter.

The smiles are what Jones and the other volunteers seek. “Even if they don’t get a deer,” Jones said, “we want them saying, ‘I had a ball.’”

Anyone interested in the deer camp can contact Craig Jones at 816-254-1013. The hunt is limited to 15 participants on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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