SMITHVILLE, Mo. - Kevin Bratten watched a buck with large antlers moving through the brush near his hunting blind at Smithville Lake. So he adjusted his position in his wheelchair, aimed his 7mm magnum rifle and fired. A lifetime trophy was his on Nov. 17, courtesy of a community partnership that made the lake’s 23rd annual disabled-hunter event possible.
“That’s the biggest buck I’ve ever killed,” said Bratten, 47, of rural Platte City. “I was trained in the Marines as a sniper, so I wasn’t going to let him get away.”
An accident during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps left Bratten with decreased use of his legs and arms. That hasn’t stopped him from hunting. His life-long love of the outdoors drove him to continue hunting as he adapted to using a wheelchair. He also hunts on private land, and family members lend him a hand. But the Smithville Lake deer hunt offers hunters with disabilities extra-good opportunities for success. This was his 18th year at the hunt.
“The guys that set this up and the blinds they provide, you’ve got a better chance of shooting a deer on this hunt,” Bratten said.
The hunt is hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) employees help with blind set up, collect data on deer harvested and assist hunters and volunteers. A $5,000 grant from the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation helped procure some blinds and equipment. The Clay County Parks and Recreation Department is another partner. Many hunting locations are on park land leased from the Corps.
“It’s a great hunt, and for a lot of these folks it’s the only time of year they get to hunt,” said Paul Lowry, an MDC private lands specialist who volunteers annually.
Also lending a hand this year was Boy Scout Troop 397 of Kearney, Mo. Scouts were on hand shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday to begin serving biscuits and gravy to hunters and volunteers. The Smithville Kiwanis Club members brought 15 pots of chili for lunch.
Hunters are positioned on public lands at the lake that are closed for the regular deer hunting seasons, such as wooded areas of parks. The hunt helps control the deer herd size to protect natural habitat from damage and to reduce deer-vehicle collisions on nearby highways, said Derek Dorsey, park ranger for the Corps. This year, hunters harvested 63 deer on Saturday and 11 deer on Sunday. The Corps makes 60 blinds available and they’re all in use on the first day.
Bratten also shot two does on Saturday in addition to his seven-point buck. He’s looking forward to eating venison, but he’s also donating a deer to Share the Harvest, a program that provides deer meat for food pantries.
“I believe in Share the Harvest,” Bratten said, “because I believe in helping people.”