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Hunt heals the Hurt

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By Chris Cannon

ccannon@lafollettepress.com

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A whip-poor-will called in the distance, as darkness fell on the Lewis Farm in Stinking Creek.

Rain continued to drizzle, but the emotions were anything but dreary for the hunting camp on Saturday night.

Hunters were gathering in, showing off their newly acquired trophies, as congratulations abound among the hunters and guides.

The Willing Sportsman Event was coming to a close for the Pine Mountain Longbeards.

“There’s people here that’s done something today, that otherwise, they may not have gotten the chance to do,” Pine Mountain Longbeard president Billy Ball said. “That’s something that we can’t put a price on. This event, it’s close to our hearts. It makes me tear up talking about it.”

The tears that welled in Ball’s eyes said it all.

On Saturday, 24 physically-challenged hunters, including 14 Wounded Warriors, along with two local youth, had the chance to go into the field for the spring turkey season, nine of them bringing home longbeards.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be in a position to help some of these guys that are less fortunate than us, to have a quality experience,” Terry Lewis, vice president of the chapter, said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s just enriching. It’s humbling to get some of these guys out there, when they couldn’t do it without us.”

Although Ball says there’s more to the hunt than the kill, he said the birds help enrich the experience.

The nine birds that were harvested on Saturday rank as the most the program has brought in during the nine years they’ve been providing the hunt.

For Ball and Lewis, however, it’s a chance to share the experience with the hunters.

“It’s an awesome feeling for us to share the success with them,” Lewis said. “We knew this would be a good day for them, because of the weather. It wasn’t a good day for the visitors, but it was a great day for the hunters and the birds. Hunting is an outdoor experience. Whether it rains or shines, the animals are still there. Not every experience is sunshiny. Sometimes, you have to brave the elements to be able to be successful. Today proved it.”

It also proved something else.

The community is behind the event in a big way.

Although the rain doused the farm around noon, over 200 people showed in order support the hunters as they came in from the fields for lunch.

“Who would have ever thought you could have over 200 people in the rain to attend an event like this?” Lewis said. “It speaks volumes.”

According to Ball, it was the largest crowd to ever attend the event.

On Friday night, the largest crowd attended the fish fry, as well.

“Today, with this weather coming in, I didn’t expect to see that kind of crowd,” Ball said. “To see that, that tells me that people are dedicated to this event and understand the importance of what it’s about. They want to be here and show their support, and it means a lot to us that they’re behind us.”

However, the most impressive was the number of people that helped put the event on, according to Ball.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association and LaFollette First Baptist Church were there to lend a hand, just to name a few.

“I think it’s the best one we’ve had yet,” Ball said. “When you can get more people involved, it’s going to make the event a better and more successful event when we work together on it.

Also on hand was Supreme Hunting Outdoors, which is a Christian hunting show that is broadcast online.

The camera crew, along with five video cameras and two still-image cameras, was on hand to document the event.

The crew also went into the fields with hunters in order to document the hunters’ experiences.

“We thought it was going to be an awesome opportunity for us to come out and give back to these veterans that have risked their life for our freedom,” the host of the SHO, David Buckner, said. We thought that this was the least we could do, was to come out with some of our sponsors to donate and give back to these guys, but also to capture this whole event through videography and photography work. We’re really excited about that.”

Footage of the event can be found at www.supremehuntingoutdoors.com.

After interviewing Master Sgt. Michael Trost, Buckner said the event isn’t just about the hunters getting into the field.

As many of the guides said, it’s a chance to evaluate what’s really important.

“It shakes you to the core to know individuals like that risk their lives for me and you – for everyone here – to give us the ability to have freedom,” Buckner said. “Now, they live a lifetime with (their injuries), and they’ve grown through those experiences and coped with that to become even stronger than they were. It’s an amazing experience."

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