Deer hunting is a long-time tradition across Appalachia that has been a way for fathers and sons to bond as they track the area’s whitetail and take down the beast together. Todd Dunn, with Dunn’s True Lure No Kill Hunt explained that this family tradition is one that many families miss out on because of handicaps or disabilities that prevent either children from being able to enjoy the hunting experience or that prevent parents and grandparents from being able to take young hunting enthusiasts out across wooded terrain.
As a result, two years ago, Dunn started exploring options to make hunting accessible to everyone, and he already had the deer to do so. Dunn first started raising deer several years ago. He started with the occasional sick or injured fawn. With a soft-spot for the unfortunate, he would nurse the animals back to health and free them on his property in West Portsmouth. Soon, he was buying deer and is now up to 52 bucks and doe.
Two years ago, while his son was away in the military, Dunn’s son’s girlfriend, Emily Patterson, of Wheelersburg, was killed in an auto accident. With her was Dunn’s grandson Connor, who survived. Dunn wanted to start a project that would help others while also preserving her memory. Dunn originally wanted to have a hunting preserve, where disabled veterans could come out and enjoy a hunt without the issues of venturing out into the wild on their own. State law requires that in order to have a hunting preserve one must have 100 acres under fence, which Dunn did not. Rather, he decided he would have a no kill hunt and would open it up to disabled veterans and children.
“We started it in Emily’s name, so Connor would know his mom was not forgotten,” Dunn expressed.
This year, Dunn will have his third season of the hunt. Each year, he selects four applicants to take part in the free activity. Each veteran or child gets his/her own day when the thrill of the hunt is reserved for them and their family.
“We make it as real as we can ever make it,” Dunn commented. “We set it up the same as a real hunt, except they (the kid or veteran) use a dart gun.”
During the hunt, deer are shot with a tranquilizer, which sedates the animal. Dunn explained that this must be done each year anyway so that the deer can be given their vaccinations and have their horns sawed off. Dunn stated that the antlers of the deer are removed because once the deer come into rut (the first phase of breeding), males will fight and try to kill each other. Removing of antlers helps to prevent injury. Children are made aware that they are not actually killing the animal and also are informed as to why the deer must be sedated yearly.
“They actually do understand that they aren’t killing the deer,” Dunn said. “Some of the kids don’t want to kill them.”
He further confirmed that there is no harm done to any of the deer.
“They are shot with a tranquilizer gun like anyone who raises deer would have to do,” Dunn explained.
There are a variety of children and veterans who take part in the hunt including those who are terminally ill, in wheelchairs, are missing limbs and have developmental disabilities. They have use of a tripod to help hold their gun. Some children are unable to hold the gun themselves and get assistance from family members who are invited to join in the hunt with their child.
Only one family is invited to take part in the hunt at a time, and they keep returning each day until they have gotten their shot. Some take as many as three days. The biggest buck is always reserved the child who is the most ill.
“I want that kid that is sickest and may not be able to return next year to get the trophy of a lifetime,” Dunn stated.
After shooting the deer, the participant gets their picture taken with the animal. Afterwards, the deer gets its shots and antlers removed. They are then taken to a taxidermist who mounts them with a donated cape that comes from Dave Euton with Euton Deer Processing in McDermott. The heads are then presented to the hunters at a dinner held at Gatti’s Pizza at the end of the season.
Dunn provides the hunt free of charge to every family eating a cost of up to $6,500 each hunt. He is also working to expand the hunt. This year, he is fencing in an additional nine acres for a total of 19. This will allow the hunters to have a more realistic experience with blinds set up so that fences are not viewable. Hunts start the first of September just after the deer lose the velvet from their horns and in advance of them becoming more aggressive as they start to rut. Dunn is also working to get a mobile trailer donated so that he can turn it into a mobile blind with a restroom for those hunters with the greatest physical limitations.
With the exception of donated items, Dunn funds the hunt out-of-pocket. This year, the New Boston Eagles assisted with a donation of $500 to help Dunn to start on the additional fencing.
Anyone who is interested in donating to the charity or looking for more information about setting up a hunt is encouraged to call Dunn at 740-858-0436 or find him on Facebook, where there are hunt photos and signed items endorsed by hunting enthusiasts and celebrities who support the ways in which this hunt helps those to take part in what was only possible in their dreams.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.