When Justin Hatton was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 10 years ago, he was told he would not live past his 18th birthday.
Saturday, at the age of 22 and now in a wheelchair, 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 witness the event.
“It was fantastic,” Taylor said. “We had high hopes, but it far exceeded our expectations.”
The event is made possible each fall for disabled children and veterans by local deer farmer Todd Dunn who has transformed his West Portsmouth farm into a place where those who are disabled can come and experience hunting a deer.
For Hatton, this hunt was very special, according to his mother, Melissa Taylor, who said Hatton’s brother killed an eight point a couple years ago. Taylor said Justin is enjoying bragging to his brother about his 20 point buck.
To help those who would otherwise not have the chance to go deer hunting, Dunn has deer fenced in on his farm for collecting the urine for hunting purposes. Each year, Dunn has to tranquilize the deer and give them antibiotics. For the bucks, he also saws off their antlers so they won’t harm each other.
Since he has to service the animals in this manner, Dunn decided to let disabled veterans and children help with the hunt. Now they get to partake in the hunt and tranquilize the animals to help with the process. Afterward, Dunn has a taxidermist place the antlers on a deer head to present to the hunter.
Both Fred and Melissa Taylor gave high praises to Dunn for what he has done for the disabled.
“We enjoyed being able to participate,” Fred Taylor said. “I’d like to thank Todd Dunn for letting us have this experience.”
Both Taylors also mentioned the help of disabled veteran Rick Bell who helps with the hunting process as well. Bell, who was left in a wheelchair after an explosion overseas during his time in the US Army, never misses a hunt.
“I’m thankful everyday for every experience we get to have with Justin,” Melissa Taylor said of her son.
Melissa Taylor and Justin moved from Arizona to Wheelersburg around a decade ago. Justin now has just 30 percent of his heart working and took his last steps in June 2009. His mother described his illness as the “worst” form of muscular dystrophy.
“That’s what he’s got.”
“There needs to be more people like that.” Taylor said of Dunn and Bell, and also said Justin wanted to be in the military and if he hadn’t fallen ill, he would be a soldier today.
Another pleasant surprise came Saturday when Frenchy, one of the alligator hunters on the television show Swamp People called Justin via facetime and talked to him for a few minutes. “He was just so excited to talk to him,” Taylor mentioned.
Taylor said for a boy who hasn’t walked since he was 12, being able to shoot a deer, just like his grandfather and brother are able to do was a blessing to all.
“Just the look on his face, to be able to experience the same thing his grandfather and brother did is so exciting. Justin is beyond happy, beyond excited.”