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History of Hunters Helping Hunters

2001
Founding President Paul Branch developed a heart for disabled individuals through his Boy Scout experiences at an early age. His Eagle Scout project in 1974 was to collect clothes and other items for a downtown Detroit mission and a state hospital in Lapeer, Michigan. As the years went by, Paul’s desire to help disabled individuals never subsided.

Paul is an avid hunter and has been employed as a forester for Pike Lumber Company for 21 years. During this period of time, watching hunting shows that featured disabled individuals harvesting wild game inspired Paul. He saw how these activities enabled hope, confidence and excitement in the faces of these disabled hunters.

In August of 2001, Paul discovered Buckmasters American Deer Foundation through an advertisement in a local sporting goods store. Buckmasters is a not-for-profit national organization that provides disabled individuals with opportunities to hunt in various locations around the United States. Paul saw Buckmasters as a possible outlet for his long-time dream of providing hunting opportunities for disabled hunters on Pike’s Northeast Indiana forests. After Paul discussed this opportunity with eight of his long-time hunting friends, they, too, were excited about this opportunity.

In September of 2001, after meeting with Buckmasters’ representative, Cam Tribulett, Paul and his friends decided to host a local hunt for five disabled hunters sponsored by Buckmasters American Deer Foundation.

In December of 2001, five disabled hunters from the Mid-West came together to Auburn to hunt White Tailed Deer during the first week of Indiana muzzleloader season.

By bringing the group of disabled hunters together, an incredible sense of camaraderie was established between the hunters, Paul, and his friends. The hunters’ faces glowed with excitement after meeting the challenges of enduring cold, winter-weather conditions. Paul and his friends knew after this experience that they would want to continue to host another hunt in the fall of 2002.

The Auburn Evening Star newspaper featured a front page article on the weekend hunting activities.

2002

In November of 2002, the second White Tailed Deer Hunt was conducted on Pike grounds and other private forestland properties in Northeast Indiana.

In December of 2002, the group raised additional financial support to send two youth hunters to deer ranches in Indiana and Wisconsin. An 11-year-old girl with degenerative bone disease and Marcus Steury, an 18-year-old boy with Spina Bifida enjoyed the hunts, which were organized by Buckmasters with the funding provided by the Auburn group.

In December of 2002, the group decided to separate from Buckmasters and become its own entity.

The Auburn Evening Star and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette both had feature articles on the weekend hunting events.

 

2003 Hunters Helping Hunters, Inc. is incorporated.

In April of 2003, Paul and his friends met with an Auburn attorney, John Martin Smith, to discuss the possibilities of incorporating as a not-for-profit organization. They wanted to become a not-for-profit organization to enable them to better serve the disabled hunters. They also felt donors would look more favorably on contributing to a local not-for profit organization with the intentions to serve handicapped hunters in the local community.

In July of 2003, six disabled hunters were selected for the upcoming November White Tailed Deer Hunt. The disabilities of these adult hunters included a 36-year-old paraplegic from Van Wert, Ohio, who was recently injured in a tornado; Marcus Steury, now 19-years-old born with Spina Bifida; a 58-year-old from Southern Indiana recently diagnosed with esophagus cancer; a 60-year-old from Fort Wayne suffering from diabetes, heart failure, amputation, and partial blindness; and a 55-year-old man with degenerative osteoporosis complicated by a heart condition and a partially amputated foot. The sixth hunter was a quadriplegic Amish man from Hicksville, Ohio.

In August of 2003, a vote was taken on various names for the new organization. The name Hunters Helping Hunters (HHH) was chosen. This name was selected because the objective of the members of HHH is to help relieve the financial, physical, and emotional stress of their fellow disabled and/or seriously ill hunters. The mission of this new organization is to help disabled hunters reach their goals and aspirations as well as encouraging hope and self-confidence to face the challenges in their everyday lives.

On September 26, 2003, Hunters Helping Hunters officially became incorporated by the State of Indiana as a not-for-profit organization.

In October of 2003, lodging, meals, and financial donations to cover the cost of the upcoming November hunt were all in order. The outpouring of donated services and financial donations from the local community was impressive and encouraging during this first full month of being a corporation.

The first of November 2003, after considerable searching, a bookkeeper was found to take care of the accounting needs for the corporation. Hunting locations were located in the forests that best suited the physical needs of the disabled hunters as well as giving them the best possible opportunity to harvest a White Tailed Deer. Final preparations were made to welcome the guest hunters in a couple of weeks.

The weekend of November 14-16 was the main annual event in 2003 for Hunters Helping Hunter, Inc. The event was a White Tailed Deer Hunt on opening day of the shotgun season. Five out of the six guest hunters arrived Friday evening at Pike’s Auburn office for the fish fry, orientation, and introduction meeting. During the gathering, several members of HHH discussed gun safety, hunting laws, and ethics. Unfortunately, one of the guest hunters became seriously ill and was not able to attend. Another guest hunter recently diagnosed with esophagus cancer put off his first chemotherapy treatment in order to experience the weekend. Each guest hunter introduced themselves and described their disability or illness and shared their past hunting experiences. There was mounting excitement in the room as each hunter told of their hunting adventures from the past and looked forward to the next morning’s hunt. Some expressed concerns as to whether they would be able to withstand the cold, wet, weather conditions for the duration of the time spent outdoors. HHH members encouraged guest hunters that they would be able to master the challenges set before them and that there was only a 20 percent chance of rain in the forecast. Most of the guest hunters were a bit tentative and somewhat nervous when they arrived, but by the end of the evening there was a feeling of confidence and camaraderie between all who attended.

Steady rain fell as the hunters were placed in their covered blinds. Fortunately, this did not dampen the spirits of the hunters. By noon, two of the hunters had harvested deer. Both told the story of their experience with an obvious glow of excitement in their face. After lunch, the hunters revisited their blinds and hunted until dark. Although no more deer were harvested, the spirit of adventure was evident in all of the hunters. Those who had concerns about making it through the severe weather conditions had now developed a new sense of confidence in their abilities to meet the challenge.

Everyone gathered at the Auburn office for dinner and a great time of fellowship and story telling of the day’s adventures. Framed pictures of each guest hunter and their helpers taken Friday and Saturday were presented to them. One picture in particular of the gentleman with esophagus cancer and his wife brought tears to many of participants’ eyes. One paraplegic hunter revealed that this was his first major outing since becoming paralyzed and was extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend the weekend in the woods. Another hunter who had not been able to be on a hunting adventure for over five years shared humorous old hunting and fishing stories from the past. Needless to say, tears were brought to the eyes of everyone in the room as their stomachs ached with laughter.

On Sunday morning, the hunters took to the field for the last opportunity to harvest a deer. At the end of the morning’s hunt, everyone had seen deer and four out of the five had shot opportunities. After everyone was brought back together from their blinds, the group gathered at Arby’s for lunch and the final good-byes for this year’s hunt. A sense of belonging and brotherhood was evident to everyone present. By providing this weekend of hunting opportunities and fellowship with other hunters, it was clear that our purpose of inspiring hope, joy and confidence in these disabled hunters had been accomplished.

In December of 2003, HHH sponsored a special White Tail Deer Hunt for Blake Hall. Blake is a 12-year-old boy from Forrest, Illinois. Blake was diagnosed with bone cancer in the spring of 2003. He had major surgery during the summer to remove a section of bone in his thigh and had just received chemotherapy treatments prior to the December hunt. Blake was so sick two days prior to the hunt that it was almost canceled. The morning of the hunt, Blake was pale and weak, but proceeded to hunt anyway.

The day brought wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour along with cold temperatures and snow. With the use of a muzzleloader, Blake harvested a beautiful nine point Buck. Anyone who looks at the before and after pictures of Blake can see the transformation in his physical appearance and emotional well-being. Also very touching to the HHH members and others involved was the emotional response of Blake’s father as he witnessed the joy of his son meeting the challenges that day.

Blake’s hunt was featured on the Outdoors with Joey Mines show in February of 2004. This outdoor show is a weekly program on the Fox Sports Network South.

The Auburn Evening Star featured a front-page picture and article of the November hunting activities and a follow-up picture and article of Blake Hall’s story. Blake’s connection with HHH and his hunt of a lifetime was also featured in his hometown newspaper.

2004

In January of 2004, the board decided to meet on the first Monday of every month.
The board also analyzed the previous years’ hunts. Topics of discussion were sensitivity training, meeting the dietary needs of the guest hunters, possible permanent elevated wooden wheelchair accessible hunting platforms, and receiving 501(c)(3) blank application forms from the attorney. The board discussed how the group would complete the application process. It was decided that the groups’ bookkeeper along with a consulting CPA would facilitate the 501(c)(3) application process.

In January 2004, the bookkeeper was voted in as a HHH board member.

The group considers the 501(c)(3) Advance Ruling to be essential to the future success of the group to help improve the quality of life for physically challenged and seriously ill hunters and their families. Many board members reported back that if we had the 501(c)(3) status that corporate donations would be significantly higher.

In February of 2004, HHH bought its own domain name called www.huntershelpinghunters.org and launched the website. The goal of the website is to promote, educate and inform the public about the mission, vision and activities of Hunters Helping Hunters, Inc.

In April of 2004, several HHH members had the opportunity to see Blake Hall while turkey hunting in Central Indiana. Although he was on crutches, he had gained 35 pounds and recent tests showed no cancer.

At every meeting, the cash status report, fundraising, potential hunters, 501(c)(3) status, improving future hunts, additional sensitivity training, and future plans for other activities are discussed.



Dreamweaver in Time