Nearly 150 people filled a maintenance facility with excitement at Smithville Lake around 4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. They were all there for one reason, to get out into the wild and seek a big buck this weekend.
For the 30th year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Smithville Lake hosted what’s known as the world’s largest managed deer hunt for mobility-impaired hunters. During this two-day event, 60 hunting blinds are set up across 3,800 acres of prime ground, not available for public hunting. Along with a volunteer, these hunters seek out the best spot near daybreak and wait out their target.
In 1990, Bruce Clark, retired operations manager at Smithville Lake, started this initiative. It offered nearly 17 spots in the hunt providing an outdoor opportunity for disabled hunters and help manage the deer population around the Smithville, Mo. area. The first year, nine deer were harvested.
In order to make this managed hunt possible, it took regulation changes from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“Several meetings were held [between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Missouri Department of Conservation] in Jefferson City, Mo. to get all the appropriate officials on board,” informed Clark. “Liability was of great concern, and still is. That is why strict safety precautions need to be in place.”
The coordination time was well spent as Clark has been told on more than one occasion that “this is about the only fun thing I get to do all year.” And, to him, that is what made the efforts all worthwhile.
“30 years later, here we are. Still providing this opportunity for mobility-impaired hunters to get back to nature,” said Derek Dorsey, Smithville Lake Park Manager.
Year after year, applications are received in August and land clearing begins in November, to clear brush and allow cleaner paths to access the hunting blinds. Applicants are accompanied in the field by either a friend or a volunteer. Those individuals assist with getting to and from the blind, sighting and loading deer.
While most kids normally get to sleep in on a Saturday morning, Boy Scouts Troop 397 from Kearney, Mo. arrives at Smithville Lake by 4:30 a.m. to serve the hungry hunters a bountiful breakfast before they head out to their blinds around 5 a.m. For lunch, hunters come back to basecamp to find a plethora of crockpots filled to the brim with chili, provided by the Smithville Kiwanis Club.
And 11 year old Mason Rudder from Holt, Mo. is just one of those who woke early Saturday anxious to participate in this hunt for his first time and to harvest a deer.
“This event has given Mason, my son, more confidence,” said George Rudder. “I have taken him hunting on private land with me the past four years prior. The first two years he was able to harvest a 7-point buck and a 9-point buck respectively. But I also think there was a bit of beginners luck with those two situations. The last two years, while seeing deer, we were just not able to get it done.”
After two years and no luck getting a deer, Mason harvested a doe during the 30th annual managed deer hunt at Smithville Lake.
“Mason seeing other participants in different circumstances getting out and doing the same thing was a positive experience for him,” said Rudder. “We couldn't be more thankful for the experience.”
“This is what the hunt is about and why we continue to host it,” said Dorsey. “While this hunt helps manage a deer herd that would typically overpopulate in an area that is off-limits to hunting, it provides mobility-impaired people of all ages an opportunity to hunt, bond with their volunteers and get back to nature. Over the 30-year event the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has hosted 1,577 hunters who have harvested 1,504 deer. It takes hard work to put this together, but seeing the excitement of the hunters and the bonds they establish makes it a huge success for all.”