OWL deer hunt to become annual event

Published 10:02 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When Kirk Thomas, founder and CEO of Outdoors Without Limits, (OWL) was asked about the success of the 2009 Ultimate Adventure Deer Hunt held in Pike County in mid-January, he leaned back in his wheelchair, folded his arms across his chest and grinned.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “This was the largest ever done. There’s not another one in the country like this. We’ve made the template to go out to other states. This was the best.”

Thomas was back in Troy over the weekend and he had more than words to stake his “the best” claim.

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The OWL deer hunt that originated at Swindall’s RV Park in Troy harvested 77 deer, seven hogs, three bobcats and one elk cow.

“The harvest was important but not nearly as important as the opportunities that the 130 people with disabilities had to experience the outdoors and participate in a hunt and the changes that it made in their lives and in the lives of those who shared the experience with them,” Thomas said. “Each of the hunters had a guide on the hunt and the guides were able to witness the struggles that people with disabilities have in doing things that they do with ease. The guides begin to realize, too, how important it is for people with disabilities to be in the outdoors and they look at them with greater understanding and appreciation than before.”

Thomas knows about hunting from “both sides of the fence.” His spine was crushed when a tree fell on him as he made his way back to a tree stand while deer hunting in 1992.

What others might deem a tragic accident, Thomas views as a “gift from God.”

“Being disabled has given me the opportunity to help others,” he said. Just over a year ago, he founded Outdoors Without Limits, a faith-based organization, that provides outdoor and life changing experiences for those with handicaps.

“OWL is all about education and opportunities,” Thomas said. “That’s what we provided for the hunters and their guides at the 2009 Ultimate Adventure Deer Hunt. It was a learning experience for both the hunters and the guides. They learned something important from each other.”

Thomas and Mike Swindall, RV park owner and president of the sponsoring local OWL Chapter, expressed appreciation to the landowners, who made the land available for the deer hunt, the supporting businesses, individuals and the many volunteers who made the events possible.

“There’s no way that we can publicly thank everybody that was involved,” Swindall said. “But because everyone was willing to work together, the hunt was an even bigger success than we could have hoped and it meant so much to these hunters. To see the smiles on their faces was worth every bit of the effort.”

The success of the hunt cemented the thoughts of making the Ultimate Adventure Deer Hunt an annual event, Swindall said.

“It’s going to take a lot of planning and hard work to do that but whatever it takes, it’s worth it,” he said.

For such an ambitious undertaking, Swindall said the local OWL chapter will continue to need members and volunteers. Dues are $15 a year and will include the “opportunity” to provide outdoor experiences for those whose opportunities are limited because of a variety of handicaps.

“We are planning future events including youth and ladies’ hunts and a skeet shoot,” Swindall said. “The more support we have the more we can do.”

For more information or to join or volunteer, call 334-566-8353.