By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Every hunter at the 2018 Buckmasters Life Hunt at Sedgefields Plantation went home with great memories. And with a snowstorm approaching, each hunter bagged a buck before the three-day event was complete.
Going into the final afternoon hunt, David Powell of South Carolina had taken a doe earlier in the hunt but was the only participant without a buck. Powell completed the buck-sweep by dropping a 10-pointer as sleet started to pelt the ground blind.
Another hunter didn’t take her buck until the final day of the event, but Abigail McHenry of Deatsville, Ala., scored on the morning hunt. Abigail was sponsored on the hunt by the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association.
Abigail, 14, is the daughter of Jason McHenry, a conservation enforcement officer with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. Abigail was born prematurely and suffers from cerebral palsy.
When we talked about her hunt, the first thing she said was, “I was excited.” And she affirmed that her heart was really pumping.
Abigail had been practicing with her dad, and it definitely paid off. When I asked her what happened after she shot, her answer was, “He hit the ground.”
Jason said the two had been practicing with some adaptive equipment, a Caldwell Deadshot Fieldpod Max with an iPhone adapter. When they arrived at the blind, it became apparent they would have to adjust.
“We had been working a Deadshot, and typically we were using that with a Snakelook hookup for the iPhone to look through the scope,” McHenry said. “As far as the setup with the blind, the Deadshot wouldn’t fit in the blind, so I shouldered the gun for her, and she pulled the trigger.
“When she shot it, the buck mule-kicked and took one step forward. It was standing, so we put another round in it and dropped it. When we watched the video, after that first shot, you could tell he was about to fall when we took the second shot.”
The McHenrys indicated they couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
“I’m excited for Abigail,” Jason said. “It gave us a great time together. Our guide, Jeff Woods, was awesome. He really took time with Abigail and just made her laugh and enjoy the hunt.
“The experience, as a whole, has been great. Abigail has been smiling all morning since she got the deer. It gives her some bragging rights to go back home and tell her brothers and sisters (five), because she’s the only one that has been a part of killing a buck.”
Rhae Busby of Demopolis, Ala., who suffers from brittle bone disease, had to sit out the final day of hunting after fracturing her collarbone the night before. However, she already had her buck down when that happened. In fact, Rhae was the first hunter to put a buck on the ground, an eight-pointer.
Rhae’s mother, Dana Busby, shared on Facebook about the event.
“Every hunter this year was able to take a buck,” Dana posted. “Rhae killed the first buck of the hunt, so she was given a really nice Buck knife. David Robertson, pitcher with the Yankees, came out (as he does every year) and spent some time with the kids and families and gave all the hunters a jersey and hat, which he signed. You couldn't meet a nicer guy. Rhae received several other gifts from several organizations. Buckmasters put on an amazing three-day hunt that we were blessed and grateful to be a part of. Just want to say a big thank you to David Sullivan for getting us involved and to everyone else it took to pull this event off. I tried to thank everyone I could before we left. Y'all made one little girl extremely happy.”
Daniel Allen, a 6-year-old from Coke, Ala., who has survived leukemia, took his first buck with the help of the guides and his grandfather, David Strickland, who relived the successful hunt.
“A nice buck crossed out of range so I roused Daniel up from his stool where he was napping,” Strickland posted. “Then we spotted two does headed towards the field in front of our ground blind at about 100 yards. The camera guy and guide looked at each other and told him to shoot the lead doe. I whispered, ‘Right behind the shoulder,’ and he shot. It dropped low and ran about 70 yards and hit the ground (perfect lung shot). I then noticed a buck easing across a dirt road headed the same way. We quickly extracted the spent shell and he pushed another round into the single shot. The guide stopped the trotting buck with a grunt and he stared in our direction. He aimed, shot and missed. I quickly opened the breach and slipped in another round. I whispered, ‘Slowly squeeze the trigger.’ He shot again and the buck buckled without a twitch.”
Taylor Watts of McCalla, Ala., a 16-year-old childhood cancer survivor, also bagged an eight-point during the event.
David Sullivan, who heads the Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, said hunters came from as far away as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to hunt at Sedgefields, one of the top places to hunt in the Alabama Black Belt, which is renowned for its deer and turkey hunting.
The Life Hunt has been taking place at the Hinton family property since 2000, and Sullivan lauded the time and effort that goes into the hunt each January, both from the Hinton family and the many volunteers and guides.
“I think the Life Hunt has gotten better every year,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been able to refine the way we do things, and we have a lot more help than we used to. We have a lot more resources donated, which allows us to help more people. We have more sponsorships, which allows us to buy more adaptive equipment the hunters need.”
As was mentioned by Rhae Busby’s mom, David Robertson, a relief pitcher with the New York Yankees who hails from Tuscaloosa, again joined the Life Hunt to provide encouragement as well as mementoes.
“This is something I look forward to all season long,” Robertson said. “I can’t wait to hang out with these guys and see all the new hunters coming in. I love seeing smiles on faces when they’re putting their hands on horns and taking pictures. I just hang out, drift around and talk to people. I try to make them feel happy and comfortable.
“It’s different for me to hang out in this type of environment. It’s fun to me to go around and find out how everyone’s hunt went. Most people here get their first deer. I remember how excited I was when I got my first deer. That was 24 years ago at Mike Spruill’s place near Tuscaloosa. It was a big, ol’ three-point. I had my dad with me. I will never forget it.”
PHOTOS: (Ryan Noffsinger) All four hunters from Alabama who participated in the 2018 Buckmasters Life Hunt went home with bucks. From top, Abigail McHenry and her dad, Jason, bagged a big buck on the last day of the hunt. Rhae Busby and David Sullivan of the American Deer Foundation are all smiles after Busby took the first buck of the event. Buckmasters founder Jackie Bushman joins Daniel Allen and his grandfather, David Strickland, to celebrate Daniel’s success. Bushman and Taylor Watts show off his Life Hunt trophy.