Friday, January 23–Disabled Hunters Set Sights On Assateague Deer

ASSATEAGUE – For the third straight year, several avid sportsmen and women with various disabilities will get the chance to bow hunt for sika deer on Assateague Island National Seashore this weekend as part of an annual event hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) and its partners to provide opportunities for hunting enthusiasts who might not otherwise get the opportunity.

Under the direction of Assateague Island National Seashore Chief Ranger Ted Morlock, in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation and its local chapter the Bay Shore Gobblers out of Pocomoke, the annual event provides an opportunity for individuals with varying disabilities who otherwise enjoy the outdoors and sports, to take part in a managed hunt for sika deer on the island.

The event got underway early this morning with as many as 18 registered hunters with mobility-impaired disabilities taking to special deer stands in a designated area on the west side of the island under the watchful supervision of NPS Rangers and numerous volunteers, many of whom are from the Bay Shore Gobblers.

Morlock said this week he first conceived of the idea about four years ago, but it took about one year to work out the logistics of the event. Since then, the annual hunt has grown each year with as many as 18 mobility-impaired hunters expected to participate this weekend. Morlock said the annual event serves a dual purpose with the enjoyment of the hunters and the conservation of the island’s natural resources the beneficiaries.

“It really has a two-pronged objective,” he said. “First, it provides an incredible place for these folks to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the thrill of hunting, which many of them don’t often get an opportunity to do. Secondly, it helps us manage our sika deer population and meet our management objectives.”

Morlock said striking a balance between the native white-tail deer population and the non-native sika deer population presents challenges as each makes an impact on the island’s other natural resources.

Opening up a special two-day bow season for mobility-challenged deer hunting enthusiasts helps Park Service officials accomplish their objectives while providing a wonderful outdoor opportunity for the participants.

The event got underway last night with a banquet in Ocean City during which the estimated 18 registered hunters renewed old friendships from previous years and got their stand assignments for this morning. Morlock and his crew of volunteers set up around 23 accessible deer stands in the western section of the national park west of Bayberry Rd., which will otherwise be closed to the general public to ensure a safe event while the managed hunt is going on.

Each of the hunters was assigned a deer stand during the banquet last night for the morning session of the hunt, which got underway today. They will have the opportunity to move to a different stand later this afternoon and yet another stand during the morning session tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 24, optimizing their chance to see and maybe shoot a sika deer.

Morlock said during the first two events, the roughly 15-20 disabled hunters participating have taken an average of about eight sika deer each year, meaning all of those participating have a better than average shot of shooting a deer during the archery-only event. Participants all report seeing deer and enjoying many other wildlife encounters. The volunteers on hand help collect the deer and dress them out with the hunters keeping their prey, only after the National Park Service registers the harvest and gathers scientific data from the animal.

For Morlock, what began as an idea about four years ago has become a labor of love, both for event’s resource management benefit and, perhaps more importantly, the opportunity it provides the disabled sports enthusiasts.

“Their perseverance amazes me,” he said. “They sit out there in sub-freezing temperatures for hours waiting for their opportunity. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career.”