Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Paraplegics enjoy another deer hunting season

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According to Susan (Ingalls) McCarthy, wildlife biologist and Paraplegic Deer Hunt Coordinator for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, the weather statewide was "pretty terrible" for this year's paraplegic hunts, which were held on Nov. 1 through 3 — but participants and volunteers alike still had a positive experience. Here in the Berkshires, the same six hunters who participated in last year's hunt showed up again this year — four in the southern and two in the northern Berkshire sites.

The southern Berkshires folks hunted in the Mount Washington area and the hunt was coordinated out of the Department of Conservation & Recreation Headquarters at Mount Washington State Forest. Adam Morris is the Beartown Complex Forest and Park Regional Coordinator, which includes the Mount Washington State Forest. Fred Lampro and Mark Portiere once again headed up the hunt this year. The hunters were as follows: Sidney Eichstedt of Lee, Greg Baumli of New Lebanon, N.Y., Steve Gladding of Westfield, and Vyto Sablevicius of Norwich.

The helpers and the number of years they have served as volunteers included: Shaun Smith (45 years), Al Vincent (45), Marc Portieri (29), Greg Arienti (23), Paul Mullins (20), Matt Roache (13), Chuck Pickert (11), Rick Thelig (11), Fred Lampro (10), Tom Dean (7), Rohan Nair (1), and Adam Morris (1), all from the Berkshires.

Eichstedt looks forward to this hunt every year.

"Spending time in the woods is relaxing and therapeutic," he said.

To other paraplegics, he recommends that they "give it a try, they have nothing to lose."

Vyto Sablevicus agrees with Sid.

"Cold and rainy weather is a big factor with paraplegic hunters," he said, "and these new ground blinds are a blessing."

This event is their "deer camp" each year.

"This hunt was established to provide these hunters a safe environment to hunt as well as to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hunters. It is kind of a social event for them," said Smith.

The volunteers are amazing. They did a lot of prep work by scouting several areas and placing (donated) trail cameras to see where the best deer activity was. They analyzed the pictures to determine the best places in which to place the hunters. This year, thanks to donations, they were able to provide ground blinds (tent-like enclosures) where the hunters could hunt from inside them and be sheltered from rain and inclement weather. Volunteers transported the hunters to the locations and helped to drive the deer toward them. If a hunter shot a deer, they tracked it, field dressed it and dragged it to the vehicle.

The volunteers want no credit and I practically had to drag the names and other information out of them. I found out that they do fund raisers to buy cameras, blinds, and other equipment. They are usually held at the VFW in Dalton in February or March. They promised to let me know when so that I can mention it in this column.

And what can I write about Chuck Pickert, his wife Beverly, and Tricia Volmer. For the last 10 year in a row, Chuck brought his trailer-mounted smoker/grill and they cooked breakfasts and lunches for the three days. Tricia Vollmer made the fish chowder, Beverly made the potato salad and other individuals prepared the desserts and other food needed for the three-day event. A lot of friends who own restaurants and businesses donate food, charcoal, condiments, etc. every year (see attached sidebar).

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A friend of mine, George Smith of Egremont, and I arrived there on Friday, the second day of the hunt. It just so happens — not accidentally — we arrived just before lunch. On that day, the lunch menu was homemade Manhattan clam chowder, smoked pork soup, smoked pork gravy served over noodles, smoked pork loin roll-up, smoked sausages with marinara sauce over noodles, potato salad, cole slaw and home-made desserts. We both were greatly impressed with how tasty the food was, how well the hunt was managed and how the volunteers took great care to see that the hunters had an enjoyable hunt.

So how did the hunt go this year in the Southern Berkshires? Everyone saw deer. No deer were taken on Thursday, but Vyto shot at a deer. On Saturday, thre deer (an 8-point buck by Steve, an adult doe by Fred and a button buck by Greg) were taken. MassWildlife confirmed that these turned out to be the only deer taken statewide. (On Saturday, the hunters wanted to get home and out of their wet clothes, so I was unable to get any pictures of the successful hunters).

Rick French coordinates the hunt with the volunteers and hunters at the Northern Berkshires site. The two hunters at the Northern Berkshires site were Dale Bailey of Clarksburg and Shawn Mei of Baldwinville. Volunteers included French, Alex Daigle, Tony Mei, Robert Mei, Stacy Sylvester, and J. Sylvester. With permission, they hunted private properties in the Williamstown area. They had a couple of shots, but clean misses there.

DFW Western District biologist Nate Buckhout, along with DFW staff Jacob Morris-Siegel, Derek McDermott and Ray Bressette, were on hand at the sites to help out and check in the deer.

Statewide, the other sites include Quabbin Reservoir, Fort Devens, and Joint Base Cape Cod (Otis AFB/Camp Edwards). There were a lot of deer seen and pushed by volunteers at Quabbin, but they just couldn't get the deer to walk past the hunters. There were a few shots and misses at Fort Devens and no shots taken at JBCC.

Since 1972, this hunt has provided thousands of hours of recreational opportunities for paraplegic sportsmen and women. Volunteers are integral to the program and MassWildlife thanks them all for their enthusiasm and commitment. There is some concern that the numbers of hunters taking advantage of the paraplegic hunt have been dwindling, mainly due to their aging or passing away. If you are a paraplegic sportsman or sportswoman interested in participating in the 2019 hunt, contact McCarthy at 508-389-6326 or Susan.Ingalls@state.ma.us.

Incidentally, the definition for paraplegic per DFW code states: "(b) Paraplegic: A Division (MassWildlife) application form completed by the applicant and an attestation on the form by a physician that the applicant is a person who has total paralysis of the lower half of the body, or a condition that prevents any use of the lower limbs."

I am told that it must be an injury or disease of the spinal cord in the thoracic or lumbar region.

If that is indeed the case, perhaps the state legislature should consider changing that regulation to include those who have lost use of one or both of their legs regardless of the spinal injury stipulation. Many if not all of the volunteers that I spoke with feel that if servicemen have lost one or both legs due to an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan, they should be able to participate in the paraplegic hunt.

Lake Symposium

On Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m., the Lakes and Ponds Association will have a symposium at the Zion Lutheran Church, 74 First St. in Pittsfield. The theme is "How can we balance competing interests to meet lake management goals in our complex regulatory system?"     

Sponsored by the LAPA-West member associations, it is free to attend. Registration with light breakfast starts at 8:45. Invited exhibitors include state agencies with responsibilities for lake management and contractors who work on our lakes. There will be opportunities to network with experts in lake ecology and management, and with other lake advocates. Bring lake plants you want identified. Any other questions you have specific to your lake can be raised with the experts and other attendees during the presentation breaks.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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