Courtesy Jason Harmon/TWRA
Eight-year-old Zeke Hembree was the first hunter to use Tennessee’s new accessible portable blind.
freedom in Tennessee
Portable hunting blinds are providing hours of hunting pleasure for sportsmen and women with disabilities in the Volunteer State
Known for doing donuts and stunts in his power wheelchair, Zeke Hembree is a hard little boy to contain. His excitement for life, and his enthusiasm for hunting and the outdoors seeps from his pores and creates a contagious fervor that lifts the souls of anyone who meets him.
Such zeal from an 8-year-old makes turkey hunting a challenge, but through a cooperative effort with the NWTF, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, permanent and portable hunting blinds spread throughout the state are giving people with mobility impairments a chance to experience the thrill of hunting.
Tennessee is a landmark state when it comes to establishing wheelchair-friendly hunting locations and creating access to thousands of acres of prime hunting land across the state.
Courtesy Jason Harmon/TWRA
Hunters use a container blind build by NWTF members on Cordell
According to Shane Hall, NWTF Tennessee Save the Hunt coordinator and Moment of Freedom coordinator for the TWRF, the state has built nearly two-dozen blinds across Tennessee, opening access to several thousand acres of public hunting land to people with mobility impairments.
“The Fish and Wildlife Foundation has already raised $13,000 to purchase four portable blinds that will be housed in each of Tennessee’s four regions,” he said. “These blinds can be reserved by calling the regional TWRA office, and staff will haul the trailer-mounted units to the hunting location, set them up, then haul them off when the hunters are finished with them.”
The portable blinds feature wheelchair ramps and other accessibility tools to assist in ensuring a comfortable experience for the hunters, he said.
The state and NWTF are building permanent deer, turkey and duck hunting blinds with paved or maintained trails that are easy for wheelchairs to roll on and are placed on food plots and wetland areas that are frequented by game, providing the best opportunity possible for hunters to be successful.
For instance, the NWTF’s Forked Deer Longbeards Chapter and the TWRA built three permanent blinds in Dyer County, Tenn., and the NWTF state board of directors has approved building two more on Cheatham Wildlife Management Area in Cheatham County.
According to Hall, Region 1 has seven blinds that provide access to more than 700 acres; Region 2 has two blinds covering 41 acres; Region 3 has 11 blinds accessing 1,250 acres; and Region 4 doesn’t yet have blinds in place, but plans are in the works to create accessible areas for waterfowl, dove hunting as well as fishing.
Courtesy Shane Hall/NWTF
This wheelchair-accessible duck blind was built on North Chickamauga Creek WMA through the Moment of Freedom project.
TWRA Wildlife Education Coordinator Donald Hosse is optimistic the Moment of Freedom initiative is going to be a benchmark in providing access other state wildlife agencies will follow. While the original goal was for 21 new sites over three years, he’s confident they will reach 40 or more in that same time period.
“We’re excited about it as an agency, and regional officers approach us all of the time about opening up additional sites in their regions,” he said. “Once the ball is rolling, it’s going to be awesome.”
The blinds are easy to get in and out, they’re roomy inside and quiet, which is important when you’re hunting with a person with special needs.
“With a handicapped hunter, someone has to help get things situated for the hunter,” said Jeff Hembree, Zeke’s dad and hunting partner. “These blinds were quiet and allow that movement without spooking the animals. We didn’t punch a tag, but we did see a few on that trip. The birds were out of range for Zeke’s crossbow, but he got to watch hens and jakes in the field and even caught up on his sleep a little.”— Matt Lindler
Moment of Freedom
Moment of Freedom is a cooperative effort between the TWRA, TWRF, the TFWC and other partners aimed at providing hunting opportunities for people with mobility impairments. NWTF contract employee Shane Hall, who serves as the NWTF Save the Hunt coordinator in Tennessee, also acts as a Moment of Freedom coordinator and is involved in the implementation of the new initiative. The goal: Create 21 new accessible hunting locations throughout Tennessee over the next three years.
Moment of Freedom is a one-stop information hub for people in wheelchairs to locate places to enjoy a moment of freedom in the outdoors.
Learn more at www.momentoffreedom.org.