While most of us are hitting the woods this weekend and watching the action heat up, another group of bowhunters are taking a weekend off from their favorite pastime. Oh, they’re still in the woods chasing deer. But they’ve put down their bows, and they’re guiding for a special group of kids at Sahara Woods in Southern IL.
This weekend marks the 9th annual IL Dream Hunt, a 3-day deer hunt for terminally ill and disabled kids hosted by the IDNR, United Special Sportsmen Alliance (USSA), and this dedicated group of guides and helpers, most of whom are members of Illinois Bowhunters Society (IBS).
Nine years ago USSA founder and CEO Brigid O’Donoghue approached IBS at the IL Deer Classic and asked if we’d be interested in serving as guides for a special group of kids. As luck would have it, IBS representative Jim McFarlane of Rockford took on the project and has turned it into an annual event that so many people look forward to every year. Jim’s passion for this hunt is truly special.
If you know Jim, you know how he gets when he takes on something like this. Jim organizes the roster of 12 hunters (from many different states), matches them up with 12 guides, and is the point person for communications on the hunt. He makes sure the guides contact the kids in advance to get to know them and their parents. He takes time off work to head down a day early to set up blinds and to tie up loose ends. Some kids are in wheelchairs. Many are weak from medical treatments, and Jim makes sure all their needs are met.
Most (maybe all) of the 12 volunteer guides return every year. Sahara Woods superintendent Eric McCluskey handles the permits, ground transportation, and the site prep. Accommodations are handled through a local church camp and local churches take care of preparing the food for the entire camp. The hunt is well-orchestrated and is truly a joy for these kids.
As of Friday night, 4 deer had been shot on this year’s hunt. Three does and a buck. A perfect weekend forecast will certainly allow for more before the hunt ends on Sunday. By then, this fine group of volunteers will have forged bonds with these kids that won’t be forgotten.
I’ll have more on this year’s hunt (hopefully some stories and pics) later this week when the guides return. But my hat’s off to these guys, and Jim, for all they do for these kids every year.