Wheelin Sportsman

Thanks to the Little Wabash Chapter 3 Il Veterans were able to participate in a turkey huntIMG_0472 - Copy IMG_0475 - Copy   IMG_0486 IMG_0490 IMG_0491 IMG_0494 IMG_0495 IMG_0509.


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December 31, 2013 our own Wheelin Sportsman Volunteer Coordinator, Lisa Davis won a Darkwoods singleman blind on a facebook promotion.  With the help of the IL State Chapter the blind was upgraded to a Handicap Accessible Blind and donated to the Middlefork State Park.  After a lot of hard work, the blind was placed in service the fall of 2015.

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October 2015 we had the opportunity to get the word out about our Wheelin Sportsmen program at the Disability Expo at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign, IL.


2nd Annual Friends of Wheelin Sportsmen Cookout and Bowshoot was a great success.  We introduced a Veteran to crossbow shooting.  Good food plus good friends equals a good time.

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On Saturday, February 18th, 2012 the Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen hosted it's 3rd Annual Wheelin Sportsmen Pheasant Hunt at Lick Creek Game Preserve in Pekin, IL. This year 5 lucky Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen members were paired with volunteers from the Pekin River Bottoms Gobbler NWTF Chapter for a day of pheasant hunting, trap shooting and sampling Mr. Yergler's famous pheasant gravy with noodles and garlic toast! The meal is always a highlight of the day and hits the spot after a long day afield. The hunters were provided an ATV to either drive themselves, or ride on while in the field to manuever through the standing milo fields and prairie grass strips. The Wheelin' Sportsmen partnered with the Spoon River Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVDHA) to make this day complete. The NAVHDA chapter brought professional handlers and world class pointing dogs to ensure our hunters had the best shot at success possible.

Thank you to everyone that helped make this special event a huge success! We look forward to seeing you all back out at Lick Creek next year!

Spring 2010 was our first spring of Wheelin' Sportsmen spring turkey hunts, thanks in large part to the generosity of the Illinois Department of Conservation donating tags to 8 lucky hunters.  We have 5 hunts for 8 hunters scattered through Illinois this spring, and I was lucky enough to guide one of our hunters Tuesday on a hunt on a beautiful private farm in Calhoun County, IL.  Chris Fleming, a young man that was injured by an IED explosion last June in Afghanistan, was our hunter and vying for his first turkey.

The morning began very early as we arrived at Blake Pazero's farm north of Kampsville at 5:00 and were disheartened to have a steady hard rain, with very little rain.  Chris and I felt like the rain was there to stay, but we have a limited amount of time to hunt, so we loaded up in Blake's electric ATV and he took us quietly up to a Double Bull blind that he had set up in one of his large hill top pasture fields.  We felt that at least we would be dry in the blind, and with the rain, there was a good chance the turkeys would pitch down into the open fields to get out of the noisy woods.  I set up a hen and jake decoy close to our blinds, and we settled in for what we assumed would be a long morning.  After listening to the rain pound the roof of our blind for an hour, the sun began to come up over the Illinois River, and as luck would have it, the rain suddenly turned off.  As soon as the rained let up, Chris noticed that deer began moving through our field, and the song birds began singing.  Things were looking up.

After 10 minutes of silence, I decided to make some soft calls to let any birds roosted near by know we were in the area.  Before my first tree calls were finished, a gobbler cut my call from about 150 yards away.  Chris grinned from ear to ear after hearing that gobble.  Things were definitely looking up.  After a few minutes, I made a few more calls, this time getting more aggressive.  The gobbler once again cut my call, only this time we could tell he had flown down and he cut the distance between us to less than 100 yards.  Now he was getting fired up.  He got to what sounded like the edge of the pasture field.  Once he did, he triple gobbled at us!  I made once more aggressive cut and yelp and he gobbled, this time from the field.  I couldn't get a visual on the bird because he came into the field from behind us, and the blind's windows were closed on that side.  At this point, I could hear the gobbler spitting and drumming behind, so I knew he was close, but our ground blind was between the gobbler and the decoys, so he could not see our decs.  I turned my head away from the gobbler and called towards our decoys.  This was enough for him to strut out into the middle of the field, giving him a vantage point of our decoys that had been calling to him.  Once he saw my jake decoy, he broke strut and ran over to the jake to get him away from his hen.  Once I saw this, my heart starting beating like crazy and I told Chris to prepare for the shot, even though he still couldn't see the gobbler.  As the gobbler came from behind us and approached our decoy, he came to within 3 yards of our blind and went straight to the jake decoy.  As he got to the decoy, he sung around behind the jake, and as he prepared to flog the jake, he stuck his head up and Chris smoked him!  I have never been so ecstatic to be on a successful turkey hunt.  Chris could not have been grinning any bigger and he keep thanking us over and over for the opportunity.  Chris's first turkey was a stud measuring in at 23.5 pounds, he sported a 10.5" beard and 1 1/8" spurs.  Upon our return to Godfrey, we took him straight to Brad Laaker with Brad's Birds Taxidermy and he went through a photo album of turkey poses with Chris to help him decide how he was going to have his trophy mounted.

On Saturday, September 18th, 2011 we held our first Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen quail hunt in Hillsboro, IL at Cranny Mack's Game Birds.  Five Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen members participated in this event, as well as volunteers from the Illinois NWTF State Chapter and members of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Montgomery County.  Dave Strowmatt from the VAC generously donated the use of their new hunting cart purchased specifically for hunts like our's to help disabled veterans be able to get into the field to enjoy upland hunting.  Our other hunters were aided in the field by four wheelers and Gators.  Volunteers were along side each hunter to help carry their guns, and load/unload as needed while the hunter operated their ATV.  The staff at Cranny Mack's provided world class pointers and guides to help complete the day.  Even though the temperatures soared into the high 80s, our hunters were able to score their first ever quail under less than ideal conditions.  Overall, this was a wonderful way to kick off the fall and start off another exciting season for the Wheelin' Sportsmen.  Thank you to all of the volunteers that helped make this day so special, especially Mike Lowder and Steve McNeil from the NWTF State Chapter.  I hope everyone has a wonderful fall season.

Summer 2011, the Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen were invited to participate in a family fishing day at the Hooked on Fishing Park in East Peoria, Illinois.  Hooked on Fishing https://www.hookedonfishingpark.org is a non-profit organization that owns a series of spring fed, professionally managed ponds right on the Illinois River.  The park provides educational classes to youths and special needs individuals to teach them the basics of fishing, and then these individuals are able to come fish at the park for free Monday-Friday from 8:00 to 5:00.  Today, the Wheelin' Sportsmen and their families had exclusive run of the 3 ponds at the park.  This was a special treat for our participants due to the fact that the entire perimeter of all three ponds is accessible for wheel chair bound people.

We arrived at the park at 10:00 and as soon as the first jig hit the water, the bite was on!  The fishing action was fast and furious for the duration of our time.  Our participants landed large mouth and small mouth bass, bullhead catfish, feisty bluegill, and a very special treat, rainbow trout.  Due to the extremely large amount of spring water that feed the ponds, the water temperature never exceeds ~56 degrees.  This allows this central Illinois waterway to hold trophy class rainbows.  A small pond was set aside to raise young rainbows until they are of an age and size that is trophy class, at which time they are transferred to the fishing ponds.  One of our fishermen tied on a bead headed black wooley bugger to his fly rod, and on his first cast he landed a ~20" rainbow that looked like he came from a mountain river in Alaska!  Our hosts were nice enough to allow us to keep three rainbow trout to add to our bar-be-que lunch and our friend Chef Todd grilled up an amazing plate of trout with a sweet chili glaze.  Delicious!The bass and blue gill fisheries were just as impressive.  Large mouth bass up to 3 lbs were caught consistantly throughout the day and the bluegill fishing was incredible.  The day was certainly highlighted by our participant, Randy Green, seeing his 3 year old daughter Anna catch her first fish, a small bluegill.  This was quickly followed by her catching her biggest fish ever, a 3 lbs large mouth all by herself!

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day with some wonderful people.  Thank you to our hosts and to our volunteers that made this event a success.  We are looking forward to coming back to the Hooked on Fishing Park next summer!

On Saturday, March 12th 2011, the Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen in collaboration with the Spoon River Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association hosted our Second Annual Wheelin' Sportsmen Pheasant Hunt at Lick Creek Game Preserve in Pekin, IL.  For this event, we were lucky enough to host 8 disabled hunters from throughout Illinois, many of them on their first ever pheasant hunt.

The hunters and guides arrived early Saturday morning at the Lick Creek lodge for a brief safety talk and for guides and hunters to meet and make any special accommodations necessary to make everyone's day as comfortable and successful as possible.  The hunters were broken into three groups to hunt three of the large prairie covered zones at Lick Creek.  Each group was set up with a guide, bird dog and able-bodied helpers.  Hunters that are wheel chair bound were provided ATVs to ride on to maneuver in the field.  Able bodied helpers carried the hunter's guns in the field and when the bird dog would go on point, the hunter would get himself into position to shoot and he would be handed his gun.  This technique has worked wonderfully to provide our hunters the ability to safely navigate sloppy off road conditions.  Once we reached the field, it was immediately apparent that the 30-40 mph winds would make the hunt very challenging in a couple of ways.  Windy conditions make it very difficult for bird dogs to pick up on scent, plus it makes the pheasants want to run ahead of you instead of holding tight and flying.  Once the birds do get into the air, they will sail with the strong winds and make for extremely tough shooting.  Regardless of these factors, our guides and birds dogs worked beautifully and our hunter's aim was true allowing us to bag several pheasants through the day.

After the hunt, a few of our hunters took the opportunity to shoot trap to further hone their skills.  The rest of the group relaxed in the Lick Creek Lodge and enjoyed a delicious pheasant lunch provided by Mr. Yergler of Lick Creek.  The pheasants we harvested were cleaned and individually bagged for each of our hunters to take home.  In the end, this was another successful Wheelin' Sportsmen hunt for our great group of participants.  It was a pleasure seeing several new faces on this event and I hope to see them all again at our next Wheelin' Sportsmen adventure.  A hunt of this magnitude is incredibly difficult to pull off, so I would like to sincerely thank Keith Pierce and Shae, Chuck and Randy of the Spoon River NAVHDA Chapter for their amazing dog handling and guide work.  I would also like to thank Mr. Jeff Yergler of Lick Creek Game Preserve for graciously hosting us once again, as well as the Illinois National Wild Turkey Federation for allowing us to conduct these outreach events.

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Mr. Gary Franklin, NWTF Diamond Life Sponsor and Members of the Illinois National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) have recently help make a dream come true for an American hero. Chris Fleming, a 28 year old resident of Collinsville, IL, was injured in Afghanistan in June of 2009 when the vehicle he was driving in struck an improvised explosive device. Chris’s injuries resulted in the loss of both of his legs from the knee down. Chris has not let his injury stop his passion to get outdoors and enjoy the things he loved prior to his injury. Since November of 2009, Chris has been a very active member of the Illinois Wheelin’ Sportsmen program, which is the National Wild Turkey Federation’s outreach program to help people of all disabilities have the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities. After a special presentation recognizing disabled veterans in attendance at January’s National Wild Turkey Federation Illinois State Awards Banquet, Chris was approached by Gary Franklin about his interest in going on an elk hunt in New Mexico fully outfitted. Mr. Franklin challenged Chris that he would need to be mobile by the time of the hunt in order to be successful.

After several grueling months of physical rehabilitation, Chris arrived in New Mexico on December13th, 2010 and was able to hike up to two miles a day through the New Mexico back country on his prosthetic legs. Chris was accompanied on his hunt by a NWTF provided camera crew and two guides, including Chad Franklin, NWTF Regional Field Supervisor. After three days of scaling steep hillsides, and walking miles per day in the beautiful New Mexico high country, Chris had still not taken his dream elk, but he was not losing his spirit as they had seen over 200 elk so far. In the twilight hours of the fourth day, Chad located a very large bull and Chris was able to maneuver himself into position and make a text book shot completing this hunt of a lifetime! At the conclusion of the hunt, Chris learned of his final surprise. Gerald & Terry Lively of Little O’s Taxidermy in Odin, IL had offered to mount Chris’s trophy elk for him free of charge! The following NWTF supporters were able to provide this lifelong memory for a true American hero: Gary and Chad Franklin, Blake Pazero, of No Bull Trophy Hunts, the IL NWTF State Chapter, Little O’s Taxidermy, and Van Hale Trophy Outfitters.


Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen member, Randy Green, was lucky enough to be selected to participate in the NWTF's Ultimate Wheelin' Sportsmen turkey hunt.  Randy was one of 25 hunters drawn from several hundred applicants from across the country.  This national event was held at the US Department of Energy Savanah River Site in rural Aiken, South Carolina.  The 50,000 acre site consisted of several habitat types from traditional southern plantation pine lots to lowland gator swamps.  Each hunter is assigned a 500 acre parcel to themselves.  Randy's unit consisted of mostly thinned plantation pines, clear cuts and small hardwood stands.  Randy was joined by an NWTF camera crew to capture his 2 day hunt.  Over the course of his 2 day hunt, Randy harvested 3 beautiful gobblers, including a very impressive double on the first day.  Randy's hunt will air on the NWTF's Turkey Call television series during the 2012 season.

In addition to the outstanding hunting, Randy was able to meet Wheelin' Sportsmen participants and volunteers from across the country to learn new ideas on how to better run events back home in Illinois.  Thank you to the NWTF and all of the volunteers from SRS that helped make this "Ultimate Turkey Hunt" a reality for so many Wheelin' Sportsmen participants!

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Illinois Wheelin' Sportsmen member, Carl Winger, was selected to participate in the first annual Comanche Creek Wheelin' Sportsmen Turkey Hunt with Wheelin' Sportsmen members from across the country.  Comanche Creek is a large working ranch in the Red River valley of northern Texas that is managed to provide world class hunting opportunities for Wheelin' Sportsmen hunters.  On this hunt, Carl was lucky enough to shoot his first ever turkey, a gorgeous Rio Grand long beard.  Along with outstanding turkey hunting, this ranch also provides opportunities to pursue large white tail deer, hogs and quail.  Thank you to Mr. Mike Poe of Comanche Creek for making this opportunity possible!  We look forward to returning again next spring.

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