Outdoor Buddies helping the disabled fulfill their hunting dreams | CraigDailyPress.com

Outdoor Buddies helping the disabled fulfill their hunting dreams

Ben Ingersoll

— As a hunter of just about all animals for the better part of his life, Roy Bennett is used to the waiting game in the woods with a gun in hand.

But at 93 years old, the World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor from Center Point, Texas, was getting understandably anxious on Halloween weekend.

Roy and his son Ken Bennett, 65, have made the trip from Texas to Colorado to hunt many times, scouring land in California Park north of Hayden and areas outside of Kremmling. But on this particular weekend, Roy was getting some special treatment.

Roy Bennett is an Outdoor Buddies member, a 30-year-old nonprofit based in Colorado that provides therapeutic recreational opportunities to disabled individuals from across the country and also to youths who are interested in recreating. Roy and Ken were paired up with Larry Sanford, Outdoor Buddies’ president, and with a relationship that was forged about 20 years ago, were able to hunt on Twentymile Coal Mine’s private land southwest of Steamboat Springs.

Unseasonable weather passed through the region. Warm days on Halloween were followed by an unexpected cold storm Sunday and Monday, making the chances of bringing something home slim.

But Tuesday was the opening Roy had waited for.

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A herd of about 50 elk had passed by, but the few bulls in it were simply too far away to get a shot off. Then luck had turned in Roy’s favor.

"We went around a hill and all the sudden there were four elk with two bulls," Ken Bennett said. "From about 150 yards out, my dad hit the bull’s high shoulder. You could have not had a happier person out of a 93-year-old at that time."

Roy’s ear-to-ear grin is the foundation on which Outdoor Buddies was built three decades ago.

It started as a project in 1984 from representatives at Craig Hospital in Denver in conjunction with the Division of Wildlife as a way to give patients suffering from brain and spinal chord injuries a return to the outdoors and out of bed and wheelchair confinement.

Current Outdoor Buddies Executive Director Dwaine Robey took over in the late 1990s, and the organization blossomed. It started when Robey’s lifelong friend became paralyzed from the chin down. Robey saw a need for his close friend to find a reason — any reason — to rekindle what he had lost in his accident.

"I told my friend, ‘It looks like you could do some more hunting,’" Robey said. "It gave him a reason to live. When you lay in bed, every day in the future looks like the day before."

Roy Bennett has had more "days before" than most Americans, and although he’s confined to hunt as a handicap from a vehicle, Nov. 4 was a memory of a lifetime.

"There are very few people or organizations who would make each individual hunt a memory like this for the disabled," Ken Bennett said. "Dwaine is an excellent executive director. My dad could not express how nicely he was treated and what lengths Outdoor Buddies did to fulfill his dream."

There are nearly 800 other members hailing from 39 states coast to coast who Outdoor Buddies serves just like Ken. Of those roughly 800 members, two-thirds are disabled members, and the other third is made up of able-bodied guides who assist on the private-land hunts like Larry Sanford and Robey did with Roy Bennett.

The organization constantly seeks businesses and individuals that are willing to let hunters and guides conduct trips on their land, like Twentymile Coal Mine has done for about two decades.

When Outdoor Buddies opens a new round of hunting trip applications, most of the equipment comes with the adventure, including three available special wheelchairs equipped to tackle woodsy areas. The donated chairs are valued at $11,000 to $16,000 apiece, and membership is a few online clicks away.

"It’s really easy to become a member," Robey said. "We don’t have any fees. Anyone can register as a member."

And once someone becomes a member, they are up to apply for the Colorado hunting trips, something Ken Bennett insists — after seeing his father light up at the sight of his perfect kill — will last forever.

"This organization is just unreal," he said. "The difference they make in the lives of those disabled like my dad, a war hero, the time they dedicate with their funds, the community doesn’t understand how much they mean."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll