Hunters are brave by their very nature, putting themselves in the same habitat as wild animals--scouting, trailing, and bagging some of the biggest and most elusive game on the planet. Braver still might just be the young handicapped hunters who push past their limitations each and every day as they pursue their dreams, both in everyday life and in the hunting arena.
Can you imagine taking a mature whitetail buck, let alone a trophy for the wall, without full use of your appendages? Most of us cannot fully appreciate what handicapped hunters go through in order to pursue their passion. Fortunately, there are several organizations that have stepped up to provide opportunities for individuals who may not otherwise be able to pursue their passion.
We are proud to note that Bontrager Whitetails, one of our featured guides, is helping to make dreams come true for young handicapped hunters.
For the past couple of years, Bontrager Whitetails, Marianna, Florida, has donated hunts to Camo Dreams, a Florida non-profit organized and operated by Derick Fussell, wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, that sponsors disabled and seriously ill kids for hunting trips.
Fifteen-year-old Cam Walker was one of those selected to participate in a private hunt, along with his Dad, at one of our featured guides' locations, Bontrager Whitetails in Marianna, Florida. Cam had previously hunted with his Dad, but had never killed a buck and had never even seen a rack buck. Imagine his excitement when he killed a trophy deer on his first day out at Bontrager!
Cam, his Dad, and Daniel Bontrager, guide, were sitting in a blind and watched as several bucks walked by, but Daniel advised they hold off for an even bigger one. It wasn't long before a trophy buck walked out and Daniel signaled it was a good buck to shoot.
At that point, the excitement level went up at least three levels! Cam aimed carefully as Daniel turned on the video to capture the moment. Cam made a beautiful shot and dropped the deer in its tracks at 80 yards. Can you imagine his excitement?
Afterwards, they took the trophy deer back to the skinning shed at the lodge and caped it out for mounting purposes. The rest of the weekend was relaxed, and Cam and his Dad spent time watching more deer and just enjoying the surroundings. In other words, the pressure was off!
Daniel Bontrager started hunting with his Dad when he was 12 years old, and has since hunted from Canada to Mexico and almost everywhere in between. Back in the early days, he recalls, just killing a buck was a huge feat, and, consequently, a lifelong passion was born.
Upon graduating from school, Daniel pursued his passion. It was about 11-12 years ago when he learned he could raise deer, with the necessary permits. He enclosed a pen, obtained three young fawns for breeding stock, and eventually fenced in a total of 210 acres for a hunting preserve, specifically for raising large, big-framed bred deer.
Bontrager Whitetails is a family operated deer farm and high fenced hunting preserve whose main objective is to produce quality trophy bucks to stock their hunting preserve. These bucks are released at one year old and allowed to acclimate to a natural wild setting where they grow to mature trophies. They range in a variety of habitat including thick creek bottoms, planted pines, natural oak hammocks, and crop fields for warm and cool season foraging."
Only mature bucks are harvested. Typical antlers that look like native deer with northern traits score well into the 200’s. They offer hunts from elevated shooting houses with stairways, hand rails, and comfortable chairs. All hunts are guided.
"The deer look like a deer in the wild, just larger than you'd expect to see," says Daniel. "All hunters get personalized, one-on-one guided experience. On most of our hunts, there is only one person hunting at a time. But if a group wanted to come, we would allow; however, we don't mix parties."
Access to Marianna, Florida, is within traveling distance of both Tallahassee or Panama City airports. Simply fly into either city and rent a car to be in Marianna in about one hour.
Since Bontrager Whitetails is a small operation that focuses on quality, and not quantity, they prefer to limit hunts to two hunters at a time. Special arrangements can be made for a group of hunters or a family who prefers to hunt together. During the course of your hunt, all meals will be provided. Traditional southern home cooking will be sure to satisfy your hunger after your hunt.
The lodge was constructed with handicapped and mobility impaired hunters in mind. All doors are 36” wide and a spacious walk-in shower can accommodate wheel chairs or walkers. Linens are provided for your convenience.
"After seeing how Doc runs and cares for his animals and the land, I have a new appreciation. He is a wonderful caring man and does everything he can to not only care for his deer, but also works very hard to ensure they have the best ecological environment possible. They are cared for 24/7. Doc is outgoing, personable, and a true conservationist. My son was granted a hunt by Camo Dreams, Inc. through Derek Fussell and not only had the hunt of a lifetime, but the care, friendship, and knowledge of Doc and Derek have made a lasting effect on my son. My son will now be studying Wildlife Ecology in college and wants to be like both Doc and Derek later in life. I cannot say enough wonderful things about Bontrager Whitetails. Besides the warm and friendly people, the facilities are AMAZING! Highly recommended; Cam and I will definitely be going again!" - Wayne Walker (father of Cam Walker)
Russell Roberts, Panama City News Herald, Nov. 14, 2015. "Celebrate Outdoors: Camo Dreams takes ill, disabled kids on outdoor adventures"