Mobility-impaired hunters, children come together for annual pheasant hunt

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CENTERTOWN - A warm, but blustery Sunday morning carried the smell of gunpowder over Rock Creek Road in Centertown, a smell not unfamiliar to the families and friends gathered. Dozens of orange-clad volunteers, children and disabled hunters were preparing for a full day of shooting at the annual Batchel/Henry Mobility-Impaired and Youth Pheasant Hunt.

The free event, put together by the non-profit organization Missouri Disabled Sportsmen, aims to give hunters who struggle with maneuvering the outdoors a chance to get back to what they know best.

For James Piland, a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Missouri Disabled Sportsmen provides more than just an exciting weekend.

"The organization makes a big difference in my ability to hunt. I enjoy hunting a lot, but some of the aspects of hunting are a little harder for me due to my disabilities," Piland said. "These people really go out of their way to see that I'm able to get out in the field and do what I want to do with my disabilities."

Pete Eisentrager, a board member for Missouri Disabled Sportsmen and the organizer of Sunday's event, found a certain "selfish" take away from planning the event for newcomers and seasoned hunters.

"My motivation behind it honestly is being able to give back to a sport and a heritage that I've cherished so much my entire life," Eisentrager said.

Eisentrager said this year there were seven or eight first-time hunters.

"One of the big things we really focus on is new recruitment, whether it's mobility-impaired or kids, and getting them those opportunities in the outdoors," Eisentrager said.

Putting on the event still has its roadblocks. 15 businesses and organizations like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, River Region Credit Union and the Missouri Department of Conservation helped fund Sunday's hunt, but getting the necessary funds takes time and manpower.

"The biggest challenge we have, and I think it's the same with any organization is the volunteer effort and the raising of funds to be able to provide these kinds of opportunities," Eisentrager said.

The event was made to accommodate 27 hunters, and almost every spot was filled. Each hunter brought their own gun and ammunition, as well as an orange safety vest and any necessary gear.

Wheel chairs with tank-like treads rolled out onto the muddy fields and children held their shotguns with experience as small groups trekked to different vantage points. The pheasant coop was dead center; everyone would have a clear shot.

Hunters waited in anticipation for the sound of an air horn, signaling the continental pheasant shoot would start. As soon as the first bird flapped its wings, the shots began to ring across the field. Any bird hit was met with hollers, cheers and high fives.

"When the pheasants really started going, there's a lot of action, and it's kind of hard to decide which bird you want to try and shoot," Piland said.

After a few rotations and dozens of pheasants hunted, children and disabled participants alike seemed content with the days haul.

"Based on the amount of smiles, the interactions we see, it's an amazing day, it always is," Eisentrager said.

Whether or not the hunters shot any birds was an afterthought; everyone came for the camaraderie and love of the sport.

"It's always good to come back and visit friends that you've seen and know," Piland said.