Freedom Hunt offers special opportunity for special kids

Eliana Miller (L.) shows appreciation to her guide Kelly Schlosser at last year's Freedom Hunt. Photo by author

The start of our hunting seasons is a celebrated event, something felt deep inside. Although we try to explain it, proper words defy us. Unfortunately, for some budding hunters the opportunity to take to the woods may never be realized.

Take Anthony Correia for example. He was a typical young boy, inquisitive and full of energy kindled by youth. He dreamed of someday hunting deer. Then while on the way to grade school his family was involved in a horrific traffic accident. His mother and older brother lost their lives. Although Correia survived, he spent months in the hospital where a severed spine would steal his mobility forever.

Through the next several years he felt his passion to hunt slowly dissipate. For him the outdoors now consisted of a slab of concrete or a ribbon of asphalt. He believed experiencing the deer woods was out of his realm of reality. Then he heard of Freedom Hunt. This rare and unique opportunity provides children with special needs the chance to engage themselves in a weekend of camping, hunting and fishing.

Noah Barbknecht, another past participant was an avid snow skier. It shocked all who knew him when an accident on the slopes would leave him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. “Being a paraplegic may stop a person from doing a few specific things, like walking, but it should never stop a person from doing everything,” he explained. “I am thankful for the Freedom Hunt because it gave me the chance to do something else I love.”

This year’s 12th annual event will unfold during Indiana’s special youth only deer hunting season, set aside for youth age 17 and under. It is set for September 22, 23 and 24. The program begins on Friday at a large farm located in rural Cass County where the owner graciously donates his property for this opportunity. Through the years neighboring landowners have also opened up their land.

After arriving, children receive their own hunting equipment and clothing. For the next two days they will sleep in tents and all meals are furnished, most of it cooked over a large campfire.

Each child will be paired with their own personal guide who shares the weekend with them offering one on one attention. During the inaugural Freedom Hunt deer hunting was the primary focus. Adding to the total outdoor experience the event has been expanded to include squirrel hunting, put-and-take upland bird hunting, as well as fishing.

Originally the brain child of area businessman Steve Griffey, the event has grown to incorporate dozens of like-minded volunteers who believe the greatest joy in hunting is involving a child, especially those who may otherwise never get the chance.

Take Travis Clemans for example. A Marine, serving two tours in Iraq, he was one of the group who helped set up the barrack style tents used for sleeping accommodations. “After learning what the hunt was all about I knew I had to get more involved,” he explained. He now serves as one of the many guides, spending the entire weekend at the scenic site located on the banks of the Eel River.

“I have always wanted to do something like this for kids, especially for those who may never get the opportunity,” said Griffey. “Of course we couldn’t do it without the outpouring of support we receive from businesses and many individuals.” Since the inaugural event in 2006, over 300 children have passed through the camp. Griffey originally titled the event Freedom Hunt because he hoped to provide children a weekend to be free from their disabilities and free to enjoy outdoor consumptive activities in a natural setting.

Hunt coordinator Brad Rozzi shares Griffey’s passion. “Nothing touches your heart like helping children with disabilities or other special needs enjoy the traditions of hunting, fishing and camping under the stars,” he added.

To take part in this year’s Freedom Hunt youth must be age 17 or under. They should be capable of holding and shooting a 20-guage shotgun, rifle or crossbow with minimal assistance. All participants must also have a valid youth hunting license.

If you have a child or know of someone who may benefit from this unique opportunity or would like additional event details you can contact Griffey at (765) 210-7715 or Rozzi at (574) 722-4560. Hunting equipment or food items will also be accepted

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John Martino

Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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