Imagine exploring the woods and field on a crisp September weekend. Perhaps there is a faithful pointing dog at your side and pheasants barely visible in the brush. Many people with disabilities
experience this glorious movement in nature only in their imaginations. However, the dream can become reality at the Minnesota Broken Wing Connection Hunt Invitational each September.
The Minnesota Broken Wing Connection is a non-profit organization, devoted to offering individuals with physical disabilities the chance to rediscover, or discover for the first time, the outdoor activities available to them. The organization was founded in 1992 by two cousins living with Adrenoleukodystrophy, a disease of the nervous system that affects their mobility. Instead of limiting their activities, they began creating ways to make their normal activities as accessible as possible. Their resourcefulness led them to believe their ideas and convictions were worth sharing with others. Thus, after 2 years of planning, their dream came true in the fall of 1992, with the First Annual Minnesota Broken Wing Pheasant Hunt Invitational.
The Minnesota Broken Wing Connection sponsors a hunt of upland game birds, and activity normally limiting due to the terrain traveled, and the pace required to keep in step with a hunting dog. The event is held in September, the weekend after Labor Day near Pine River, Minnesota. The weekend is filled with pheasant hunting; trap shooting, archery, and other related outdoor activities in hopes of instilling the motto “Never Say Uncle”.
Applications come from across the United States and Canada. To qualify, each applicant must establish proof of a physical disability that limits their ability to hunt upland birds or get into the outdoors. These disabilities range from paraplegics to quadriplegics, heart and/or lung conditions, amputations or loss of the use of a limb, blindness, back injuries, and a variety of debilitating diseases. Ages of applicants range from 13 to 80 plus years in age. Fifteen invited applicants are chosen in a lottery style drawing in late June. Each invited applicant or “hunter is eligible to take part in the event only one time, thus making this “A once in a Lifetime Hunt”. Each invited hunter is allowed to bring along a companion of their choice. Applicants not chosen will then be put in for the drawing the following year.
Except for their transportation to and from the events, this event is free to 15 individuals and their companions. Through donations and fundraisers, the organization covers the costs or meals, lodging, birds, shells, skeet and the general operations of the event. We can even supply you with a gun to use, if you don’t have one of your own.
This event is held on a hunting preserves about 20 miles west of Pine River, Minnesota. The 640 acre preserves provides 3 hunting fields, a trap range, a 3-D archery set-up, and a base camp. Man power is provided by volunteers from across the United States, who does everything from running the various activities, to cleaning birds, cooking meals, and assisting the invited hunters with their various needs. Young and old volunteer their time and skills to make this a memorable event for the invited hunters. Volunteers are responsible for 100% of the effort put forth, and the rewards are not only felt by the hunter, the volunteers reap benefits as well. Volunteers gain a realization of issues facing a segment of our population living with physical limitations.
Each hunter must participate at the trap range before entering the hunting field. Automatic trap throwers keep the trap range in use all weekend. Hunters can return as often as the wish with a minimum of 2 sets of 25 rounds required to enter a contest for donated prizes. The hunting for the pheasant’s centers around the use of “legs” designed to carry the hunter into the field. These “legs” or rigs are custom made platforms using three independently turning wheels that carry the full weight of the occupant. Each rig is attached to the front of an ATV that ten pushes the rig through the field. The rig can carry a wheelchair or be fitted with a high back chair, for those hunters who aren’t wheelchair bound. The rigs reduce the work and dangers of crossing rough terrain, allowing the hunter’s stamina to be put to better use. As a safety measure, each hunter is attended by a field guide. The field guide is responsible for the safety of the entire hunting party, is in charge of the hunter’s weapons, acts as a second pair of eyes, and enforces safe shooting practices.
Pheasant hunting wouldn’t be the same without the joy of hunting over a trained field dog. The exclusive use of pointing dogs allows time for maneuvering the rigs into the perfect shooting position. In addition, pointers give extra time to insure safe shooting lanes before the bird is flushed. The rigs are driven by experienced volunteers who know what it takes to set up the perfect scenario to get a good clean shot. A hunter is given a minimum of 3 trips through the field, usually 2 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday. The guide walks beside the rig, carrying the hunter’s gun, until the pointing dog marks the bird. The rig is then put into position, the hunter is allowed to load their gun, and the dog then flushes the bird from cover.
The Minnesota Broken Wing Connection offers more than what appears on the surface. For many this may be their first exposure to the portion of society. Exposure and interaction lead to a greater understanding and empathy of what it means to live with a physical limitation. The camaraderie estabilished in so short a rime reaches into everyone’s everyday life.
The Minnesota Broken Wing Connection is truly unique in its ability to create a small place in time each year where people, regardless of their situation in life can spend time together. Through sharing, caring, and experiencing what the outdoors has to offer, hunters and volunteers are a part of a “Once in a Lifetime” hunt. When God changes the circumstances of our lives, we have the uncanny ability to adapt. But first we must search within ourselves for different approaches, different perspectives, and a different way of life. And from these new ways of life, dreams are born, dreams that we are driven to share with others. Thus, The Minnesota Broken Wing connection and the resolve to …. "Never Say Uncle”