On January 10th, Assateague Island National Seashore rangers partnered with a national organization known as âWheelinâ Sportsmenâ to hold a special hunt within the developed portion of the park. âWheelinâ Sportsmenâ is a non-profit organization affiliated with the National Wild Turkey Federation that is dedicated to providing outdoor opportunities for those with disabilities.
Extensive planning and logistical work by NPS staff and representatives from âWheelinâ Sportsmenâ culminated in a one day hunt. Participants traveled from New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland. There were 13 hunters involved, with 9 hunting from wheelchairs and several disabled vets. A 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy also participated as a hunter. Twelve volunteers, including family members, friends, wheelin sportsmen associates and members of the eastern shore chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, worked with rangers to make the hunt possible.
Hunters and workers were met with below freezing temperatures and winds in excess of 20 mph on the morning of the hunt, bringing the wind-chill temperature down to 20 degrees. The hunters not only endured these conditions but displayed extraordinary tenacity by staying out the entire day. Four Sika deer were taken, with all the hunters enthusiastically reporting that they were all seeing game. The hunters displayed outstanding sportsmanship by limiting their shots to only those they felt completely confident with considering the limitations imposed by their equipment (archery only), disabilities and the high winds.
Sika deer are an introduced species on Assateague and have overpopulated the island, competing with the indigenous whitetail deer for browse and stressing plant communities. Hunting for sika is done in other areas of both the national park and the neighboring state park from September through January. This has forced an extremely dense population of sika deer into the campground and other developed areas, necessitating special hunts as management tools.
This hunt was a great success for everyone involved. Rangers received overwhelming support and endless thank youâs from the very appreciative participants. Involved rangers got a lesson in tenacity and perseverance. All involved agreed that the taking of game and reduction of numbers of a problematic species were surely not the largest successes of this day.