Before daylight broke Saturday morning, nearly 100 outdoor enthusiasts mingled over a hot breakfast served in an open barn by local volunteers, while discussing their hopes for the weekend. For most, it’s the weekend of a lifetime, one they anxiously look forward to every year.
That morning 49 hunters, each armed with a volunteer, were able to escape everything but nature at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Smithville Lake for the world’s largest known managed deer hunt for mobility impaired individuals. Throughout this two-day event, they are provided with 65 different locations, each set up with a hunting blind, camouflaged from the wildlife and allowing protection from the elements.
Before sunrise as the fog starts to lift, each hunter, accompanied with a volunteer, settles into a hunting blind in the woods while listening for the sound of leaves and sticks crunching under the hooves of a deer. With their scopes sighted in on a trophy whitetail deer, eyes sharpen focusing in, monitoring every move, breathing rate starts to increase, adrenaline kicks in, the safety clicks off then, BANG. The year-long wait is over and finally a deer has been harvested. Participants gauge and weigh their prized possession, score their antlers and compare their game with others around them. Photos get taken with their trophy and scroll on a big screen inside the open barn for all to see, along with images showing scores over the past several years.
Most express this is the best way to spend a weekend, with an incredible opportunity and feeling to get outdoors, to see wildlife, to explore nature and breathe in the crisp fresh air.
After pausing for a break in 2020 due to the pandemic, the managed deer hunt was again hosted at Smithville Lake. This year marks the 31st year of a very successful event and provides memorable moments enjoyed by several for years to follow.
While the hunt technically spans only 48 hours, the Corps staff at Smithville Lake start preparation for the event in late summer. Applications are mailed out to over 200 interested individuals, then randomly selected via drawing and notifications are quickly sent out via mail to notify the application status. To ensure a safe entry and exit into nature, staff clears and mows paths allowing vehicles to get closer to the blind locations. The day before, blinds are constructed and strategically placed in locations not open for public hunting. This allows the Corps to help control the overpopulation of deer in those areas and allows hunters additional safety, knowing those locations are closed off to the general public during the event. This year, 2021, hunters harvested a total of 41 deer, down from the past years, but nevertheless, still marked as a success for all.
This managed hunt began in 1990 with only 15 hunters. Over the years, the number of seats has increased to 65 through great teamwork and contributions from partnering agencies and community support. The team at Smithville Lake looks forward to continuing this tradition for years to come.
Those interested in future opportunities can send an email request to Smithville@usace.army.mil.