By Ed Britton
Special to the Herald
The white-tailed deer rut was at its peak with a monster buck aggressively pursuing a fleeing doe.
A clash of antlers from the nearby woods diverted the buck’s attention. An intruder’s grunt bellowed off in the distance and signaled that a rival buck was in his territory and must be challenged. That fateful decision resulted in 11 bucks becoming Thanksgiving dinner for the hunters that trailed them.
On Nov. 14 through 15, a special deer hunt was for a special group of hunters. Quadriplegics, paraplegics, amputees, and other physically challenged hunters participated in the ninth annual deer hunt held for sportsmen/women with disabilities at Lost Mound Unit of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Savanna, Illinois.
This hunt was a week prior to Illinois’ first firearms deer season and was conducted in areas not open to public hunting. Night-lighting surveys showed the deer population was high.
The 76 hunters traveled from 14 states and each had a unique life story. An Iraq war veteran from Tennessee had been shot five times. A Pennsylvania hunter was paralyzed after falling from a tree stand while deer hunting. An Illinois hunter had a leg amputated after a motorcycle crash.
Despite these physical challenges, the hunters were eager to participate in this unique deer hunt.
Several trophy bucks were taken, the largest being an 11 pointer with a field dressed weight of 174 pounds.
Total harvest was 24 deer that included 13 does and 11 bucks.
Lost Mound occupies 10,000 acres of the shuttered Savanna Army Depot. The depot opened in 1918 as a munitions testing range for artillery made at Rock Island Arsenal. It became one of America’s largest munitions storage sites until its closure in 2001.
Most of this former military base is closed to public access due to ongoing environmental clean-up activities.
Contaminated sites include a burial area for defective World War I hand grenades that exploded without delay when the pin was pulled.
Other sites include mustard gas burial areas and unexploded ordnance hidden on the landscape. Hunters and their helpers must undergo a safety orientation and abide by special access rules.
Hunters were required to use non-lead ammunition for this special hunt in order to reduce lead exposure to bald eagles. Hundreds of bald eagles congregate at Lost Mound and multiple lead exposure cases have been documented. Motion sensor cameras showed that bald eagles feed on waste deer parts discarded in the field and on fatally wounded but not retrieved deer.
X-rays identified that lead bullet fragments were present in these waste parts.
Many of the hunters have switched to copper slugs and muzzleloader bullets for all of their deer hunting based on their experience at Lost Mound.
They were concerned by the connection of lead ammunition to lead exposure in eagles, and the performance of copper bullets showed they were effective for harvesting deer.
StrokeStyle/$ID/SolidEd Britton is a wildlife refuge manager at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and a volunteer at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.