U.S. veteran Bill Bradley was at the end of his rope about three years ago. Injuries sustained during an automobile accident left him with severe back and neck injuries and he had lost the will to fight the pain.
That was until he met members of the Ocala-based Southern Sportsmen Whitetail Foundation, a nonprofit group founded three years ago to take people with disabilities on hunting trips to get a new outlook on life.
“I was in a bad place in my life,” said Bradley, who lives in Marion County in the Ocala National Forest. “I wanted to harm myself.”
Bradley said group members have become part of his family. Bradley has been on two hunting trips and gotten a taste of hunting for the first time in some 35 years.
“I don’t know what I may have done if not for them (founders of the foundation),” Bradley said.
Tinsley Ashley, foundation president, said he once was a member of Buckmasters, a national group that also takes people with disabilities on hunting trips. About three years ago, Ashley — along with other former Buckmaster members Jim Huffman, Robert Wood and Avery Duval — launched the Southern Sportsmen Whitetail Foundation to raise funds to provide hunting trips for more local people, such as Bradley.
The group, which now has 14 members, takes several dozen men and women each year on hunting expeditions, some in north Florida and others in Georgia. Ninety-five percent of all the money raised annually goes to pay for hunting expeditions and to make some donations to area veterans groups, such as Vets Helping Vets and Young Marines. The group hopes to soon create a few college scholarships for high-school students. The other 5 percent of donations pays for insurance and other required items they need to operate.
Duval takes many of the disabled people to property in LaCrosse, northeast of Alachua, to hunt on land he leases. Bradley said the hunting expeditions have meant more than he ever imagined. He also said Duval has become “family.”
“Avery and his wife have invited us over for dinner,” Bradley said of himself and his wife. “They have really made a difference in my life. I can’t say enough about what they do.”
Wood, a Vietnam War veteran and a retired Polk County Sheriff’s Office homicide detective, said the hunting expeditions are vital in getting disabled veterans to engage in activities that will give them a new outlook on life. He is the group’s secretary and public relations representative.
Huffman is disabled after working 32 years in manufacturing and construction. He is vice president of the group. He is among the many people helping organize the Southern Sportsmen Whitetail Foundation fundraising banquet that will begin at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Motel 6, on U.S. 27 near Interstate 75.
The banquet will include a raffle for nine guns and a compound bow and a silent auction for an array of items, including coolers and photographs. A live auction will feature coat racks, artwork and more. All the money raised will help the group fund more hunting expeditions. They hope to clear $10,000 after expenses. The funds could help buy special equipment for some of the disabled hunters, such as gun mounts for wheelchairs.
After three years, the group is ready to expand and hopes to add more chapters, such as in Alabama. To do that, in addition to what already is in place, they need more volunteers.
“We really need volunteers to help us,” Avery said.
For information about tickets to the banquet, donating or other information, contact Huffman at 216-3467 or HeartofFloridaSSWF@gmail.com. Monetary donations can be mailed to Southern Sportsmen Whitetail Foundation, 28 NE 56th St., Ocala, FL 34479.
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.
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