BITELY, Mich. — An Ottawa County nonprofit is redefining what’s possible for Michigan hunters through custom trips for children, young adults and veterans with disabilities.
“There’s just always something special about that first-time experience,” said Deputy Ben Terpstra of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. He started the Michigan Outdoor Wishmakers nonprofit with three others in 2019.
“We have motorized gun kits for individuals who don’t have the ability to move or balance a gun,” Terpstra said. “We have one that works off a remote control. These are different tools we use to make it possible for individuals to do this depending on what their disability is.”
In September, the nonprofit took four young people to Allen Creek Ranch in Bitely for a weekend of deer hunting.
Both the ranch house and the blinds are handicap-accessible, accommodating two people who use wheelchairs. Each hunter and their parent were paired with a nonprofit board member.
“The parents come out in the blinds with us, next to us when we’re hunting,” Terpstra said. “They get to share in the joy of their child harvesting their first deer.”
The leaders’ willingness to play and teach is the real treasure, said Dennis Feaster. His 16-year-old son Benji, who has Down syndrome, got his buck on the final hunt of the trip.
“To see him get to do something he always wanted to be able to do, but I was never sure he would be able to do safely, it’s just a dream come true,” Feaster said. “Even more important is the quality of the relationships I see forming around him.”
Each hunter shot one buck and got to leave with venison. However, the larger focus was on family, Terpstra said.
“It’s all about sharing,” he said. “We share meals together, we share stories. It’s the whole experience of camping for the weekend and being outdoors. It’s about family.”
Michigan Outdoor Wishmakers does not have an official second trip planned, but the board hopes to go on a turkey hunt in the spring.