April 14, 2013

Hunting with heroes

Roger Dakin was a happy man early Saturday morning.

Roger Dakin was a happy man early Saturday morning.

To the east, a classic Kansas sunrise was painting pastels on scattered clouds.

From the east and the west, wild turkey toms were gobbling protests at each other, the calls of turkey hens, crows, owls and about any other noise on the dead calm morning.

“This is good, no matter what happens, it’s a success,” Dakin said. “I like to hunt turkeys but need somebody to go with me. Turkey hunting has a lot of stuff, and that’s hard for me.”

Dakin, 55, was referring to his confinement to a wheelchair since 1989. Then a Sedgwick County Firefighter, he lost his legs when a car speeding through the dense smoke of a grass fire pinned him against his fire engine.

“Just the wrong place at the wrong time, really,” he said.

Friday and Saturday a new-found friend, Brian Lewellen, did his best to make sure Dakin was in the right places at the right times to enjoy some good spring turkey hunting.

Dakin was part of the Hunting Heroes portion of the annual Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado. Janet Post, hunt director, said this is the second year the hunt has hosted at least two people disabled while somehow serving their country or community.

“We honor (wounded) military, and people like firefighters, police and paramedics,” Post said. “All these people keep us safe every day. It’s a small thing we can do.”

Dakin came to the event with all expenses paid, and Lewellen was excited to be his guide.

The co-coordinator for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Kansas youth programs, he had guided youth at the hunt for the past five years. He realized his hunting areas were perfect for someone like Dakin.

“When Janet told me what she was needing I knew we’d be a good fit because all of my hunting areas are easily accessible,” Lewellen said.

Friday and Saturday mornings, Lewellen’s truck was loaded with gear by 5 a.m., and hunter and guide were headed south from El Dorado.

At the hunting grounds, the guide lugged a portable pop-up blind, two decoys, a chair and assorted calls and clothing. Dakin managed his shotgun, and maneuvered across the countryside better than his host expected.

“There aren’t many places he can’t go,” Lewellen said, of watching his guest maneuver muddy roads, grass and weeds and creekbanks. When a fallen log was found across a farm road, Dakin hopped from his chair to cross the log, then swung his chair to the other side before Lewellen could react.

If only the turkey hunting would have gone as easily.

Friday, Lewellen called three toms to the fringe of shotgun range, but they wouldn’t step clear of brush or come a few more yards.

Saturday, the hunters were witness to quite a show, as three yearling jakes courted Lewellen’s hen decoy and repeatedly pecked, flogged, kicked and bumped his fake jake, too.

Dakin, unfortunately, wouldn’t be taking home a turkey dinner. Having shot a few small turkeys in the past, he held his fire at the jakes hoping for a long-bearded tom to strut by.

“I know as a guide, you’re really wanting me to kill a bird but I tell you, I’m having an absolute ball,” Dakin said to Lewellen as they headed for Saturday’s lunch and a final hunting location. “I’m off work, I’m playing outside. Even if I don’t kill a bird, just this morning’s show was more than worth it.”

Post said other hunters at the event seem as happy to be around the Hunting Heroes.

At the banquet following last year’s hunt, audience members raised enough money to pay the expenses for the two 2012 heroes to return for another hunt. One was Augusta native Jonathan Blank, now living in Texas after losing his legs in combat in Afghanistan.

“When he brought in a (trophy) bird today he couldn’t get out of the truck there were so many people wanting to talk to him,” Post said. “About everybody really wanted to congratulate him. It was great.”

Lewellen hopes Dakin gets a bird big enough to deserve congratulations, and hopefully soon.

“We had an awesome time and we’re looking forward to spending some more time together this spring,” Lewellen said. “We’re already working on plans to go turkey hunting again.”

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