Originally created 02/11/99

Disabled hunters may lose site



ALBANY, Ga. -- Every weekend during deer season, Zeke Isaacs loads up his all-terrain vehicle with his hunting equipment and wheelchair and heads out at about 5 a.m.

"Number one, I like to eat deer meat," said Mr. Isaacs, who has been paralyzed from the waist down for 22 years. "I like the sport, and also the challenge of being able to hunt deer from an ATV."

But one of Mr. Isaacs' favorite hunting sites may be closed for this fall's deer season. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is trying to sell the Albany Nursery, a 300-acre tract outside Albany where the department has annually held hunts for hunters who use wheelchairs.

"Suburbia is starting to creep in on the site, and that makes it much more valuable from a real estate standpoint," Todd Holbrook, chief of game for the Wildlife Resources Division of the department, said Wednesday.

The department offers opportunities for hunters who are disabled, as well as elderly, with a child or wishing to hunt with primitive weapons, at several of its wildlife management areas around the state.

The Albany Nursery holds two hunts per deer season, and another for wild turkey season, for disabled hunters.

The land is worth at least $1.2 million, and the department has agreed to try selling the land to cut its budget. A cheaper site may be purchased somewhere else in southwest Georgia, Mr. Holbrook said, but the hunts may also be moved to an existing wildlife management area.

"We are going to mitigate the loss of this land," Mr. Holbrook said. "This is an important opportunity the agency provides, and we have every intention of continuing, although it may not be on that piece of land."

Mr. Isaacs, president of Georgia Handicapped Sportsmen, said wheelchair hunters go after their prey generally the same way conventional hunters do, although with different equipment. Specially adapted ATVs allow handicapped hunters to get into the woods. Usually, hunters are restricted to moving on foot because of environmental concerns.

"We'll get up early in the morning like other hunters and get into place," Mr. Isaacs said. "It's all about being in the right place at the right time, like a normal hunter."

Carter's Lake at Ellijay in north Georgia is the only other department location that sponsors the hunts for the physically disabled. But traveling that far just isn't possible for many disabled hunters from south Georgia.

Ronnie Howell has hunted for 35 years, including the past seven at the Albany nursery where he says bucks are plentiful, and the land is flat and easily accessible to the handicapped.

"If they close that, I don't know what we'll get," Mr. Howell said.