WI Hunters Giving With Their Heart

Leader Telegram, Bear Hunting Magazine

As of last week, 37 Wisconsin hunters have donated their bear hunting permits to seriously ill or severely disabled youths from around the country, out of about 1,400 permits issued by the state. That is particularly generous considering some hunters wait up to 10 years to get a permit in Wisconsin.

Brigid O'Donoghue, founder of United Special Sportsman Alliance, started the nonprofit organization in the fall of 2000.

A bear hunt is the most common request by the young hunters and also one of the most difficult to arrange because bear permits are hard to get, she said. An elk hunt is the second most common request, followed by a hunt for white-tailed deer.

Two years ago she had the idea of buying the list of hunters receiving bear permits from the state Department of Natural Resources. Hunters applying for permits have the option of not having their names on the list. This year she decided that letters to the hunters were more likely to be read if they were addressed by hand. She got help from members of her church, and the congregation hand-addressed 1,400 letters.

"I thought if I ended up with 10 kids, I'd be happy. That would be 10 kids with big smiles on their faces. But it turned out to be huge," she said, adding that the hunters "gave with their hearts."

Some bear hunts are done with hounds and some by hunting over bait. In Unit C, the state's southernmost bear zone, hunting with dogs is not allowed and all hunting is over bait, she noted.

For every youth hunter, many volunteers are needed to make the hunt happen, but finding help has not been a problem, she said. "You'd think you'd have to work hard to get helpers, but every year the number grows," she said.

Taxidermists also volunteer to make a bear rug or head and shoulder mount of the animal if the hunter is successful, she said. "I know that it's giving up time in their busy schedules."

The program has grown, providing hunts for disabled and seriously ill children from 34 states, she said. It also works with seriously ill adults and disabled veterans.

O'Donoghue hopes to provide 1,000 hunts or fishing trips a year. "I think we're going to make it this year," she said.

United Special Sportsman Alliance has a good relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes of terminally ill children but stopped offering hunts in 1999 after animal rights groups and sponsors protested.

O'Donoghue did not start United Special Sportsman Alliance because Make-A-Wish stopped offering hunts, however. Make-A-Wish refers youths who request a hunt as their wish to her. "I respect (Make-A-Wish) for their beliefs, and they respect me for mine," she said.

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