CLAY COUNTY — Nearly 150 people filled a maintenance facility with excitement at Smithville Lake around 4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23. They were all there to get out into the wild and seek a big buck.

For the 30th year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Smithville Lake hosted what’s known as the world’s largest managed deer hunt for mobility-impaired hunters.

History of hunt

In order to make this managed hunt possible, it took regulation changes from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“Several meetings were held (between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Missouri Department of Conservation) in Jefferson City, Missouri, to get all the appropriate officials on board,” said Bruce Clark, retired operations manager at Smithville Lake. “Liability was of great concern, and still is. That is why strict safety precautions need to be in place.”

“Thirty years later, here we are, still providing this opportunity for mobility-impaired hunters to get back to nature,” said Derek Dorsey, Smithville Lake park manager.

Readying for the hunt

Year after year, applications are received in August and land clearing begins in November, to clear brush and allow cleaner paths to access the hunting blinds. Applicants are accompanied in the field by either a friend or a volunteer. Those individuals assist with getting to and from the blind, sighting and loading deer.

While most kids normally get to sleep in on a Saturday morning, Boy Scouts Troop 397 from Kearney arrives at Smithville Lake by 4:30 a.m. to serve the hunters breakfast before they head out to their blinds around 5 a.m. For lunch, hunters come back to base camp to find a plethora of Crockpots filled to the brim with chili, provided by the Smithville Kiwanis Club.

Reactions to the hunt

Holt's Mason Rudder, 11, was one of those children who woke early Saturday, anxious to participate in this hunt for the first time.

“This event has given Mason, my son, more confidence,” said George Rudder. “I have taken him hunting on private land with me the past four years. The first two years he was able to harvest a seven-point buck and a nine-point buck, respectively. But, I also think there was a bit of beginners luck with those two situations. The last two years, while seeing deer, we were just not able to get it done.”

After two years and no luck getting a deer, Mason harvested a doe during the 30th annual managed deer hunt at Smithville Lake.

“Mason seeing other participants in different circumstances getting out and doing the same thing was a positive experience for him,” said George. “We couldn't be more thankful for the experience.”

“This is what the hunt is about and why we continue to host it,” said Dorsey. “While this hunt helps manage a deer herd that would typically overpopulate in an area that is off-limits to hunting, it provides mobility-impaired people of all ages an opportunity to hunt, bond with their volunteers and get back to nature."

In the event's 30 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has hosted 1,577 hunters who have harvested 1,504 deer.

"It takes hard work to put this together, but seeing the excitement of the hunters and the bonds they establish makes it a huge success for all," said Dorsey.

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