Outdoors: Path Foundation shares joy of hunting – Detroit Free Press
Turkeys are strange birds, but it’s much to the delight of hunters.
Over 100,000 of us rise in the early hours of the morning to listen for their glorious gobbles.
And thanks to the Path Foundation, which provides hunting opportunities to those who can’t access the woods, even more people are getting a chance to land a turkey.
Last year, the Path Foundation gave Denton Sorensen of Flint the opportunity to turkey hunt between dialysis sessions. Sorensen is confined to a wheelchair. He has no legs.
Sorensen has hunted deer since he was a child, but he never had pursued gobblers and was eager to do it. The uninitiated see turkeys as dumb, slow birds that will raise their heads in the rain and drown. Sorensen knew there’s nothing further from the truth.
Yes, they might cross the road in front of your car, but it’s a different scenario the moment you’re in their territory.
The turkeys must be called into range. To do it well, a hunter must learn to talk to the turkey convincingly. It’s like trying to call a lawn robin by whistling. It takes some skills. The hunter must master the sound of a flirting female turkey, to boot.
“I’ve never been turkey hunting,” Sorensen said. “The first time I went they made sure (I) had a championship caller, a (Department of Natural Resources) person, and he did all the calling.”
Sorensen is referring to Joe Roberson, one of many Path Foundation volunteers. Sorensen got his first bird and is coming back for more.
He is one of many who have benefited from the generosity of the nonprofit foundation.
How did it start?
Bob Garner, former co-host of the television program “Michigan Outdoors,” and Bob Knoop (pronounced Kah-nope) asked a friend to help them get a gun barrel for a young man whose mother had died. He wanted to hunt but had no resources.
“That friend we asked to help us with the kid,” said Knoop, “was a retired army vet, living on a fixed income. Instead of just one gun barrel, he gave us a barrel and an additional gun.”
Knoop was confused. Why had their friend purchased an extra gun?
“Well, there are two brothers in that family, do you expect them to pass the gun back and forth while they’re hunting?” Chuck asked.
“We were pretty sheepish,” Knoop said. “If a retired vet on an army pension could donate a gun, we knew we could do a lot more.”
And so, 40 years ago, a legacy began for Path, which stands for Passing Along the Heritage.
“We started in a back room with a few friends,” Knoop said. “They all brought gear they had won at raffles and didn’t need, and cash. We raised around $3,000.”
Then it got up to $40,000, and on and on. Eventually, it grew into a 501c3 corporation.
They donated gear to wanna-be hunters without means, and began paying for equipment and opportunities for handicapped hunters.
“It was fun,” Knoop said.
Roberson, also a board member since the organization’s inception, was motivated by a neighbor who had muscular sclerosis.
“What really got me involved,” Roberson said, “a local kid who always went out hunting with his dad, but he couldn’t partake in the actual harvest.”
That opportunity came with a machine purchased by the foundation called the “Liberator.” It allows anyone to shoot a crossbow, a shotgun or a rifle. The Liberator can either be operated with a joystick or even a puff of breath. The sights have an enhanced screen, ensuring an accurate shot, even for the visually impaired.
“It has two options,” Knoop said. “If the individual has mobility where they can run a joystick, they can use that to make the weapon fire. If they don’t have mobility, they have a straw which can control the height. There’s a scope on top of the weapon, and the individual is watching a 10-inch screen with crosshairs. The person sitting with them behind them can take off the safety, the hunter puffs the straw, and the arrow, bullet, or slug is released.
It allows those like Sorensen, or those without grip strength, to bring home a kill, or, in this case, the turkey.
The group has been taking people turkey hunting for six years. That wasn’t an option when it first formed. There weren’t too many birds, even then.
The ancestral range of turkeys was from south of the line between Bay City and Muskegon and estimated to be 90,000 birds. They were extirpated in the days before grocery stores were highly available, and eventually restoration attempts were made.
Records show the first turkey hunting season was in the spring of 1968 with a harvest 25 birds, and there were only 3,000 acres of land open to hunting. By 1979, around when the group was forming, hunters harvested a mere 627 birds, but there were still less than 4,000 square miles open to turkey hunting. Today, turkeys are everywhere from Monroe to the Upper Peninsula, and they number in the hundreds of thousands with 58,000 acres of land open for hunting.
Their restoration has been funded by hunter and angler dollars, including the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on hunting and fishing gear. The restoration of the species has opened roadways for new generations of hunters from all demographics: Turkey hunting attracts over 10,000 youths a year, around 11,000 women annually and a total of some 90-110,000 hunters overall, depending on the year, said Al Stewart, Michigan DNR upland bird specialist.
“And, with organizations like the Path Foundation clearing the way,” Stewart said, “it really is a sport for everyone.”