The Valdosta Daily Times
It started with a small request.
Tim Keller's best friend, Brian Reagan, wanted to take his son, McLean, hunting. Brian had Cystic Fibrosis and—the disease being what it is—wanted to be able to experience the outdoors with his son while he could.
He asked for Keller's help.
“All he wanted to do was take his son and let his son experience hunting before he passed away,” said Keller. “He was my best friend, so I said, sure, we'll do that.”
Taking Brian and his son out hunting is what led Keller to create Talon Outdoors, a non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities to hunt and experience the outdoors to those who are mobility impaired.
“I was one of those selfish guys. I was one of those selfish hunters who wouldn't tell you where my best spot was...Once you see a greater good, a greater cause and a greater blessing, it melted that away. I don't know how to explain it. God softens your heart a little bit, lets you see...how you can bless other people.”
Since its founding, Talon has had about 500 people participate over the last five years, from guides and volunteers to mobility-impaired hunters, with events ranging from quail, duck and deer, to turkey and skeet shoots.
For some participants, hunting and the outdoors is a whole new world, something they've never experienced. And for some, it's something that used to be a part of their lives before they weren't able to get out anymore, like the two men Talon took dove hunting, something the men hadn't been able to do in the last three decades.
“We take it for granted what it means to them,” said Keller. “Sometimes we go dove hunting a half a dozen times a year and think nothing about it.”
The next event Talon Outdoors is hosting is the Fifth Annual Mobility Impaired Spring Turkey Hunt, and like many of its events, Talon is putting it on in conjunction with Lowndes Longspurs, the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF)—Keller serves as President of the Lowndes Longspurs. Spread out over April 11 and April 12, the event marks a five-year anniversary for Talon Outdoors.
And before that, Keller is helping out the Lowndes Longspurs and the NWTF's youth-oriented Mysteries of the Wild Turkey Revealed event. The event is focused on giving interested boys and girls the chance to get a hands -on turkey hunting education, as well as the experience.
It's something Jimmy Whatley is also passionate about.
Whatley's been active in turkey hunting for the last 20 years. Over the years, he and a friend, David Neck, have taken more and more people hunting, especially younger people who may be experiencing it for the first time.
“It's been the highlight of our hunting experience,” said Whatley. “It's not the killing of the turkey, but it's the whole outdoor experience and sharing that with a young person.”
Whatley and Keller worked with Rep. Jason Shaw about about adding a weekend to the hunting season specific to youth 16 and under and mobility impaired hunters, which eventually became House Bill 207.
On March 8, the kids participating in the event will receive instructions on hunting and safety, as well as an opportunity to site in their shotguns.
The lessons continue on Friday, March 14, with young hunters learning the basics of turkey calling before meeting Saturday morning at 5 a.m. to start the hunt.
“We want them to understand the resource the good Lord has given us...It's the kind of thing you can give back that will continue to give and give and give.”
With the turkey season approaching, soon Keller will be taking McLean out again, as his father Brian passed away since going out with McLean and Keller that first time.
Keller went last year with McLean, who had his first miss but no luck. This year he's a little older, a little more experienced. He may get something, but if not, that's all right. He'll still be out, getting to enjoy the outdoors, just like his father wanted.
Applications for both events are available at www.TalonOutdoors.com