When he and his wife moved into The Baptist Homes’ Arcadia Valley campus in Ironton, Missouri, last April, John Sanders figured his hunting days were over for good.
Sanders spent much of his life hunting, even taking trips to Western states like Wyoming to hunt elk and pronghorn. But when he and his wife moved into independent care housing on the Arcadia Valley campus in 2022, he was struggling with his health, and he sold or gave away much of his hunting gear.
Never would he have imagined that The Baptist Homes & Healthcare Ministries (BHHM) — the Missouri Baptist Convention’s pro-life ministry to aging adults — would begin an initiative in 2022 to recruit and reactivate hunters among aging adults.
And never would he have imagined that they would let him hunt white-tailed deer and turkey on Arcadia Valley’s 175-acre campus, much of it covered with lush fields and woodlands.
But this is exactly what happened.
‘I enjoyed the hunt’
Last year, three BHHM campuses — including Arcadia Valley — hosted deer hunts for residents, in partnership with the National Deer Association’s (NDA) Field to Fork Hunter Recruitment program. Before each hunt, NDA staff trained residents in deer biology and hunting technique before an afternoon target practice. Then, working alongside a mentor experienced in hunting, each resident was able to spend an evening and morning in the blind.
The hunting initiative has grown this fall, taking place on four BHHM campuses. Once again, the BHHM is partnering with the NDA, along with several Missouri Baptist churches, including Deer Creek Baptist, Cuba; First Baptist Viburnum; First Baptist Vandalia; First Baptist Annapolis; First Baptist Ozark; First Baptist Potosi; and First Baptist Mansfield.
This November and December, hunters will use .243 rifles at the Vandalia and Ozark campuses, and they’ll use muzzleloaders at the Ashland campus.
On Sept. 27–28, at the Arcadia Valley campus, Sanders took part in his second crossbow hunt, and his son had even helped him set up a 15-foot ladder stand in a tree on campus for watching wildlife and hunting.
“My son said, ‘Dad, I want you to remember you’re 81 years old. You’re not Tarzan, and you’re not a chimpanzee. So be careful,’” Sanders said with a laugh. “I enjoyed the hunt last year and appreciate what the Home does for us here. I love it here at the Home.
“There’s all kind of deer and turkey here,” he added, sharing his story during the pre-hunt training session led by NDA staff. “I count them every day. I saw eight deer last night and 12 turkey coming down this morning. … They’re around here. I think they know where to hide when we get out there (to hunt).”
‘To experience something new’
More than half a dozen BHHM residents joined in this year’s hunt at Arcadia Valley, and Sanders wasn’t alone in sharing his story.
One of them, Judy Velton, has hunted all her life.
“My dad and my uncle took me out with a shotgun for my first time at 10 years old, and they told me I was to hold this gun and fire it. It blew me halfway across the hill,” Velton said, laughing. “That was the last time I picked up a shotgun. If I couldn’t kill it with a rifle, I didn’t kill it.
“I’ve shot many squirrels, rabbits, deer,” she added. “I love being out in the woods, just for the nature. … I’ve never shot a crossbow, though. So I’m anxious to experience something new at 70 years old.”
“To experience something new” — that’s exactly what BHHM President Rodney Harrison envisioned when he began the ministry’s hunting initiative, and he knows from personal experience the impact it can have.
Harrison remembers the joy he had as a teenager when he hunted with his father, and in recent years the father-son duo have taken up hunting again.
“About two years ago, we went on a deer hunt in southern Missouri, and my father harvested his first buck,” Harrison said. “It was a life-changing experience. I realized how, at 87 years old, it just gave him a spark.
“I realized,” he said, “that maybe the Lord placed me at Baptist Homes for such a time as this, to be able to help men and women enjoy creation. What’s been amazing about our events is that, many times, we’ve had first-time hunters. We’ve had folks who have never been on a deer hunt, who have never used a crossbow.”
‘Stewards of creation’
God has called people “to be stewards of creation,” Harrison added, and now BHHM residents have an opportunity to fulfill this biblical mandate.
According to NDA Deer Outreach Specialists Cheyne Matzenbacher and Cole Gander, who took part in the BHHM hunt at Arcadia Valley, good stewardship involves hunting.
Without regulated hunting, they explained, the deer population may grow too large in a particular area, or there may be imbalanced numbers of bucks and does. This is harmful for the whole deer population: Food supplies run short; the bucks are unable to breed with the does in the right timeframe; and, as a result, some late-born fawns may be too young to survive the winter.
Regulated hunting, they said, can actually help the whole herd of deer grow and become healthier. The NDA, in fact, recommended that the Arcadia Valley campus harvest roughly a dozen does, which would allow the deer population on its property to flourish.
‘The thrill of seeing game up close’
Unfortunately, Arcadia Valley BHHM hunters weren’t able to harvest any deer last month, but the experience was a blessing to residents and volunteer mentors alike.
“Although nothing came in range for a good shot, there was still the thrill of seeing game up close in their environment,” said BHHM church relation specialist Spencer Hutson, who helped with the hunt at Arcadia Valley.
“It also provided excitement on the campus, even for those who wouldn’t participate or couldn’t because of health,” Hutson added. “Our activities director organized an indoor hunt with undecorated Christmas trees and staff with antlers on and neighbors using nerf guns. Quite a good time for them.”
To read full story, click here.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Benjamin Hawkins and originally published by the Pathway.