— FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Coleman Patterson has hunted deer since he was a young man, but hip surgery and arthritis now make it impossible for the 74-year-old to hike into the woods and enjoy his hobby.
"I'm not in a wheelchair, yet, knock on wood, but I'm about two steps to it," Patterson said.
He said he was thrilled to learn there were hunting areas set aside for disabled hunters and even more thrilled to learn there will be two new hunting houses available locally for disabled hunters.
"There are a lot of people who are handicapped that like to hunt," Patterson said.
Mitchell Marks, a wildlife biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Wildlife Section, said two handicapped-accessible shooting houses will be installed at the Cherokee Physically Disabled Hunting Area, bringing the total there to three.
Shooting houses — also called hunting houses, hunting blinds, box blinds or deer blinds — are small, often elevated, enclosed structures used by hunters to conceal themselves while hunting deer.
"We've tried to come up with a way of funding these two other shooting houses," Marks said.
Assistant Colbert County Engineer Jeremy Robison said the Road Department received a $5,000 grant from the Colbert County Community Development Committee to purchase materials for the project. Each house requires about $1,000 worth of materials.
The Road Department enlisted the assistance of students at Colbert County and Cherokee high schools and the Muscle Shoals Center for Technology to construct the shooting houses and duck blinds.
A duck blind is a structure duck hunters use to conceal themselves while hunting ducks. They can very in shape and size and made from a variety of materials, from natural items found in the hunting area or more elaborate structure made from wood. The duck blinds being fashioned by the students will be made of wood.
"Colbert County is going to build one of each," Robison said. "Muscle Shoals will build one shooting house and Cherokee will build one duck blind. Lowe's is going to sell us the materials at a discount."
Students at Muscle Shoals High School are building their shooting house, and lumber has been delivered to Colbert County and Cherokee high schools, Robison said.
Joel Retherford, building construction instructor at the Muscle Shoals Center for Technology, said about 40 students from freshmen to seniors have been working on their shooting house for a couple of weeks. He said the students have enjoyed working on the project, both because of the size of the project and the fact that they will be helping the community.
"That's the great thing about this," Retherford said. "They love it and they really enjoy getting in there on something big like this."
The students are enrolled in the center's carpentry class.
"A lot of them want to go into carpentry," Retherford said. "This will prepare them for a career."
Once the shooting houses are built, Marks said, they will be placed in the 240-acre Cherokee Physically Disabled Hunting Area, and will be ready for use by the time hunting season begins.
Marks said a road will be built to an area near a greenfield hunting area. Stumps will be cleared, a pad will be built from gravel and chipped concrete block material, and the house will be placed on the pad.
He expects the shooting houses and the new hunting locations to be ready for use by the beginning of hunting season. The duck blinds are being built, but officials are still working out the details concerning their location, Marks said.
Marks said a disabled hunter must submit an application to the state Department of Conservation and be approved before he or she can use the shooting houses. A doctor must sign off on the hunter's disability.
Once they're approved, hunters can reserve a shooting house for an entire day through the Colbert County Extension Office.
County Extension Coordinator Danny McWilliams said last season filled up in about 10 days.
There are 18 disabled hunting facilities located throughout the state. Some have one house and some have multiple houses, he said.
Marks said the one house at the Cherokee hunting area is available to physically disabled hunters from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. He said it's booked throughout deer season.
Patterson said he has hunted at the Colbert County site and at the disabled hunting area in Jackson County near Skyline. The next closest place for disabled hunters is in Fayette County.
Patterson said his 19-year-old grandson accompanies him, helps him get in the shooting house, then parks the pickup out of sight and waits in the shooting house with his grandfather. If he shoots a deer, his grandson will take the truck and retrieve it.
"I think a lot of grandpas would like their grandkids to carry them," Patterson said.
Marks said the Colbert shooting house is available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and stays reserved through deer season. The popularity was one reason the wildlife division wanted to add additional houses. He said the first shooting house for the disabled was built by an Eagle Scout about six years ago.
"I think it's a very worthy thing," McWilliams said. "Just to see the joy and excitement of the thrill of the hunt from someone who is disabled or a disabled child is worth a million dollars."
Then added, actually, "you can't put a price on it."