Disabled Outdoorsmen creates inclusive hunting program for people with disabilities
By Ashley Skinner
As the 10-point buck grazes silently 200 feet away, TJ sits in his wheelchair at the bottom of the hunting blind and sets up his shot with the help of his caregiver, Jeremy Kennedy. He rests his elbow on the beach ball propped under his arm as he pulls the trigger. The shot strikes the buck inches from the deer’s heart.
Another rack for his wall.
TJ duPerier is 30 years old and has muscular dystrophy, a genetic, progressive disease that weakens and eventually depletes muscle mass. Before his disease began progressing, he loved to hunt and fish in and around his hometown of Medina, Texas. With the help of 23-year-old Weston Jenkins, creator of Disabled Outdoorsmen USA, he is now able to continue doing what he loves with other people who have disabilities.
“TJ is my cousin and the main inspiration behind this organization,” Jenkins said. “One day after a hunt with TJ, I was driving home and the name and idea just popped into my head.”
At the age of 5, duPerier was diagnosed with his disease, and by 13, he required a wheelchair full-time. Although hunting has been a process of trial and error, he has found a way to do what he loves.
“Jeremy sets me up to the direction of the deer we are looking at taking down,” duPerier said. “We put a beach ball under my arm, rest the gun on my chair, and we use a strap that goes behind my back and head to pull the rifle as close to my shoulder as we can. Once Jeremy adjusts the scope for me, I wait until I have the perfect shot and pull the trigger.”
Kennedy, duPerier and Jenkins have been friends for the past nine years and have become even closer since Kennedy took on the caregiver roll in 2012. Now they go on hunting trips together a few times every month and some trips Disabled Outdoorsmen takes.
“Honestly the duPerier family is my family now. I love helping TJ because it gives him a chance to be his own person; to give him the freedom to go wherever he pleases,” Kennedy said. “Weston showing the world that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the outdoors is awesome. It really changes lives.”
The development of Disabled Outdoorsmen
Jenkins was 21 and majoring in Business Marketing and Sales at Texas State University when he started DOUSA. Since then, he has been in contact with over 100 people with various disabilities. As of 2016 in the United States alone, 12.8 percent of the population, or approximately 38.8 million people, have some type of disability, according to the United States Disability Compendium.
“The goal of my organization isn’t centered around one set of disabilities or age ranges,” Jenkins said. “When I started this research, I realized there isn’t really any organization out there that does what we do. Most are centered around war veterans, but I don’t limit the people I help.”
Funding for the organization began with GoFundMe and developed into a merchandising fundraiser. Recently, Academy Sports + Outdoors agreed to sell Disabled Outdoorsmen’s merchandise on its website.
“Because they are a big company, I’m having to go through some hurdles regarding insurance policies for the merchandise,” Jenkins said. “Once I get through those, it won’t be long and I couldn’t be more excited to get more funding to help people take their mind off their struggles.
The first few months of creating the organization involved networking and getting other fraternity members to stand behind Jenkins. Senior nursing major at Texas State Round Rock Kevin Frederick, who took an immediate interest in what Jenkins was trying to accomplish, has become the videographer for the organization.
“Weston was actually my mentor in our fraternity and when he told me about what he wanted to do, I was all in,” Frederick said. “I’m earning my degree in nursing right now, so I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to the organization, but I go on all the trips and shoot the video for them.”
With the help of donors like South Texas Ranch Owner Trey Schwarz, Jenkins is able to take hunters to various ranches other than his family’s ranch in Boerne, Texas.
“I basically donated the ranch to Weston to use for hunting trips, specifically Nixon’s,” Schwarz said. “I also helped arranged the family’s flight times and picked them up. The experience is really eye opening when you see it first-hand.”
Over the next month, Jenkins has set up four fundraising events for the organization, hoping to raise enough money to fly down five hunters by July.
“I think it is really special to see the reactions and how thankful the hunters are that Weston is able to fly down here,” duPerier said. “Weston’s love and passion for what he does for these people is so special; not many people would take the time to do what he is doing.”
Memories not soon forgotten
“I was in contact with Weston before the organization was even up and running, it was more of just an idea at the time,” Smith said. “About a year later, he contacted me again and was ready to bring me down to Texas. I had never hunted white-tail deer before and I had a lot of fun getting to chat with TJ and become friends with some very generous people.”
An average hunting trip through Disabled Outdoorsmen costs Jenkins anywhere from $1.5 K - $2.5 K to arrange. This includes plane tickets, fuel, ammo, food and merchandise that is given to the hunters. Since the first hunt in November of 2018, the organization took off in terms of supporters and fundraising.
By January of 2019, Jenkins was bringing his next hunter from Utah down to Texas: a 7-year-old boy who has stage four osteosarcoma cancer, Nixon Whatcott.
“Our entire family was invited down, all six of us,” Nixon’s mom Janessa Whatcott said. “Weston and his buddies treated us like family. Not only did they give Nixon a southern Texas hunting trip, but they let my three other children participate just as much. I’m so grateful for what he is doing.”