There were days when Jerame Hugunin doubted that his dream of taking his son deer hunting would ever materialize. Brayden, you see, was born with cerebral palsy and can’t walk or talk. Despite those disabilities, he knows what is going on around him and can communicate through sign language.
But deer hunting? On the rugged land that Hugunin hunts in southeast Kansas? Virtually impossible, Hugunin thought.
But in his own way, Brayden, 15, kept his dad’s dream alive. When Hugunin would return from a hunting trip with a deer, he could see the excitement in his boy’s eyes. He knew Brayden wanted to go hunting.
So, against overwhelming odds, Hugunin did what dads do best: He set out to give his son a chance.
“I kept thinking, If only there was some way I could get him out with me,” said Hugunin, whose family lives in Burlington, Kansas. “I knew there had to be a way.”
Hugunin found that way when he saw an advertisement for an all-terrain wheelchair designed to give people with disabilities the freedom to negotiate the roughest land imaginable. The only problem: it cost much more than Jerame and his wife, Randi, could afford.
But Hugunin didn’t give up. Friends and family started helping in the winter of 2014 by holding a series of raffles, and it wasn’t long before the Hugunins were able to purchase the TracFab chair, manufactured by a company in Pennsylvania.
“Brayden loved it from the start,” Hugunin said. “We have pictures of him out in a stream, just playing around. He was able to get places where he had never been before, and that was a big deal for him.”
The highlight came in December 2015, when Hugunin was finally able to take his son deer hunting.
Much preparation had gone into the day. Hugunin modified the wheelchair to include a brace for the rifle, allowing it to swing from side to side but also lock into place when a target was identified. Safety was of primary concern; the trigger on the gun was controlled by two electronic buttons on a receiver that both father and son could hold.
Dad held one device with a button that essentially kept the rifle on safety. If a deer came within range, Hugunin could take the gun off safety once the shot was lined up. Brayden could then take the shot by pushing another button.
So, off they went, father and son, setting out on private land in Coffey County owned by one of Hugunin’s friends.
The goals were modest for that day: Dad wanted his son to merely shoot a deer. Any deer. A small doe, whatever. Just shoot a deer.
That’s where this story takes a turn. After the Hugunins climbed a hill to a field where Jerame had seen deer before, several does saw them approach and quickly took off, their white tails flagging as they bounded across the field.
“I thought we had missed our chance,” Hugunin said.
But much to his surprise, a big buck suddenly appeared, his head to the ground, trailing the scent of the does.
As the buck moved closer, Hugunin helped his son line up the shot and instructed him to get ready. When the time was right, Dad released the safety and his son pushed the button to fire the rifle. The crack of the shot split the cold December air, and the deer fell.
That’s when the celebration started.
“You should have seen how fast Brayden had that wheelchair going when he went after his deer,” his dad said with a laugh.
The 10-point buck had a rack that scored 162 1/8 inches, not bad for a first-time hunt. Not bad for a boy with a disability who was never given a chance of going deer hunting.
Brayden later brought the antlers to school to do a little show-and-tell, and the Hugunins went on to have the buck mounted.
Fast forward a year and father and son are back in the deer woods. They went out last Saturday during the Kansas rifle deer season and returned to the place where Brayden shot his buck. And yes, they saw deer.
“We saw four does in the same exact spot where Brayden shot his first one,” Hugunin said. “But we let them walk. After that experience last year, Brayden was after another buck.”
That feat might be hard to match. Nonetheless, Brayden is proud of what he accomplished. But no prouder than his dad, who never could have imagined a moment like this.
“I just wanted him to be able to go deer hunting, just like other kids his age do,” Hugunin said. “To shoot a deer like this his first time out, that was unbelievable. That was a day we’ll never forget.”