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Bruce, USSA help young pair live out hunting dreams

Bruce, USSA help young pair live out hunting dreams
Bruce, USSA help young pair live out hunting dreams
Ashley Manes, 8, of Knoxville, Tenn., beams with pride as her father, Joe, holds a catfish she 'caught' last month at Rodney Bruce's Whitetail Bluff trophy-hunting ranch in Corydon. (Photos by Alan Stewart)

Hunting and fishing may be among America’s oldest pastimes, but they aren’t exactly tailored to those with disabilities. And they’re especially difficult for youngsters with physical limitations.
Most rough terrains are hard to walk, and even more awkward to traverse in a wheelchair.
Enter Rodney Bruce, who owns a deer hunting lodge in Corydon called Whitetail Bluff, and the United Special Sportsmen Alliance.
Bruce recently offered up his breathtaking lodge, which he shares with his wife, Karen, to a pair of special children, and made lemonade out of lemons. Or, in this case, made memories out of hunting and fishing experiences.
The USSA, which is headquartered in Wisconsin, provided the youth ‘ Ashley Manes, 8, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Cory Freeman, 15, of Moundville, Ala. ‘ and their families the all-expenses-paid trips, and Rodney Bruce provided the land, lodging and wildlife.
The USSA is a non-profit organization that works with other caring organizations worldwide to fulfill dream wishes that involve fishing, hunting, canoeing and camping trips to deer, elk, turkey, bear and pheasant farms, plus preserves and ranches such as Whitetail Bluff. USSA grants terminally ill and disabled sportsmen and women outdoor adventures.
Bruce’s hunting ranch specializes in hunts for trophy bucks, and it’s nothing like hunting ranches that have been given negative publicity in the past.
‘We don’t corner friendly animals and just take target practice at them. When you go into a blind on one of our hunts, you may see a giant 14-pointer, but you may not.
‘We just had a guy here for a hunt and stayed for three days and left empty-handed. That’s just the way it is whenever a hunter goes out into the woods, and that’s the way it is here. We’ve tried to create a natural setting while providing an opportunity for a trophy buck,’ Bruce said. ‘We’ve tried to eliminate a lot of the stigma that goes into a ranch like ours.’
After failing to get a deer in the morning, Manes, who was joined on the trip by her parents, Tiffany and Joe, elected to try her hand at fishing.
Manes was injured in a car accident that left her a quadriplegic at the age of 4.
She said she wanted to ‘catch fish’ and get a deer bigger than her dad’s, which hangs on the wall of their home.
Mission accomplished on both fronts.
While the youngster was unable to reel a line from the shore, or fire a crossbow from her specially-made blind, every critter hauled in brought a bright grin and a few giggles from Manes.
At one point, a running bet was made between Tiffany Manes and Brigid O’Donoghue, founder of USSA, on who would catch the bigger fish. The loser had to kiss the other’s fish. O’Donoghue lost, which brought on a fit of laughter from Ashley.
‘I’ll never kiss a fish,’ she claimed. ‘They are too yucky. And ugly.’
During the kiss-capade, Ashley Manes even managed to lift her hand three times, which was something she’d never done before.
Who said fishing was boring?
Later that day, the Manes clan bagged a nine-point buck, and Ashley helped drag it to the access road using her chair.
Just across the small pond that sits in front of Bruce’s self-made gem of a house, Cory Freeman was testing the waters for bass, bluegill and catfish.
He didn’t snare a big fish, but Freeman got a kick out of feeding maple leaves to some of the tame deer at Bruce’s ranch, which also features 100 percent pedigree deer running wild throughout the massive, 150-plus acre hunting facility on Walnut Valley Road in Corydon.
Later, Freeman, who has muscular dystrophy, got to take target practice from another specially-made, portable blind using a crossbow. His first shot from 20 yards drilled the bull’s eye.
‘Did you see that, Daddy?’ Freeman screamed to his father, Mike. ‘I got it!’
‘When we pulled into this place, we saw a big 13-point buck and saw another one this morning,’ Mike Freeman said with a thick southern accent. ‘Of all the places we’ve been to hunt, this is the best place.’
Unfortunately, as any hunter can attest, wildlife isn’t always so cooperative.
‘Even if we left without a deer, this is and has been a great experience,’ Freeman added. ‘It’s just gorgeous up here.’
Bruce said later that the Freemans left Corydon with an 8-pointer that Cory shot.
O’Donoghue, herself a survivor of encephalitis and brain surgery, said the support from land owners such as Bruce are what keeps the USSA alive.
‘Rodney contacted us about three months ago offering his land for hunting trips. He’s an absolute teddy bear, and the kids all love him,’ O’Donoghue said. ‘When these kids just stay in a hospital or their homes all of the time, they are sad and depressed. But when they come out here to places like this, the whole world changes for them. We’ll work around any limitations someone might have. Our goal is to make a wish come true.’
In addition to the hunts, a four-wheel drive ‘mule’ was donated for use by Jacobi Sales in Seymour, and Corydon’s Lost Creek Taxidermy and Lincoln Hills Taxidermy provided mounting services.
‘The amount of support we received in this venture has been phenomenal,’ Rodney Bruce said. ‘This is all about the kids, and when I asked for some help, they asked what we needed, no other questions asked.’
O’Donoghue said anyone interested in referring a terminally ill or disabled child to USSA for a dream hunting or fishing trip should contact her at 1-800-518-8019 or email [email protected]
For more information on Whitetail Bluff, call Bruce at 738-7710 or log on to