Volunteers raise money, support the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Work Boots on the Ground project
A new, custom-built deer blind in the Western portion of the Texas Hill Country set the stage for kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably, due to the successful completion of a conservation project organized and sponsored by the Houston-area Union community and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA.) The blind, affectionately named “Hugo” for the USA member who solely constructed the park apparatus, was built to meet the needs of youth hunters dealing with a wide range of mobility issues from being wheelchair bound to using canes, crutches, or braces. Some are living with debilitating medical conditions from cancer to heart disease.
The project began last year, when members of the Houston-area union community came together for a conservation dinner organized by long-time USA members and project Co-chairmen Michael Cramer and Mike Shelton to raise funds for the organization’s first conservation project in Texas. A year later in October, many of the same union tradesman who attended the first dinner attended the area’s second dinner to see the finished blind and to realize the project’s success.
“This truly was a labor of love,” said Cramer, financial secretary of UA Plumbers Local 68 in Houston. “It was a cooperative effort that is good for the community, good for youth with special needs and good for labor.”
Walt Ingram, the USA’s conservation dinner manager, said when the dinner attendees saw the slide presentation showing the stages of the project from start to finish, they clapped and cheered.
“Not only does it feel good,” said Ingram, “but it’s more about the idea that it is something we can contribute and leave behind to help our communities.”
“It’s really great to have an organization realize we had a need for a specialized hunting blind and to provide a mobile blind that exceeded our highest expectations,” said Jerry Warden, executive director of the Texas Youth Hunting Program, a division of the Texas Wildlife Association. “This blind is extremely well-designed and very user-friendly.”
Each year, the program, led by Warden and a team of trained volunteers, organizes 150 hunts, involving an average of 1500 kids in the sport.
The finished product is due to the engineering and ingenuity of Hugo Kraft, a member of IBEW Local 66 in Houston. After signing on to help out with the project and talking with Warden about the concept, Kraft was in his own words, “off to the lumber yard.”
“I brought it home and started building,” said Kraft, a USA member of five years. “I felt whatever it took, I’m donating that.”
Over the period of a few months, putting in the time Kraft equates to a weekend – the blind was finished. This deer stand is truly state-of-the-art with a wheelchair accessible ramp, a floor to withstand 500 lbs., a window ledge, an adjustable and a handmade gun prop, to support, “…a steadier, better shot,” he said.
Kraft’s final request to the conservation committee – to purchase a trailer to allow the blind safe transport between hunting grounds – was approved with a unanimous vote. Kraft went on to modify the trailer with enhancements of chains, a wench, straps, hardware, and even a spare tire.
“Anytime you can do something to help people with disabilities, it just makes you feel good,” he said.
Image courtesy Union Sportsmen’s Alliance