SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A student at Texas State University is working to make the outdoors accessible to everyone by offering people with disabilities free hunting, fishing and other types of natural trips.
Weston Jenkins, 23, started Disabled Outdoorsmen two years ago. As he prepares to graduate in May with a degree in sales and marketing, he plans to keep the charitable organization growing.
Thursday marks Jenkins’ third trip, a trek to North Texas to take a man hog hunting. The client, a former U.S. Paralympic tennis player, uses a wheelchair after being badly hurt in a car wreck when he was younger.
Jenkins also recently paid for an entire Utah family to come to Texas so their young son, recently diagnosed with bone cancer, could go hunting.
“I really feel like I was kind of meant to do it,” Jenkins told KXAN. “I really do get a joy out of doing it.“
It’s a joy that started when he was young, on hunting trips with his cousin, T.J. DuPerier. Now 30, DuPerier’s form of muscular dystrophy now requires him to use an electric wheelchair and oxygen machine.
“Hunting with T.J., growing up with T.J. my entire life, I kind of saw the struggles that he goes through on a daily basis just to do what we do so easily,” Jenkins said.
But his disability hasn’t kept DuPerier from getting out in his customized truck on his family’s sprawling ranch in Boerne to hunt deer and exotic animals. On a recent foggy Saturday, he guided Jenkins on a hunt for an aging black lechwe, native to Africa, who had both his horns broken off in fights with other animals.
A trophy room at the ranch is full of mounted deer racks and other animals that DuPerier’s has hunted over his lifetime, even as his mobility has declined.
“It’s just a little more challenging,” he explained, “because most people who use a rifle, I mean, you pretty much just put the gun up and pull the trigger.”
Once DuPerier gets set up with his rifle — customized to reduce recoil — it’s difficult for him to adjust quickly to an animal’s movements. But that hasn’t deterred him from doing what he loves. “Once I’m set up, I usually do pretty good.”
“It’s just something I can do where I don’t have to worry about anything else,” DuPerier said. “I just got to focus on the outdoors or whatever species or animal.”
That’s the experience Jenkins wants others to have, and the first person he took hunting, a double-amputee from Utah, told him that’s what he got from it, too.
“He was like, ‘I didn’t think about my legs being gone one time,'” Jenkins said. “That’s kind of the ultimate goal here is we want to bring them out here and let them worry less about what’s going on with them.”
Importantly, the trips are free for the people he takes out.
One of his sources of funding for the trips is the merchandise he sells online. You can find hats and shirts, printed with silhouettes of the people he’s taken on trips, here.
Disabled Outdoorsmen is also hosting a golf tournament on Thursday, March 28, to raise money. You can register as a player or as a sponsor here.
Three trips in, Jenkins said he’s just getting started, with two more scheduled this year in April and in September. He doesn’t want to limit the organization to just hunting and fishing outings, though; it’s up to the people he takes out what they want to do: “Bike riding, horseback riding, anything that they like to do in the outdoors.”
He wants to expand the group past what it is now and focus on creating a Disabled Outdoorsmen brand to raise the profile of the athletes and enthusiasts who are proving the outdoors are for everyone.
“I really feel like Disabled Outdoorsmen can make a lasting impact on a lot of people,” he said, “just through the beauty of the outdoors.”