Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Businessman turns accident into adventure for challenged kids

Published: July 11, 2012 in Outdoor Recreation

Contact(s): J.M. Haas, DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement

Warden worked with community to create all-expenses-paid hunt;
More youths sought for annual event in northern Wisconsin

Elliot Ewer of Ladysmith holds his Hunt Of A Lifetime plaque.

Elliot Ewer of Ladysmith holds his Hunt Of A Lifetime plaque.

In 1996, Bill Rands tumbled from a hunting tree stand with a force that partially paralyzed the Ladysmith businessman but ignited his creative determination and community-wide generosity.

Three years later, Elliot Ewer of Ladysmith was born with cerebral palsy, an unforgiving motor disorder that strapped his legs in a wheelchair but left him fearless, fair and kind-hearted.

Last month, a common passion for a Wisconsin tradition united these two unlikely friends for an extraordinary outdoor adventure built around hunting and camaraderie among all ages – but especially for kids like Elliot and their financially strained families.

As Elliott’s mother Amanda Ewer put it, the event presented a welcomed and rare chance for her son to make friends with another child in a similar health situation. And, it also allowed the Ewer family to meet the Rusk County residents who made the all-expenses-paid Hunt of a Lifetime an “awesome” experience for her son.

The roots of this annual event for children ages 12 – 18 with life-altering illnesses or physical challenges go back to 2004 and DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Jeremy Peery. He looked at his own life, and found the inspiration to say thanks in a big way.

“I decided to establish this hunt because it is important to give back to the community,” Peery says. “I have been blessed with great friends and family, and the ability to go through life without any physical or medical challenges. Sometimes we take that for granted.”

Too few kids outside? Warden, SHOT hit the mark

Bill Rands of Ladysmith

Bill Rands of Ladysmith

Peery sought out area sportsmen and sportswomen who shared his concern about the declining participating of all youth having fun in the great outdoors. Together, they formed SHOT -- Safe Hunters Of Tomorrow – and went to work raising funds to help more kids learn about, and to participate in, various outdoor activities. Along the way, Peery also learned about an effort to get some bear hunt tags for a group of terminally ill kids.

And with that request, Peery’s concept for a Hunt of a Lifetime was born. He took his brainstorm to SHOT. Members agreed it was a “great idea” to support.

“I wanted not only to provide an opportunity for those kids with terminal illnesses, but wanted to show their parents and the community that we care,” says Peery, a Rusk County-based warden from his 1999 hire until December 2010 when he was promoted to supervisor and moved to the DNR offices in Eau Claire.

Armed with his SHOT-approved idea, Peery’s next stop was Rands Trucking Inc. to speak to Ladysmith businessman Bill Rands.

Rands seemed the perfect fit for the special project to host the terminally ill kids in a fair chase hunt. Rands has about 3,000 contiguous acres of well-maintained land equipped with a large cabin. What made this an even more perfect pairing is the fact Rands modified his Ladysmith land and cabin to be handicap-accessible after his 1996 tree stand fall.

“I pitched the idea and he wanted to take it on,” Peery says.

And the Hunt of a Lifetime for two qualified youths each year was official.  

Rands: It’s all fair chase and it’s all on me

Here is the special firearm designed by Bill Rands to be used by individuals with limited physical abilities. The hunter uses the screen to watch the animals and aim. The hunter sucks in air through an attached straw to shoot the firearm.

Here is the special firearm designed by Bill Rands to be used by individuals with limited physical abilities. The hunter uses the screen to watch the animals and aim. The hunter sucks in air through an attached straw to shoot the firearm.

When Rands became partially paralyzed in 1996, he couldn’t find the right hunting equipment to match his new situation. So, undaunted by his new reality, he designed what he needed to hunt – and went on to patent it.

Rands designed the power tree-stand lift and platform that can hold a wheelchair plus one or two additional people. He also designed a special sip-and-puff firearm with an attached flat screen atop the barrel. This allows the hunter to keep watch on the screen instead of peering through the scope, and to fire the gun by sucking in air through a straw. He also uses utility vehicles that can travel through water, through the woods and over other rough terrain on his land. 

The special equipment is about all that’s done for the different needs of each youth hunter in the Hunt of a Lifetime event. Rands stresses he does not stock the animals or stack the deck in any way to favor an easy hunt for the kids. “This is fair chase hunting,” he says.

Each youth hunter has the opportunity to hunt for one bear, one buck and one doe during the three-day hunt.

“We do have a group of hound hunters who donate their days and time to help,” Rands says of the bear hunt portion of the event.

Wanted: Wisconsin kids facing unfair challenges for a fair hunt

If you know of any child between the ages of 12 and 18 facing a life-altering illness or physical challenges you believe would enjoy Hunt of a Lifetime, please contact:

Bill Rands – 715-532-7167

DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Jeremy Peery – 715-210-0164.

Rands also doesn’t do a lot of hunting on his land. “The goal is for the kids to get these animals.”

But what about the rest of this annual adventure for two qualified youth hunters and their families? They get to stay in Rands’ cabin for two nights and three days at no cost. This includes food, hunting clothing and equipment -- and a lot of fun talking around the dinner table or watching hunting videos.

It takes a lot of planning to accommodate the special needs of the different hunters, Rands says, adding he’s already working on next year’s event. (More Wisconsin youths wanted – see sidebar.)

“In the seven years since it started, two-thirds of the 14 kids have been from Wisconsin,” Rands says. “We’d like to focus on Wisconsin kids. This is really for the kids who don’t have the opportunity.”

Rands’ goal and hope is the kids and their families go home with smiles on their faces and a lot of good memories.

“We give the families a chance to have a break from the everyday battles that they face,” Rands says.

But the families aren’t the only ones who get a lot out of it. Rands says he also gets inspiration and enjoyment from getting to know the kids, their families and watching them all experience the hunting vacation together.

Peery agrees. “I also wanted the people who volunteer to understand those same principles and provide them with the satisfaction that comes along with doing selfless service and good things for people who are less fortunate than they are.”

Does Rands hope the kids at the annual event also get some inspiration from hunting with him -- an adult who also is physically challenged? “Yes, I hope they do.”

Count Elliot Ewer in that camp.

Elliot: A triple-play plus fishing

Bill Rands (far left front in chair) sits next to Elliot Ewer for a group photograph after the hunt for a buck. Elliot and Ryan from Cumberland (far right), hunted together with DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Jeremy Peery (center back) and other volunteers.

Bill Rands (far left front in chair) sits next to Elliot Ewer for a group photograph after the hunt for a buck. Elliot and Ryan from Cumberland (far right), hunted together with DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Jeremy Peery (center back) and other volunteers.

It’s been about one month since the Hunt of a Lifetime and Elliot is still excited.

“I was just talking to my buddy, William. He was excited to hear about it. He is spreading the word, too, about this,” Elliot says, sitting in the living room with his mother on this day when school is off for teacher meetings. “I will be 13 in January. I am a sixth grader and proud of it, too.”

Elliot also is proud to recite the names of the volunteers who helped him prepare and enjoy the hunt event. “It was a big deal for me and it was exciting.”

As part of the process to prepare for his first hunt, Elliot registered for a local hunter safety course. “I enjoyed every minute of it and every minute of every day leading up to the Hunt of a Lifetime.”

While Elliot is a skilled conversationalist with an optimistic view on life, he did admit his usual flowing commentary stopped when he arrived at the Rands’ impressive cabin that was his to call home for three days.

“I was speechless for 10 minutes,” Elliot says. His mother and Peery are quick to challenge the time without an Elliot commentary, and he relents but emphasizes how impressed he was to find the cabin “completely accessible” and so easy for him to maneuver.

He didn’t waste much time settling in and headed for target practice with the new sip and puff firearm. “I nailed it,” he says of the target.

He also nailed a 10-point buck hours later -- with about two minutes left of the legal hunting day. A photo of the deer, and Elliot with his father and grandfather, is one of his prize possessions from the event. 

The deer head is being mounted, Elliot says. But it won’t be going in the family’s living room to join the other deer mounts from his father. Why? “Because it’s bigger than his,” Elliot says with a big smile. “So it’s going in my bedroom.”

The harvested buck was just the first day and hours after his arrival.

Up by 6 a.m. the next day and after a quick call to his mom, Elliot and company were out the door on a bear hunt with Peery, Rands and a group of volunteer hunters with their hounds. That outing ended with Elliot harvesting a 150-pound bear which is on its way to becoming a bear rug.

Back to the cabin for food and it was back to the woods when Elliot got a doe.

DNR Conservation Warden Jeremy Peery, who started the Hunt of a Lifetime for kids with illnesses, with Elliot Ewer and his mother, Amanda Ewer. Elliott participated in the 2011 in September in the Ladysmith area.

DNR Conservation Warden Jeremy Peery, who started the Hunt of a Lifetime for kids with illnesses, with Elliot Ewer and his mother, Amanda Ewer. Elliott participated in the 2011 in September in the Ladysmith area.

“They called it a triple-play,” he says of his three successful hunts in about 24 hours.  “The other kid, Ryan, did it, too.”

Two children are selected to participate in each Hunt of a Lifetime. Ryan, a boy from Cumberland, was Elliot’s hunting partner for this event.

The animals harvested by Elliot are off to processing and will return to Elliot’s home for a lot of dinners and lunches.

An evening banquet on the last night at the cabin was attended by the families, volunteers and even some youths who hunted in past events. “It was a good old time and I had a blast.”

How did Elliot celebrate? Fishing the next day before coming home.

Elliot and his mother, Amanda, have no hesitation in urging other kids to get in on the event.

“Most people will describe me as a nice person – and that I’m in a wheelchair. Not all CP people are in a wheelchair,” Elliot says, adding that didn’t stop him from going on a Hunt of a Lifetime.

He would enjoy more hunting, but “the equipment is expensive and we can’t afford it.”

Elliot stops and looks toward his mother and says he wasn’t insulting her. She smiles and says she understands. For Amanda, who grew up in a hunting family, she had no fears encouraging Elliot to participate in a hunting event. The emphasis was on safety and the boys always had skilled volunteers – like Warden Peery – by their sides.

For Amanda, it was Elliot’s chance to be with a lot of good people and make new friends that sold her.

“The hunt itself is great. But being able to meet other people, having Elliot meet  people and make friends – and knowing there was another boy in a wheelchair who would be there – that’s what makes a big difference,” Amanda Ewer says. “Rusk County isn’t big. But it’s amazing how many people put so much into this – and to be able to meet those great people.

“This was a big deal – being able to make friends,” she says. “And, yes, we can’t afford the equipment to allow Elliot to have such an awesome experience.”

Elliot says he hopes other kids like him would go.

“If you get a chance, go on this hunt. They make is accessible for you. They make it as fun as possible. I didn’t feel any fear of anything,” Elliot says, adding he’d tell that to any other child in the same health situation as his. “I think it, the Hunt of a Lifetime, would help them feel more confident and, yes, raise their self-esteem. I am ready to take on just about anything.”

Besides all the fun, what did he learn specifically from the host – Bill Rands?

“He told me: ‘Keep your head up and keep smiling.’ And that’s what I do every day. I’ve been like that my whole life.”


Friends, families and volunteers pose in front of the cabin owned by Ladysmith businessman Bill Rands. Rands modified his cabin to be handicap-accessible after his 1996 fall from a tree stand that left him partially paralyzed.

Friends, families and volunteers pose in front of the cabin owned by Ladysmith businessman Bill Rands. Rands modified his cabin to be handicap-accessible after his 1996 fall from a tree stand that left him partially paralyzed.

Elliot Ewer and his new friend, Ryan of Cumberland

Elliot Ewer and his new friend, Ryan of Cumberland