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Illinois Dream Hunt pairs special needs children with mentors

OREGON – Under a bright and sunny April sky, a group of adventurous young adults began preparation for their hunt.

Thanksgiving may have been long gone, but turkey definitely was on the minds of these children, parents and mentors as they took part in the second Illinois Dream Turkey Hunt over the weekend at the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center in Oregon.

The children belong to the United Special Sportsman Alliance, a group that gives special needs kids opportunities for outdoor adventures, with the help of local conservationists and mentors.

Cody Neils, 15, of Watertown, Wis., is legally blind, and hunted with the help of his father, Dan Neils, 50.

“I do the aiming for him, I tell him where the turkeys are, he does some calling,” Dan said.

The father and son, decked out from head to toe in camouflage, were careful to be unassuming in the forest. In tow were turkey-calling devices and decoy turkeys to lure the birds.

Cody beamed as he listed the animals he spotted while on the hunt – turkey, deer, ducks, crows and pheasants.

Seven children participated in this year’s hunt, said Terry Day, 51, of Dixon. Day has been a mentor with the United Special Sportsman Alliance for 8 years. He works at the Dixon Correctional Center.

“I work in a pretty sour environment, and you get around these people who are so upbeat, it just recharges my batteries,” Day said. “It renews my faith in the world.”

Logan Dragt, 13, is a turkey-hunting veteran. He participated in his second Illinois Dream Hunt, and painted a picture of how to successfully ambush a turkey.

“We go to a hunting blind, then we basically sit in there and get all set up,” said Dragt, who traveled with his father from Marshfield, Wis. “We make sure we get the right aim, and that’s how we keep on looking for them.”

The best way to know a turkey is coming?

“We hear gobbling,” Dragt said.

The weekend’s activities began Friday night with a presentation featuring Marc Miller, the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Other weekend activities included building campfires, archery and deer feeding.

To learn more

Visit for more information on the United Special Sportsman Alliance. Parents and family members of children who would like to participate in USSA activities can refer questions to Illinois Dream Hunt coordinator Terry Day at 815-499-5800.

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