Handicapped hunters attend the Beaver Creek Rendezvous.
When physically-challenged hunters in Montana want a fair shot at some game, all they have to do is call LA.
Don’t dial southern California: Leonard “LA” Livingston has been hosting handicapped hunters at his ranch north of Ekalaka, in southeast Montana, since 2001. Dubbed the Beaver Creek Rendezvous, the hunt has helped dozens of people with disabilities bag their deer, antelope, and turkeys.
“We try to show ‘em the best time we can,” says Livingston. “We can’t guarantee anything, but we’ve done alright… if we can help, and they can pull the trigger, we can get them hunting.” With an evening view of “300-400 deer a night in front of the house” by late September, hunting is usually pretty good at the Beaver Creek Rendezvous, and Livingston and several volunteer guides do everything they can to make sure of it.
The 48-year-old Livingston has been on the other side of the table when it comes to hunting with a disability; he suffers from multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that can come on suddenly, with no warning. When hospitalized with the disease in the 1980s at a veterans’ hospital in Wyoming, Livingston was invited to participate in the “Hell of a Hunt,” an annual event for handicapped antelope hunters near Douglas. The experience invigorated Livingston: “I turned around and said if I was able ever to do this (in Montana) I would.”
Within a year or so of Livingston’s first “Hell of a Hunt,” his multiple sclerosis went into remission with new treatment, and he began to take disabled hunters out individually on his 3,500-acre LA Ranch, which has been in his family for a century. Livingston also continued to participate in the Wyoming antelope hunt as a guide, where he met Scott Birkenbuel of Bozeman. Birkenbuel, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic hunter who broke his back in an auto accident, gave Livingston the inspiration and extra energy to take his Montana hunts to the next level.
“He’d wanted to do a (similar) hunt at his property for years,” says Birkenbuel, who is a year younger than Livingston. “At the Hell of a Hunt we hatched the plan… it took a year to get it going, but it’s getting better every year.” The event has certainly evolved since its inception; Livingston says that three years ago he and guide Sam Denney aimed to host a hunter a day for the 60-day season, but “after the 59th animal was skinned out that approach was re-examined.” Along the way, neighboring ranchers have boosted the range of the Rendezvous to around 100,000 acres, and area businesses pitch in with donations ranging from bullets and camo gear to ice and food.
The 2005 Beaver Creek Rendezvous will host six disabled hunters and their required companions (who can also fill their tags) for deer or antelope in the fall, and 12 more hunters will go after turkeys in the spring of 2006. The event, which doesn’t cost the two-member hunting teams a penny (except for travel and tag costs), has become so popular that Livingston says he’s had to conduct a drawing for this year’s hopeful handicapped hunters.
Accommodations for the Rendezvous have also grown from extra cots in Livingston’s home in 2001 to a full bunkhouse that can sleep up to 20 people. The easily-accessible bunkhouse features handicapped bathrooms, with a full kitchen slated to be finished later this year, and an open-pit barbeque just outside that offers hunters both eats and entertainment.
“Local musicians get together to come out and play one night,” says Livingston, “or we sit around the fire and just drink a beer and bullshit…” He says that the sheer joy his disabled hunters receive from their experiences more than compensates for the cash he puts out to help make the Beaver Creek Rendezvous a reality.
“There was this kid that couldn’t walk, but could go faster on his hands than I could on my legs,” remembers Livingston. “After he shot his deer, he ran to it on his hands… to see someone so excited over what we do is all the thanks we need.”
To learn more about the Beaver Creek Rendezvous, call LA at 406-775-6276, or drop a line to the LA Ranch, P.O. Box 494, Ekalaka, MT, 59324; on the Internet, type in Beaver Creek Rendezvous on your favorite search engine.
The State of Montana also pitches in to help handicapped hunters and fishermen with special licenses and other amenities. Both state and private land is available for disabled hunters in the Treasure State, such as the accessible waterfowl hunting blind at Freezeout Lake. Statewide, handicapped hunting opportunities change with each hunting season; check with state and federal entities such as FWP and the Forest Service to find out about this year’s opportunities.
Qualifying disabled Montana residents can obtain a Disability Conservation license for $6.25, enabling fishing and upland game bird hunting rights and half-price tags for deer and elk, and reduced camping rates at Montana State Parks. The state also lends a hand to more seriously impaired hunters. For the bowhunter, permits are available to modify archery equipment, and a permit to hunt with a gun from a vehicle can also be applied for.
For more information on these state-sponsored programs, call Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at 406-444-2535, or at the TDD-assisted number, 406-444-1200, or write to FWP at P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT, 59620-0701. Applications for special permits are also available on the internet at fwp.state.mt.us.