Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TOP STORY > >Lifetime of perseverance

Leader staff writer

Hunter Baughman of Cabot, as his name suggests, is an outdoorsman. The 23-year-old can frequently be found in the woods hunting deer or on the lakes practicing for an upcoming fishing tournament.

Baughman was nine months old when he contracted bacterial meningitis. Doctors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital had to amputate both of his legs below the knees, all of his fingers on his left hand and portions of his fingers on his right hand. He spent three months in the hospital and had several surgeries.

He has adapted to his physical challenges. He doesn’t use leg prostheses, because they are uncomfortable and he feels more mobile without them.

He walks on his knees. He learned to keep his balance without having to brace himself with his arms. In public, Baughman prefers to use a manual wheelchair.

Baughman has not let his disabilities deter him from his goal of becoming a professional bass fisherman.

“I can walk. They work, they’re just short,” he said about his legs.

The outdoors has always been a major part of Baughman’s life. On his 16th birthday, his parents, Candace and Irvin Baughman, bought him an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lifetime hunting and fishing license.

“It’s been well worth it, always will be,” he said.

His parents and both of his grandpas are outdoor enthusiasts.

“I looked up to great-grandpa, “Paw Paw” (Lloyd Keener) with fishing. He fished every day when we went to his house. We were always fishing,” Baughman said.

Keener was from Atkins; he passed away last year at the age of 94.

“I’ve always fished, I just like the sport of it. I grew up crappie fishing. I had a boat before I had a truck,” Baughman said.

He always practices catch and release while fishing.
Baughman began participating in bass-fishing tournaments at just 16. He regularly fishes in FLW and BASS regional tournaments. Last year, Baughman tournament fished for eight months, February to October, in contests around the state and in Missouri, Louisiana and Texas.

“I think I fished close to 200 days,” he said.

To get to the tournaments, Baughman drives his truck with his 20-foot Bass Cat boat in tow. The truck has an automatic transmission and has hand controls for the gas and brake. A remote-controlled wheel-chair lift is installed in the truck bed.

Last year he logged 3,000 miles towing his bass boat behind him.

“When I fish, the wheelchair stays in the truck. It doesn’t go with me,” Baughman said.

He has not modified his boat. A ladder was installed on the boat trailer for Baughman to climb up. Once in the boat, he walks on his knees and gets up to the boat’s seat. He has a boater’s license and has passed boater’s education.

To become a professional angler on tour, Baughman said you have to qualify through regional tournaments and have good sponsors. You have to be consistent to move up to the elite division.

“I’m blessed to have very good sponsors,” he said.

Baughman is sponsored by H2O Sportz and Marine in Sherwood, Dream Catchers Outdoor Adventures, Cabot Jigs, Best Car Wash in Little Rock, Bass 2.0, a bass-fishing website; McSwain Sports Center in North Little Rock and Fin, Feather and Fur in Jacksonville.

During one fishing tournament, Baughman and his cousin Brad Sherrill won $4,500. Baughman won $1,200 in another tournament fishing by himself.

The largest bass Baughman has caught was a 7 pound, 4 ounce largemouth at Lake Dardanelle.

Locally, Baughman fishes at the White River, Pickthorne Lake and Lake Barnett near Floyd. His favorite spot is Lake Hamilton.

Baughman was exposed to deer hunting at a very early age. His mother said she took her son hunting when he was two months old.

“I killed my first deer at 14 with a gun. I’ve hunted for many years before that. I’ve killed at least one deer every year since. I’ve been very fortunate with my hunting,” he said.

Baughman can hunt during the different deer hunting seasons from October through February, because he can use a bow and guns without any modifications.

He used to hunt with a crossbow, and three years ago learned he could use a compound bow.

He will be participating in the annual Heber Springs urban-deer bow hunt, which begins Labor Day and runs through November.

He passed the bow-hunting test to hunt deer anywhere inside the city limits to thin out the deer population.

“I’m excited about the urban hunt in Heber. It will be fun,” Baughman said.

When hunting, he rides his four wheeler to travel from his truck to his deer stand. He climbs up a ladder to a stand 10 to 15 feet above the ground. He hunts alone and has friends who help out if needed.

“I like being in the air to hunt,” Baughman said.

He estimates that he’s shot 25 deer in his lifetime.

Baughman is also an avid dove and duck hunter.

Keeping the hunting dream alive, Baughman belongs to Dream Catcher Outdoor Adventures, an organization based in Russellville that provides hunting opportunities for free to people with disabilities or are terminally ill.

The organization maintains 2,000 acres at four handicap-accessible hunting leases in Pope County. The leases are closed to the public and are exclusively for disabled hunters.

The organization allows people to enjoy the outdoors with fishing trips, hunting trips and bird watching. There are approximately 50 hunters who are members of Dream Catcher.

Baughman was on Dream Catcher’s first hunt. The largest buck Baughman has shot was a 12-point while at Dream Catcher.

He helps its founders Bobby and Cathy Bower with the group’s hunts.

Disabled hunters ride in a truck to a ground-level deer blind. The deer blinds are outfitted with wheelchair ramps.

“It is one-on-one with the hunter. We will sit in the stand with them. Some of these guys may only get to hunt once a year, and to see their excitement, that is what it is all about,” Baughman said.

“To an outdoorsman who used to hunt and fish, overcoming a disability and being outdoors again is a good feeling,” he said.

A farmer in Blackwell is letting the hunting organization hold a dove hunt on his property during Labor Day weekend. The hunt is open for Dream Catcher members and a member of their family. Baughman will bring Payton, his 8-year-old sister.

“Despite your disability, you can still go out and hunt and fish. Don’t let it stop you. There is no reason to. If there is a will, there is a way. I haven’t found anything I couldn’t do,” Baughman said.

“The only reason that I’m alive today and able to do the things I do is because of God and the help from my family,” he said.

Baughman was born in North Little Rock. His family moved to Cabot when he was 15. He graduated in 2005 from Little Rock Christian Academy.

He is studying business management at ASU-Beebe.Baughman will earn an associate’s degree in the fall and plans on getting a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro through classes offered at the ASU-Beebe campus.

Baughman believes his degree will help him when he becomes a professional fisherman.