Hunter’s Journal: Inspirational Gobbler After Stroke

Reader Contributed | May 1, 2019

By Nicole Hilliard

This is the story of the unrelenting drive of a true hunter.

Jeff Akins is truly an inspiration to all who have grown up in the great outdoors. Jeff resides in Raleigh, N.C. and lived a seemingly healthy life until the unspeakable happened. Jeff suffered a massive stroke during the prime of his life. Jeff was left with extreme limited mobility on one side of his body. Doctors questioned if he would ever walk again, but Jeff was not one to give up. He was too young, and he still had a lot of living left to do. While Jeff has learned to walk again, it is slow and limited. However, this does not stop Jeff from attempting to live the most normal life that he possibly can.

Before turkey season, Jeff reached out and booked a hunt with Carrie Williams, the owner and operator of Gum Log Plantation located in Abbeville. My dad, Terry Hilliard (better known as Papa T), was assigned to guide Jeff on this hunt.

My dad was born and raised in Rhine and has a lifetime of experience in hunting and fishing. Now that he is retired, he especially enjoys guiding turkey hunts for anyone who inquires.

The day before the hunt, Carrie introduced Dad to Jeff. Quickly realizing how special this hunt would be for Jeff, Dad decided he would take extra precautions for a successful hunt. That same afternoon, Dad sought out to roost a turkey for Jeff. After he found what he believed to be an old gobbler, he began to assemble a special blind designed to cover the chair that Jeff would use during his hunt.

Jeff Akins (left), of Raleigh, N.C., was guided by Terry Hilliard in Telfair County on March 23 when he killed this turkey.

On the morning of the hunt, Jeff was more than excited to try his shot at a turkey. Woody (a staff member of Gumlog Plantation) drove Dad and Jeff from the camp to the blind by ATV. Since the use of flashlights was necessary to safely help Jeff to his chair, they had to set up farther than normal from the turkey. While Jeff is able to walk, it is a slow and cautious process, especially in the dark. Fearing time would be an obstacle for them, Dad made the decision that Woody and himself would take Jeff by each arm and assist him to his chair. This method was much faster. Once they had Jeff settled into his blind behind the food plot, Woody drove the ATV back to camp. Dad positioned a decoy in the food plot, and the hunt was on.

Since Dad believed the turkey that he had roosted the previous day was an old bird, he had already suspected that the gobbler would be a little late that morning to crank up.

About 25 minutes after daylight, Jeff looked to Dad with worry. Dad assured him that the turkey would gobble soon.

Five minutes later the turkey let out a loud, ringing gobble behind the food plot. Jeff’s eyes grew big with excitement. Dad proceeded to call the turkey with a fly-down cackle. Soon after, two hens could be heard on the road behind the food plot. Dad said a prayer to God that the hens would not hinder this hunt. All he wanted was for Jeff to kill this turkey. Suddenly, the gobbler let out a louder gobble. He was on the road behind the food plot.

Some time went by, and Jeff whispered to Dad that he could see a gobbler on the opposite end of the food plot. Slowly but surely, he began to strut the entire food plot. As soon as the turkey saw the decoy, he began to run down the food plot toward Jeff and Dad. When Dad instructed Jeff to take the shot, Jeff turned and whispered that he could not see him due to one tree limb being in the way. Dad said that he prayed to God to help them get over this last hurdle. However, as soon as Jeff moved, the turkey eyed him and began to run away. All in a moment, Jeff turned his 20-gauge shotgun on the shooting stick and took a one-handed shot. The gobbler went down in a flop of feathers. Dad ran to retrieve the turkey and turned around to see Jeff grinning from ear-to-ear. Dad returned back to Jeff and laid the turkey down in front of him while Jeff repeatedly thanked Dad through tear-filled eyes for all he had done to make this hunt a success.

Jeff also killed a wild hog while visiting the folks in Telfair County.

Shortly after, Woody returned on the ATV to pick them up and photograph the moment. Jeff’s gobbler weighed 23 pounds, had an 11 1/2-inch beard and 1 1/4-inch spurs. He was ecstatic and more than thankful for the help of everyone involved.

“I have guided many turkey hunts in my life, but this was the most special hunt that I have ever been on,” said Dad.

They returned back to camp to celebrate Jeff’s successful hunt.

That same afternoon, Jeff decided to try his luck at a wild hog. Woody assisted him to the stand, and within 30 minutes, Jeff called. He had already shot and killed a wild hog.

Jeff was on a mission that day to prove that disabilities do not define you. When Dad called Jeff to ask permission to share his story, Jeff happily permitted. He stated that more people with brain injuries need to be encouraged to move forward and continue to live life to the fullest.

The Gumlog Plantation and staff thank God for the opportunity to meet Jeff and share his living testimony that, “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

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