Magic First Deer Morning

James McNeal, 12, has had 34 surgeries and is paralyzed from the waist down, but that wasn't keeping him from obtaining one of his dreams.

Brad Gill | November 5, 2018

Despite being wheelchair bound and having endured 34 surgeries, James McNeal, 12, of Kathleen, can mark “First Deer” off his bucket list. James tried killing a deer last year—which even included a hunting trip to Texas— but the magic moment happened this season on Saturday, Nov. 3 in Emanuel County while hunting with his father, Tom, and a family friend.

“I’ve been grinning from ear to ear ever since he showed up on Friday,” said the guide who hosted the pair.

This family friend specifically asked that his name be left out of the story so that all the focus would be on the accomplishments of James. For the story, we’ll call him Christian.

Christian hosted the father-and-son duo on his his daddy’s family farm in Emanuel County. Once on the property, they wanted to see if James could hit a paper target.

James has no trouble shooting his custom-made rifle.

“He had a rifle made for him that is a perfect setup,” said Christian. “He can’t hold the gun, but it sits on a tripod, and it has his iPhone setting there where he can see the crosshairs and then reach up and pull the trigger. We set him up on the range, and he fired three rounds, and one of them hit the bull’s-eye at 100 yards.”

Friday afternoon they were in the stand looking for James’ first deer. The trio were in an elevated shooting house 12 feet off the ground. James has a rare form of dwarfism and is a paraplegic, so Christian and Tom carried him into the stand and placed him on an office chair.

“We saw two does, a fawn and about four bucks, one of them was a 2 1/2-year-old 7-pointer, but I told them we could do a little better,” said Christian.

And better they did…

“We went the next morning, and you wouldn’t believe the hunt we had,” said Christian. “We had an 11-pointer come out that was a main-frame 9 with a pair of split G2s. He was a hog. I said, ‘James, shoot that deer.'”

As Tom was getting James in position to shoot, another deer entered the scene.

“Another 11 came out, and he’s bigger than the other one,” said Christian. “Both of these are gorgeous deer. I told him to stay on the one he was on. When his dad got him ready, I hear this ‘Click.’ The bullet didn’t fire. We ended up getting another round in there, but the deer ended up moving off.”

Thirty more minutes ticked by.

“Then another big brute came out,” said Christian. “He was a main-frame 8 with broken brow tines. I told him to shoot him, but the deer started to move off. I bleated at him, and he turned partially and started walking again, and I bleated real loud, and he turned perfectly broadside. Man, it was exciting. He pulls up on him and drops him in his tracks.”

A special father and son moment in Emanuel County on Nov. 3.

The deer weighed about 220 pounds and was all messed up from fighting.

“He had a messed up ear and his right eye was closed because he’d been fighting. He had scars all over his face. They wanted to name him Scarface,” said Christian.

Local hunters enjoyed celebrated over James’ first buck.

“He took it to Racket Town Processing. They gave him a hat and congratulated him, and everybody was making a big deal about it at the processor,” said Christian. “Then we went to lunch, and before we left the restaurant, there were a bunch of men in there congratulating him about getting that big deer.”

James got to spend the rest of his day fishing, eating chicken and watching the Georgia Bulldogs whoop up on Kentucky.

“It was a special weekend for sure,” said Tom, James’ dad. “It has always been tough to take James hunting due to his paralysis and small stature, but it is one of his favorite things to do. When the opportunity to take him for the weekend came open, I jumped on it. James and I were excited about the chance to spend the weekend together doing something that we both love. The hunting was amazing. We saw several big bucks are are very grateful to (Christian) for taking us.”


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