Disabled youngster learns joy of hunting in Pennsylvania

By Bry McDermott

The Associated Press

INDIANA, Pa. — Eleven-year-old Lucas McCormick didn’t want to get out of bed when his mom, Kayla McCormick, woke him up on the first day of rifle season in late November.

Like most young hunters, this Marion Center sixth-grader was stuck choosing between the determination to shoot his first buck and the desire to sleep in on a Sunday. In the end, Lucas chose to bundle up in orange and set out into the snow-covered woods with his dad, Dan McCormick.

“He was giggling as I got him dressed,” Kayla remembered. “He was half asleep and I kept asking him, ‘Are you tired?’. He just kept giggling, but he couldn’t even keep his eyes open.”

It turned out to be the right decision and a day the McCormick family will cherish forever.

When Lucas was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, the McCormick parents decided that they would do anything possible to ensure Lucas’ disability never interfered with his happiness.

Part of that happiness was finding a way to include Lucas in the family tradition of hunting. The McCormick’s reside in Home and have been hunting for generations. It’s a rite of passage and a passion for the oldest of the three McCormick sons.

They started by tying a shoestring to the trigger of a .243-caliber rifle and telling Lucas when to pull. It was successful enough, allowing Lucas to shoot his first doe at 8 years old.

But the boy couldn’t see the deer when he pulled the trigger, so they needed to find something better.

In 2020, the family went on a trip to Wisconsin, where Lucas was able to use a motorized hunting system designed specifically for those with disabilities. However, those rigs can cost thousands of dollars for base models — not an easy expense to spare when you’re raising three young children.

Dan McCormick was inspired. He studied the rig and realized, with some effort, he could put together something similar on a much more manageable budget.

A family friend used a 3-D printer to create some of the more expensive parts and made substitutions for others. The system is a hodge-podge of ingenuity with door lock actuators and phone mounts among a range of other equipment to develop a uniquely personal rig.

It was a year-long process of trial and error and a brief pause for Dan to recover from a liver transplant, but he figured it out.

Lucas was so excited to use the system that he skipped archery season entirely. He wanted to wait and use his new rig to get his first buck.

It was well worth the wait.

Dan and Lucas made the 400-yard trek to their elevated tree stand, where the son promptly fell back to sleep before his dad nudged him awake when the buck strolled into view about 90 yards away.

Lucas saw the buck in a phone screen mounted to the rifle, told his dad which way to adjust the tripod through a fit of giddiness and giggles, and then pressed a button to shoot.

“He gets really happy and giggly so you have to kind of shush him because he gets so excited,” Kayla said. “But this time he could see the deer because there’s a screen and it got him even more excited. He couldn’t see the deer before. He pushed the button and just screamed. You couldn’t hear anything else. He was so happy.”

Kayla posted the photos of Lucas with his buck on her own Facebook page, as she has done with each of her son’s bucks for years. A friend urged her to share the photos to the PA Trophy Takers page, where it surpassed more than 3 million views, 12,000 likes, 2,600 comments and 22,000 shares.

The outpouring of support from the community has been borderline overwhelming for the McCormick family, which never expected their story to reach so far.

“I’m glad that he could touch so many people’s hearts with just his smile,” Kayla said. “I didn’t think it was going to blow up. It’s so nice to hear people’s stories and have all these people reach out to me for Lucas. It’s been unreal.”

Several businesses across the country reached out, offering the family hunting trips, taxidermy and processing. Swarthout’s Skull Works in Roaring Branch is mounting the buck free of charge for Lucas with the promise to do the same if he can bag another one come next archery season.

Through everything, Dan and Kayla are focused on doing whatever they can to continue making Lucas’s dreams come true.

“He’s a typical kid,” Kayla said. “He tells me he wants to do these things that all kids want to do, and, as a parent, you think, ‘We’re going to make it happen.’ He doesn’t know any different. He’s always grown up with a disability. If you’re a parent and you love your child, you’re going to do whatever you can to make anything happen.

“Seeing how happy it makes him really makes us want to do more for him. … A lot of his doctors told us that he’s not going to talk, he’s not going to walk, he’s not going to x, y and z; but he’s done everything.”

For Kayla and Dan McCormick, being a parents means clearing a 400-yard path and building a ramp to the tree stand to make sure Lucas can have an easier trip into the woods. It means spending a year constructing specially made rigs for his rifle and next his crossbow to ensure he can fully partake in a family tradition.

And it means learning how to edit videos to help Lucas fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional YouTube gamer.

“We just do it because we love them,” Kayla said.


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