Disabled hunter wants exemption to use ATV
HOUSTON This hunting season, Andrew Lott has been limited to target practice and because of that, limited altogether. "This is the first time I've been able to shoot my gun," said Andrew. He is on the verge of missing all of deer season 2009. "That's wrong, it's not right," said Andrew. Not because the paraplegic isn't capable, but because the rules of the national forest where he hunts have changed, which means his way of life has changed too. "That's part of my life that I still enjoy doing and the government has taken that away from me," said Andrew. He had it all figured out. "I can slide myself up on it," Andrew said. He modified an ATV specifically to hunt. "I have a winch on the front," he said. However, ATVs are no longer allowed on national forest land. Andrew says if he wants to go, "I can go all I want to but I'd have to go in a wheelchair. It's impossible. It cannot be done." Andrew took us to his favorite hunting spot in the Sabine National Forest near Lufkin. "That's where I go to hunt," he said. His goal was to get 100 yards off the road. Andrew went about a yard. And while two of us tried, it took three of us to get him out. "If I was here by myself, I'd be in trouble," he said. Andrew has been by himself on four occasions and every time he got stuck. Twice he ended up on the ground. "I laid out there probably three hours before they found me and it had done got dark," said Andrew. The National Forest Service says ATVs damage the land. "Everything from motorcycles to four-wheelers to monster trucks. If we had no rules, then the forest would be open to all those kinds of uses and it would cause us way too much resource damage for us to be the stewards we're supposed to be," said John Ippolito of the National Forests and Grasslands of Texas. By ADA standards, ATVs also are not considered mobility devices, so Andrew can't use his. His wife wants an exception. "It's not fair, it's his right. He should be able to go out there and enjoy hunting like everyone else does," said Rebecca Lott. She has been writing letters to lawmakers, but so far no one will budge. "Rule are rules. I don't have a better explanation than that and I know that's not very comforting, but rules are rules and they apply across the board to everyone," said Ippolito. Unlike his wife, Andrew doesn't want special treatment. "I don't want no pity from no one because I'm in a wheelchair, but I want to be treated as an equal," he said. Hunting is his therapy. "It's peaceful and quiet, no one's around and you can think," Andrew said. It's a part of his life he wants back and won't give up trying. "It ain't in my vocabulary. I ain't never given up on nothing and I'm not giving up on this. Never," said Andrew. The National Forest Service is working on designating trails for ATVs. There are already 85 miles in the Sam Houston, but nothing is planned in the near future for Sabine. They also just started an annual hunt for those with disabilities. You can buy wheelchairs suitable for off road, but they can cost as much as $40,000, money Andrew says he just doesn't have.