Jeff Warren recalled his love of fishing, hunting and the outdoors being instilled in him at a very young age by his father.
“I remember when I was 4 years old, that’s what we did before my birthday party,” he said. “It was the opening day of squirrel season, and my dad took me hunting and I’ll never forget it.
“I saw a deer for the first time wild in the woods and I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do right there. I want to shoot that.’ As a 4-year-old, I loved it. From that moment on, I wanted to be in the woods, and I wanted to hunt.”
Fast forward to the spring of 2013, when that wide-eyed 4-year-old was 37, and a pastor at The Simple Church in Shreveport.
He was still an avid outdoorsman, but hunting started taking on a different meaning for him.
“It was a vision I felt like God put on my heart, that I should start using hunting to help other people,” Warren said. “And I really didn’t know what that meant, but through much prayer and trying to figure out what God was trying to speak to me, this is what came about.”
Warren ended up founding the Dream Hunt Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that just conducted its first annual Dream Hunt Weekend on Oct. 11 for kids who are sick, disadvantaged or terminally ill.
“Ten kids went hunting with a guide, a cameraman and the landowners,” Warren said. “They went out Saturday morning and Saturday evening. Four of the 10 killed a deer, and another five kids shot and missed, so nine out of 10 saw a deer and shot.
“We feel really good about that.”
The kids, who typically range in age from 10 to 18, hunted in Elm Grove, Stonewall, Mansfield, Keatchie and Waskom, Texas.
“We put so much corn out it looked like a golden brick road,” Warren, 38, said with a chuckle. “We’re trying to draw every deer we can in there.”
He intended to start small last year, but the demand combined with the outpouring of support from other hunters and the community was overwhelming.
“My goal was to take one kid deer hunting and one duck hunting last fall,” he said. “Well, my phone started ringing off the hook. So we ended up taking five total last year - four on deer hunts and one duck hunt.
“This summer, I took 15 kids fishing and so far this fall, I’ve taken 11 kids deer hunting. And I’ve already got about 25 more to take.”
For donation information, to see videos of prior hunts or to fill out an application for a child for a future Dream Hunt Weekend, visit the foundation’s website by clicking here.
“I had no idea what it would turn into and what it’s become now,” Warren said. “It’s been really cool to see the progression of everything.”
Each summer, a selection committee reviews the applicants to determine which kids will be awarded a Dream Hunt. People from other states even have begun to express interest in creating local Dream Hunt chapters to serve more kids across the country.
“I think that’s pretty cool. It’s something that hopefully will grow into a national foundation. I know more kids want to go hunting than just in Louisiana,” he said. “There’s probably kids from all over whose dream is to go hunting.”
Warren is quick to point out that unlike some non-profits, everyone associated with the Dream Hunt Foundation, including himself, serves as a volunteer. Aside from some minor office and promotional expenses to help the foundation raise funds, all donations go to take the kids outdoors.
“Any money given is 100 percent for the kids. We give it all back,” he said. “I never imagined or thought it would grow even where it is now.”
The foundation covers all costs associated for the kids on Dream Hunt Weekend, including travel, lodging and food, as well as landowner-related costs, like feed. So far, kids within about 200 miles of Stonewall have made the trip.
“A lot of these parents spend all their money on trying to get these kids well,” he said. “Everyone chips in to make this possible.”
Getting to meet the children makes him realize how lucky he is, both for his health and because he was brought up to appreciate hunting and fishing.
It’s also given him a new insight into the pure joy of simply being in the outdoors, regardless of the size of the trophy.
“For a lot us, our dream hunt is a 180-inch buck,” he said. “For these kids, their dream hunt is just to get in the outdoors and see a deer, and have the chance to shoot one.
“Whether it’s a small buck or a doe, it doesn’t matter. That’s really their dream come true.”
That became immediately apparent when the very first child he took hunting last fall broke down in tears after dropping a deer.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you crying?’ He said, ‘You don’t understand, this is my dream and I finally got to do it.’
“It was emotional. I was like, ‘Wow, this is really it. It’s the real deal for these kids.”
Visit dreamhunt.tv for more information.