May 04, 2021
By Mark Demko
Growing up, Ohio's Cooper Meshew enjoyed a number of activities like running, lacrosse and archery hunting. In 2013, however, the then 9-year-old developed a concerning issue where his fingers started curling and couldn’t be straighten out.
After numerous visits to doctors and specialists, as well as extensive testing, Cooper was diagnosed with a rare form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth Neuropathy, a disease that causes nerve damage and results in smaller, weaker muscles.
Undaunted by his condition, Cooper was determined to take a whitetail with the crossbow, and in November 2014 he was invited by Denny Campbell to hunt at Buckhaven Learning Center in Loudonville, Ohio, harvesting his first deer during the outing.
Out of this incredible experience, the Meshew Family launched Cooper McCoy Inc. — also known as Hunt for Hope — to provide educational and recreational opportunities for other youth facing physical challenges and life-threatening illnesses. Each year, the nonprofit holds the Hunt for Hope, partnering with outdoors groups and industry leaders like TenPoint Crossbows, to host children with disabilities and special needs for a crossbow deer hunt, providing an inclusive and fully-guided experience for young people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to go afield.
We spoke with Cooper and his parents, Scott and Heidi, to discuss Cooper’s love for hunting and why giving others a chance to enjoy the outdoors is so important:
Petersen’s Bowhunting (PB): Cooper, even though you were battling an incredibly challenging disease, you were determined to continue hunting. How did you feel when you took that first deer?
Cooper (CM): I felt extremely excited to be able to harvest my first deer. I was in the blind with my dad after watching him leave to go hunting (over the years), and now I was able to proudly say I got my first deer.
PB: Out of that outing at Buckhaven Learning Center, the Hunt for Hope and Cooper McCoy Inc. were born. Why did you start this program?
CM: I wanted to start it to help other children who might be in a similar situation as I was and am going through. This enables them to get out in the woods and experience what I got to that day back in 2014.
PB: How does the Hunt for Hope work and how many participants have you hosted?
CM: Hunt for Hope selects six children from the ages of 10-17. The kids or parents fill out an application from our website. Our board members then go through the applications and select six children for both our deer and turkey hunts. The hunts are all-inclusive hunt for the families; all the families have to do is get to the hotel and get back home, and Hunt for Hope takes care of the rest. Hunt for Hope has hosted 34 deer hunters and six turkey hunters over the past six years.
PB: What does it mean to you to offer these opportunities to other young people who are facing their own challenges?
CM: It means a lot to me — to see the children smile after being able to harvest an animal is the best sight. Some of the hunters we have had never thought they would be able to hunt like their family does. We provide an atmosphere where the children feel normal; no one judges them for the disability or illness.
PB: What’s your favorite part of the program?
Heidi: My favorite part of the program is to see the parents and the kids be able to relax and enjoy themselves because they are in a group that are just like them and share similar struggles in their daily lives. I also love to see the smile of the kids after they sight-in their TenPoint Crossbows that they are fortunate to be able to use for the weekend. TenPoint Crossbows has Barb Terry come down for the weekend and bring the bows for the children to use for the hunt.
Scott: I like sitting in blinds with the kids and really getting to know them and what their likes and hobbies are, to show the parents of our hunters that with a few pieces of adaptive equipment they can continue to be able to hunt with their sons or daughters for many years back at their own hunting properties.
PB: What has hunting meant to you?
CM: Hunting has meant freedom to me, and I am thankful to be able to use adaptive equipment to harvest all the animals that I have gotten. Through hunting I have been able to travel all over the United States, Canada and even South Africa. I have met many great sportsmen who don't look at me like I have a disability, but as a fellow outdoorsman. I have many friends that I still stay in contact with today.
PB: What’s the one animal you’d love to hunt?
CM: There are two animals I would love to hunt. First, I would love to travel back to South Africa and go to Big Game Safari International owned by Marco Strydom and hunt a Cape Buffalo. The next hunt I would love to experience is addax at Ox Ranch in Uvalde, Texas, and take my parents and my taxidermist, Ben Riggenbach, as a "Thank You" for all they have done over the last 10 years.
PB: What’s your advice to others who are interested in hunting but feel they not be able to due to a disability or life-threatening illness?
CM: Just go for it. There are many pieces of adaptive equipment out there to help almost any situation. If you ask around, a lot of other hunters will help get a child out into the outdoors and experience what we all love about hunting. If anyone has questions on how we get the children out or the equipment we use, please feel free to reach out to us at Hunt4hope.org or call Heidi Meshew at 330-464-2023.