- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
For Dayton Webber, there is no place greater than the outdoors.
After school on a recent mild afternoon, textbooks and notebooks were strewn across a table on the family’s back deck as the afternoon sun filtered through the tree-heavy yard.
He was trying to get some homework done before his little brother, Justin, 8, got home and started zipping around the backyard on a dirt bike with some friends, chased by the family’s two boisterous dogs.
Keeping up on his homework and bringing home good grades are his part of the deal struck with his parents.
As long as he keeps on top of his studies, Dayton can hunt.
It is one of his passions. Actually, any sport makes the list of Dayton’s favorite things, but when it comes to talking about hunting, he lights up and eagerly points out the trophies he and his dad, Mike, have collected over the years.
Mike’s 10-point white-tailed deer is mounted over the family room fireplace next to Dayton’s 8-point white-tail, which he harvested in La Plata on Nov. 10.
Dayton and his father have hunted since Dayton was 9, old enough to earn his hunting license.
Older brother Tyler, 20, is more interested in motocross, while Justin is still a little too young. But once Justin takes a hunter’s safety course and gets his license, he’s eager to join his dad and older brother.
For now, hunting is something that Dayton and his dad can do together.
When Mike went to check on the pair’s usual hunting grounds in woods close to their Charlotte Hall home and found Dayton’s usual deer blind (a tent-like shelter used during the season to keep hunters hidden and their scent disguised) missing, Mike thought maybe he was in the wrong place at first.
“He was going to put corn out, and the blind wasn’t there. He was wondering if it was the right place,” Dayton said. “The landowner only lets me hunt there.”
Someone had stolen the blind. The pilfered equipment is usually sold at yard sales or to other hunters. Mass produced and with no serial numbers, blinds are hard to track, said Scott Willis, a Webber family friend and a sergeant with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Among honorable hunters, stealing another hunter’s equipment is something that is just not done, Willis said.
“Any ethical hunter is not going to take anyone’s stuff,” he said. “Most hunters work together.”
In the spirit of teamwork, Willis put in some calls to fellow hunters to see if someone had a replacement blind for Dayton to use. The kid lives for hunting (and wrestling and football); he even has a special prosthetic “trigger arm” that helps him fire his crossbow and guns.
Dayton was 10 months old when a bacterial infection invaded his bloodstream and lead to the amputation of his limbs.
“Here’s a kid instead of moping, he deals with the cards he was handed,” Willis said. “He’s just trying to do what other kids are trying to do.”
Jim Stewart, owner of Sportsman Liquidations and Creek Bottom Outfitters, gave Dayton a new blind. Stewart likes seeing the tradition of hunting passed down through generations. There was rarely a weekend that he and his dad weren’t fishing, hunting or crabbing.
“For two or three days, we ate something that came from the land,” Stewart said.
The love of hunting and fishing was passed along to his four boys.
The father-son bond is strengthened, Stewart said, and skills are passed on to the next generation.
“It’s all a science,” he said. “That is knowledge that has to be passed down.”
That is the part of hunting that Dayton said he enjoys most.
It’s almost like doing detective work. Dayton and his dad tromp through the woods and look for clues as to where they should set up camp, evidence that points to where deer, turkeys or whatever wild game is in season are hanging out.
“I like preparing, finding a spot,” Dayton said. And he enjoys being in the solitude and quiet that is the cathedral of nature.
“You’re free out in the woods,” he said. “Out there, it makes you feel closer to God.”
And regardless of the outcome, “He always comes back with a smile on his face,” said Natalie Webber, Dayton’s mother.
In an instant gratification society where video games are replacing traditional sports, hunting continues a long-held tradition, Stewart said.
“It brings and keeps families together,” he said. “You have to work for it; you have to be good at it.”
It teaches respect for the environment, wildlife and weapons, lessons that the Webber boys take to heart.
“Once the trigger goes, there is no taking back a bullet,” Dayton said. “You have to look beyond [your target].”
Dayton wants to share hunting stories with other amputee hunters.
He figures if he’s doing it, there have to be others like him. He started a Facebook page called Amped Hunters in hopes of connecting, sharing stories and photographs, and planning hunting trips.