CLEVELAND, Tenn. – JoRell Thomas has sort of been the “Big Man on Campus” in his 4th grade class at Black Fox Elementary school this week.
“Yea, my friends have been kind of jealous,” said JoRell.
While on the first real deer hunt of his life last weekend, 9-year-old JoRell took a 9-point-buck in Bradley County. You hear about a lot of golfers who strive to “shoot their age.” Perhaps it is not quite as rare these days, but it is still impressive for a young deer hunter to “shoot his age.”
Like most 9-year-olds, JoRell is short on words. Most deer hunters could stretch a story like this out for hours. JoRell did it in a few short sentences.
“We made a spot by the tree. There was a doe we saw running by. Then there was a buck that followed the doe. Then behind me there was another buck and I shot it,” he said.
End of story, for JoRell anyway. It is very likely that as he grows older, so will the story.
JoRell was hunting during the special youth-only deer hunt with his uncle, LaShaun Porter, who admits he had gone out on a limb.
“I had promised him he would get [him] a deer by the time he was ten,” said Porter. “The Lord blessed us with him being nine years old and getting a nine-pointer.”
Even days after the hunt, Porter’s excitement about the morning oozes over the phone line. He said they had only been sitting in the woods about 30 minutes, although it was a long 30 minutes.
“JoRell was shaking like I leaf,” said Porter. “I had dressed him warm but the wind cut right through. I couldn’t tell him to stay still because it was so cold and windy.”
Porter said the cold was quickly forgotten when a doe ran by them being chased by a buck, but it all happened too fast and there was no opportunity for JoRell to take a shot.
“I told him this might be it. We might be done for the day,” said Porter.
But that wasn’t it. Moments later the pair looked around and saw yet another buck.
“We saw half of his rack sticking out from behind a tree,” said Porter. “Then he stepped out about 25 or 30 yards away and JoRell shot him.”
Hit with a .243 round, the buck ran, but didn’t go far. JoRell and his uncle saw the deer go down.
“It was beautiful. It was just beautiful,” exclaimed Porter, who has never killed a buck that large himself. “JoRell’s face lit up like I’d never seen before. It was one of the most priceless faces I’ve ever seen.”
JoRell stayed lit up until the pair got home to share the news, and the venison, with JoRell’s mother and father, Sashual and Gabe Thomas. At JoRell’s request, the family had venison for dinner that night.
JoRell said, “It was good!”
Sashual said, “We’re all a pretty much country-type family so I think [JoRell] was just kind of born into it. He just loves to hunt, fish and be outdoors.”
When Gabe, very proud of his son, first contacted NewsChannel 9, he wrote, “I thought this would also be [a good story] because there are not many African American young ones that go hunting anymore, nor have they taken their young ones out and got a buck!”
He is right. There are a disproportionate number of African Americans who hunt in the United States. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys, there are about 13.7 million hunters in the United States – yet only 400,000 (2.9 percent) of those are African American.
Sashual said, “I would say it probably is a bit unusual because we do get responses from people who say, ‘You hunt?’ But we don’t see color, we just do it.”
There are a few across the country hoping to change that disproportionate number. In Washington Donny Adair founded the “African American Hunting Association LLC.” The stated mission is to increase the number of African Americans and urban residents involved in hunting, game management, shooting sports and conservation.
Adair writes, “I attend hunting and fishing expositions and shows annually. I usually only see one or two other people out of thousands of attendees that appear to be African American. Simply put, I think many of my people, both men and women are missing out on a fantastic opportunity. I want to bring people of all races and cultures together of to enjoy hunting and outdoor recreation.”
One TV show based in Kansas City, Urban American Outdoors, is dedicated to “the inclusion of all people to help continue the preservation of our natural resources.”
Founders Candice Price and Wayne Hubbard write that Urban American Outdoors (created in 1999) is the first diverse reality sports adventure TV show produced in the US.
Even among professional wildlife ranks people of color are rare. There are no African American wildlife officers (game wardens) in the state of Tennessee.
TWRA Assistant Director Bobby Wilson said, “Typically minority wildlife and fisheries college graduates get recruited to work for federal government agencies which pay about twice the salary that we can pay our officers.”
Porter says he sees it as well.
“I don’t see many other African Americans, especially young ones, hunting,” Porter said. “It’s nice to see other people learning it. I wish I’d had that experience [JoRell] had when I was that age.”
In at least one way, however, Porter says he is glad to be a minority.
“Honestly, the fewer people [out there hunting] the better it is for me to get my meat,” he said with a smile in his voice.
Chances are that in the days to come, JoRell will be right there with him.