What started as an ordinary hunt with friends became an advocacy to help kids with special needs go outdoors, make friends, and make extraordinary memories. Today, we talk with Dan Burns of Nevin’s Hunting Friends about seeing his son, Nevin, with rheumatoid arthritis have so much fun hunting and coming up with the idea of putting kids together to hunt. Dan shares how their group aims to put smiles on kids’ faces and how you can be a part of their cause.
Listen to the podcast here:
Non-Profit Spotlight: Nevin’s Hunting Friends – Our Story with Dan Burns
We’re going to head out to West Pennsylvania and talk to Dan Burns. Dan’s son started Nevin’s Hunting Friends. Dan, welcome to the show. I’m excited to find out what your organization is all about and how they’re helping other kids that aren’t as fortunate as some other people.
Thank you for having me.
Why did your son start this?
My son has rheumatoid arthritis. He was diagnosed at three years old. Getting out and doing everyday sports like baseball, football and soccer is difficult for him because his body aches so much. He enjoys shooting his bow and he did that for a long time. He shot a little recurve in the yard to play around with. I asked him one day to go hunting. He said, “Yes, we’re going to go hunting.” In Pennsylvania, you’re only allowed to hunt when you turn eight years old. You’re allowed to go out with a parent before that but I decided to wait until he was eight years old to get his own license and go from there.
One day, a pastor from our church asked him to look into an organization that helps out disabled kids. We looked into that and we went on a turkey hunt back in 2013. He was unsuccessful so they asked him to come back for deer season. We came back and fortunately enough, he was able to harvest his first deer. He had eaten lunch and went outside to play with the other kids. There were probably 40 kids at this event. I noticed him sitting at the picnic table with another little boy and a young lady in a wheelchair. I looked out the window and the rest of them were playing football on the yard. I went outside and said, “Are you okay?” He said, “Yes, my legs just hurt.” I said, “Take it easy. I’ll round us up inside and we’ll be on our way.” I went back inside. I’m sitting and watching him. He sat at the picnic table with that little girl and young gentleman, watching the rest of the kids.
We go home and he said to me, “We’re going to come back for turkey.” I said, “Sure, we’ll come back for turkey if we’re invited.” About a month or two later, I get a phone call that the landowner had passed away at that location. They were not going to have the turkey hunt. I said, “That’s a shame. My condolences.” I was telling Nevin and he was disappointed. He wanted to go out there for that turkey hunt. I said, “We can do that.” He asked, “Can we have a turkey hunt?” I said, “Yes, we’ll go turkey hunting somewhere.”
Months went by and come January, Nevin said to me, “We’re going to get ready to go turkey hunting.” I said, “We’ll try to find some locations and set up.” He said to me, “Can I take my friends out?” I asked, “Who do you want to take out?” “I want to take the people from the hunt.” I said to Nevin, “We don’t have that ability to take out 40-plus kids and start our own group. We don’t have the means to do that.” He said, “No, dad. I want to take my friends out, the ones at the picnic table.” “Why are they your friends?” He said, “Because they can’t get out there like I can. They enjoy hunting just like I do. Those are my friends.”
I reached out to the little girl, her parents and the little boy and asked them if they wanted to come. In spring turkey season, we took those two and a couple of their friends out. There were five kids that went, Nevin and four other people. It’s been going on from there. We started the 501(c) in the fall of 2015 and it just keeps growing and growing. We took out twenty kids, all with Nevin’s help. Each one of these kids have disabilities or learning defects that causes them not to get out in the woods or on everyday life. Nevin was only eight years old when he started this. At that time, he said, “I can go hunting with my friends. My friends are the ones that I can play with that can’t play football and sports.” His kind of sports is going out with these other kids and have a good time. We’ve been blessed with that. At twelve years old, he began to realize what he did and what he started. There’s no looking back.
We have 70 volunteers that are child-safety certified by the State of Pennsylvania. They have police background checks, the whole nine yards, to be safe. We used to go on turkey and deer, those are the only two hunts that we do each year. These kids get so excited. We do goose hunt and duck hunt. We take them up to Lake Erie and go walleye fishing. We go out of state on different deer hunts. It’s all thanks to Nevin starting his organization. Me being a dad, I’m his voice. I get to make phone calls, do the podcast, talk and spread the word about it. We’re all volunteers, nobody makes a penny. We’re doing it for the kids and getting them in the outdoors. That’s all we want to do.
What a great story for the R3: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation. If somebody has been hunting and maybe don’t want to anymore, helping kids is a great thing to do. Shout out to your son and to you for being the dad that stood up and said, “Let’s just do it.” To the 70 people that came alongside, thank you so much for being willing to give your time and your resources to such a project. How does somebody reach out and get a hold of Nevin’s Hunting Friends?
We accept kids all the time even if you’re not in the State of Pennsylvania. We do have kids that come from Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and across the state over in Maryland. If anybody needs to get outdoors, we can assist you. Go to our website, NevinsHuntingFriends.com, fill out an application and I will call you personally. Nevin and I will talk to you. If you’re local, Nevin and I will come visit and talk to you face-to-face. You can go on our Facebook page, Nevin’s Hunting Friends. That’s the best way to get a hold of us because everybody’s on social media nowadays. If you go to the website, you can see all the kids’ pictures. You can see all the videos that we take.
Each hunt that we go out there, we film it. We not only give a film for the kid’s hunt for that day for memory for the parents, but we also make an episode and put it on NHF TV, which is the first TV show for kids in America. It’s on the GEN7 Outdoor Network on Gen7Outdoors.com, and it’s all about the kids. We try to treat the kids like professionals. These kids get to see all the big celebrities on TV hunting and fishing. We try to make it as if they are the professional for the day. The best thing about it is we’re not only taking them out there. Our goal is to put a smile on their face. If we put a smile on their face, that’s what the whole day is about. If they get a harvest, they catch a fish, they make friends, that is above and beyond. That’s what happened with all these kids.
Each one of these kids, before they come to NHF, they are usually sitting home. They’re usually laying around, not doing too much, not very active. For one, they can’t be very active. Two, that is just their lifestyle. When they get a hold of Nevin to talk with him and meet the rest of the other kids, it’s almost like a pact. They start talking together on the phones. They talk on social media and they become more energized. I’ve talked to a few parents and they said that it was almost like a depression where the kid will just sit around. They won’t even play games, they’re that sad. When they meet the other kids, they have a blast. They’re smiling all day long. Believe it or not, after we a fishing event, they’re already calling me and want to know when the next event is. I didn’t even have it set up yet. You know you’re doing something right when that happens.
Tell people how they can get a hold of you again.
You can on the website, NevinsHuntingFriends.com. My contact information is on there. You can email us or fill up an application form from there. You can also go to our Facebook page.
What’s the age lower and upper limit?
It is ages seven to sixteen in the State of Pennsylvania for youth hunt. We hunt and fish on youth field dates in Pennsylvania.
Explain to my audience what that means.
When you go out on youth field days, that means there are no adults out there. They have seasons strictly for youth in Pennsylvania.'Let's take them in the woods and give them a hunt of a lifetime, dad.' - Nevin Burns Click To Tweet
That’s for turkeys, deer, doves and ducks?
Any type of game?
There are different seasons for different types of game.
That makes it one, a lot safer and two, it highlights the kids. What kind of support have you gotten from the Pennsylvania Fish & Game?
We have different organizations in Pennsylvania that come help us out. As far as the Game Commission or Fish Commission, they do not help us out because it is a patrolled day. They highly patrol it for safety issue. I would love for them to come and assist but that’s just what they say.
If somebody wants to volunteer, not sign up their kid, how would they do that?
Go to the website as well, you can go up and fill out an application for volunteer, donations or hunter.
What does Nevin like to hunt the most?
He doesn’t really say. He likes to go out there and pull the trigger. It doesn’t matter what it is. I noticed lately that when he was eight, nine, ten, he liked to go out there and hunt. I noticed him starting to assist with the newcomers in the group. He’s teaching them this and that and helping them out. He’s starting to get the picture of what he’s done. He’s harvested a few animals. He’s got a few bucks, lots of does and fish. Believe it or not, he likes to shoot deer. I don’t think he would have a preference other than pulling a trigger.
He had a rifle or archery?
He does archery. He’s been working with a crossbow a lot because it doesn’t use a lot of muscles. He’s been trying a compound. He has a 40-pound pull to practice with, try to build up his muscles in his shoulders and his arms. It’s stressful for him. He’s got to take his medicine when he comes back in the house because he’s pretty worn out. I give him credit. He tries. The doctor said that when he has his arthritis kicking in high gear, it’s like a 70-year-old male that has arthritis. I noticed when my grandparents were older, they had it. It was hard for them to get up, so I imagine what it is for a twelve-year-old to get out of bed. When it comes to hunting, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or what. He’s ready to go and help the kids. He feels it at the end of the night but he gives it his all.Put a smile on a kid's face today. Click To Tweet
Are you hunting from tree stands or ground blinds stands? How do they hunt?
We hunt on ground blinds for safety purposes. We have a big Ameristep ground blinds, the four-person ones. We put two of them side-by-side and put two people in each one for comfort. Each hunt that we go on, we have the child and a mentor with them. A parent goes along if they want to and we have a cameraman. There are four people on each group. If we have twenty groups, that’s 80 people.
How do you find land to handle? Let’s say you’re going to do a turkey hunt. Do you go with other people that can hunt?
We don’t. We have property owners where we go hunting at. We go about twenty miles north of where I live. We actually have five farms up there, which is about 7,000 acres that they donate for weeks for the kids. They post it off themselves. They don’t even allow anybody on there until the kids are done.
Props out to all the people that are setting aside their land and allow the kids.
Each one of the landowners come in and sit with a kid. It’s remarkable.
Thank you again for reaching out to me and asking to be on Whitetail Rendezvous, Dan, and sharing the story. I know you’ve got hundreds of stories. What is one of your favorite stories that you’d like to share?
We’ve got this little boy who is partially blind. He has a heart condition and he’s only about 4’0”. He’s the same age as Nevin. He goes to school with Nevin and they’re pretty good friends. They were turkey hunting one day. He was in with a mentor and another two groups of people. They were in this blind. It was a pretty slow morning and they all fell asleep in the blind. Somebody woke up and said there’s one coming. The boy sitting there says, “Here it comes.” They can see it about 60 yards out. He looks over to the cameraman and says, “You got the camera on because it’s about to go down.” If I was in that blind, I’d have busted out laughing. I know they didn’t because they were quiet. The boy ended up shooting that bird. They got it all on film and it is hilarious. That’s on season 2 of NHF TV on Gen7 Network. People will have to watch that, it’s pretty funny.
How does somebody reach out to you? One, if they want to volunteer or two, if they have a child that they’d like to get involved in your organization?
If you have a child that would like to come hunt with us, if you have a volunteer, somebody that wants to come and donate their time, or if you want to simply get in touch of us for any reason, just go to our website at NevinsHuntingFriends.com. You can also see what’s going on with the kids, pictures, videos, stories, how we got started, the whole nine yards. You can check us out on Facebook.
If somebody wants to donate, do you take donations?
We would completely accept donations. That’s how we run. We don’t have any parents pay for anything. The kids don’t pay for anything. We support each and everything that the kids need. If they need hunting clothes, we turn around and get them hunting clothes. If they need archery or rifle supplies, we get that for them. The only thing that they have to do is purchase their hunting license. There’s no way that we can get around that. They have to follow all the fish and game laws in Pennsylvania. If you’re twelve years old, you’ve got to have that hunter safety card. We can’t get around that. That’s a state law. You have to follow all the rules and regulations of the PA Game Commission or each state that we’re in. We’re sponsored by a lot of brand name sponsors which help out the kids. We can’t do it without people donating and sponsoring us. You can see a list of those on our website. You can see a list of corporate sponsors on our website. We recognize everybody that helps out the kids.
Dan Burns with Nevin’s Hunting Friends, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for reaching out to me. Some time, I’d love to have one of the kids on. Even Nevin himself, whenever you think that’s appropriate. I’d love to have them on and have them share stories with my audience.
That would be great. Nevin’s still young, he’s just now figuring out what he accomplishes. I told him I’d do this until he turned eighteen. When he turns eighteen, maybe he can get on and tell you his story. He’s a pretty good kid.
You’ve got to be very proud of him. He decided to take it on and get it happening. Good for him.
I still don’t think that he realizes what he asked for, to take a couple kids hunting. We first started out with five, now we’re at twenty. It just keeps growing. We go out of state too. We go to Ohio, Illinois and Virginia. We go to different places and that helps out. There are some kids out there that are not fortunate. All kids don’t need to be sitting around and being bored. You’ve got to get them going, get them energetic. Each kid needs to be out there. It’s our job as parents to get them out there. God willing, we can get them all out there but it takes time. We’ll take the kids that have a hard time and can’t get out there. That’s what we’re here for.
Mr. Dan Burns, the father of Nevin’s Hunting Friends, thank you so much for being a guest on Whitetail Rendezvous. I can’t wait until you call me up and say, “You’ll never believe what happened because I was on your show.” That would bring a smile on my face, that’s for sure.
The more I can spread the word about the kids, the better. That’s the way I see it. Anybody out there, if you know somebody that lives in California, who needs to go hunting, tell them to get a hold of me. We’ll get them out there and put a smile on their face. That’s what it’s all about.
Dan Burns, thank you so much.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
- Nevin’s Hunting Friends
- Nevin’s Hunting Friends on Facebook
- NHF TV
- Pennsylvania Fish & Game
- Application link
- List of sponsors on Nevin’s Hunting Friends website
- Corporate sponsors on Nevin’s Hunting Friends website
About Dan Burns
In May of 2015, a 9-year-old boy, (Nevin who has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) was at a spring turkey hunt for kids. There were approximately 25 kids in the hunt and after the hunt was over for the day, there was a luncheon. After lunch, all the kids were outside playing except for a small hand full of special need kids. The kids kept playing while the special needs children watched.
On the way home from a hunt, Nevin came up with the idea to start a youth hunting group for special need kids. Nevin said “It will be for the kids with special needs, that can’t get into the woods and hunt, I know they have trouble hunting sometimes. Let’s take them in the woods and give them a hunt of a lifetime dad.”
So in the fall of 2015, with the inspiration of a young lady, with a larger than life heart herself, Nevin called his group Nevin’s Hunting Friends!
Nevin’s request after leaving the turkey hunt was to help those kids that sat with him at the luncheon. The mission is to help those kids that have trouble getting into the woods due to their illness,and give them a hunt of a lifetime.
Anything to help that child forget about their illness, not be in pain or any struggle they have at that time. To put a smile on their face and make them happy, even though it’s for a short period of time.