Making camo dreams come true

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MARIANNA, Fla. (WJHG) -- Taylor Torbett may have down syndrome but that hasn't slowed her down. While her family makes sure she goes after her dreams, one dream has been unattainable until now. All thanks to a Panama City organization called Camo Dreams.

Some kids dream of going hunting or fishing, but because of physical barriers, it's just a dream. However, a local company is helping tear those barriers down. (WJHG/WECP)

"It's a non-profit that I started back in 2004 to take disabled and terminally ill kids on dream outdoor adventures," said founder and president of Camo Dreams Derek Fussell.

Taylor's dream is to go hunting for a deer.

"She and her dad are here for the weekend," said Fussell. "She's been hunting before with him sitting in the blind and everything but hasn't had the opportunity to see dad even shoot a deer with her so we're hoping this afternoon when they come out in the field that she's gonna pull the trigger on one herself."

While Taylor gets a first-class ride to the blind the rest of us have to hoof it so to speak a long, long, long way back into the woods.

"This is our 6th annual trip for Camo Dreams to come to Bontrager Whitetails in Marianna to do a dream hunt for a special needs child," said Fussell.

Dr. Daniel Bontrager has been gracious enough to open up his property for many of these dreams hunts. In fact, Camo Dreams couldn't make the trips happen without people all over the country offering services for no or reduced cost.

The process begins with parents or guardians filling out an application.

"Gives us some background information on the kid," said Fussell. "They're abilities, food likes, dislikes and stuff and what their dream is."

If it's within their power he and his team make it happen.

Fussell said, "Whether it be a caribou hunt in Alaska or an elk hunt, night vision hog hunt or fishing trip then we match them up with trips that we have available all over the country and take them and their parents, their family in many cases on a trip of a lifetime."

Fussell knows a thing or two about the outdoors. He's a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He started Camo Dreams after his mom was diagnosed with her third type of cancer.

"Squamous cell carcinoma that was in her throat," said Fussell. "We spent a month and a half at a hospital in Birmingham."

During that time his family received a lot of support. That's when he knew he wanted to give back and help others going through a tough time.

"I wanted to do something with the kids in the woods that I enjoy doing, hunting and fishing," said Fussell. "I reached out to Buck Masters American deer foundation. At the time Buck Masters was the only organization that I knew of doing trips for kids. They sent the first kid to us and it's snowballed from there. We've done over 70 trips in the last 15 years."

As you can imagine the trips can sometimes be a bit pricey so they do a fair amount of fundraising.

"We also make things happen for as little expense as possible," said Fussell. "A weekend like this for everybody, the family that is here and my pro staff helpers that are here, food for the weekend was $92 and we're eating steaks and hamburgers and fish fry."

For the children who have limited mobility or are in wheelchairs, Camo Dreams has access to specialized equipment.

"We have access to hydraulic stands that come all the way to the ground so we can get a kid in a wheelchair and then be able to put them in an elevated shooting position," explained Fussell. "We've got a customized peanut wagon that has a ramp that we can put them up in with their wheelchair if need be and roll it out in the field wherever we're hunting. We've got ground blinds. Then we've got accessories for the rifles that allows them to suck on a straw that pulls the trigger for them. We've got eye scope or scope cams that allow us to see without having to worry about eye relief and getting on the scope like we would traditionally, a regular hunter. We've got that equipment that we can actually make the gun remote. They don't have to hold it they don't have to be close to it for any recoil and then they can do all the mechanics to it with the sip and puff system.

Taylor, her father and three others set up in a blind and start the waiting game. Just as the sun is fading away Taylor's dream came true. A 6 point buck.

"We have help with the animal processing with different processors in the Panhandle," said Fussell. "We've got folks that help with taxidermy, Watford taxidermy is one of our sponsors."

Fussell doesn't get paid for his Camo Dreams job, so why does he do it?

"It puts a smile in my heart," said Fussell. "I do it for the smiles."

The kids have to be between the ages of 9 and 19.

If you're interested in knowing more about Camo Dreams, you can check out their Facebook page. You can also find them on Twitter, Instagram or email them at

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