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Law change helps hunter with Down syndrome bag a 6-point buck

Law change helps hunter with Down syndrome bag a 6-point buck Photo: Courtesy of the Pennaz family

Updated: November 15, 2019 08:45 PM

The Pennaz family loves the outdoors.

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They have been fishing and hunting with their daughter, Maddie, and son, Pierce, who has Down syndrome.

"He shot a turkey a few years back. He's been at the rifle range shooting sporting clays," Steve Pennaz said about his son, Pierce. "He's really a good shot, he really is."

But when Pierce Pennaz wanted to go deer hunting last year on family land in southern Minnesota, he couldn't; state law forbade it.

"Maddie and I got up to go hunting in the morning, and he was at the hotel with us and he was getting dressed and said, 'Why can't I go?' and I said, 'Well, you're not licensed,'" Steve Pennaz said.

Steve Pennaz worked with state Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), and last session lawmakers changed state law allowing Pierce and others with physical and developmental disabilities to get provisional firearms safety certificates to hunt with a parent or guardian.

"What that means is he has to sit right next to me," Steve Pennaz said. "When we were hunting the other day he was right here."

Last Saturday morning the father-son duo headed out early, but Pierce got sick, so they had to go back to the hotel.

After a long nap for Pierce, they went back out after lunch.

Before long, a six-point buck appeared.

"When the deer came in, I put the rifle up — or actually it was a shotgun. I said, 'Pierce get on the gun.' He got up and moved over to it, and then after that it was 100% him," Steve Pennaz said.

The father recorded an interview with his son on video afterward.

"Did you shoot a deer?" Steve Pennaz asked.

"Yes," Pierce Pennaz replied.

"Are you excited?"

"Deer sticks!"

"Did you get a buck?"

"Yep!"

It was a weekend these two will never forget, bonding through an important experience for this young hunter with special needs.

Pierce Pennaz said he likes getting to do the hunting himself.

"He wants to do the things that his family does and his friends, so it's been an amazing journey with him over the last 19 years," Steve Pennaz said.

Rep. Nash said seeing Pierce's reaction to hunting a deer for the first time was an example of how the new law will help bring joy to people who couldn't hunt before.

"I am thrilled we were able to change the law and allow special needs hunters to experience the deer of their dreams with their parent or someone who will take them hunting," he said. "As a lifelong hunter myself, it's a thrill to see the ear to ear grin on Pierce's face and to know others will be able to experience it now that we have changed this law."

"What is interesting about Down syndrome and people with disabilities is the expectation is here, and I am guilty of that, but as Pierce grew and matured, this kid has blown away every barrier I have put in front of him," Steve Pennaz said.

For more information about the new law, visit the Department of Natural Resources website.

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Credits

Jessica Miles

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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