Who Said a Paralyzed Guy Can't go Hunting?
My husband Don, like many guys in his age bracket, learned to hunt on his family farm when he was barely old enough for his voice to change. Back then, he was hunting to help put food on the table and that time-honored tradition evolved into a life-long sport that he enjoyed until six and a half years ago when a stroke took that away at age fifty-nine.
Don had lived for his yearly hunting trips out to west where he often came home with more photos of wildlife than meat for the table. It didn’t matter. He was camping in the mountains, enjoying the company of good friends and loving the reconnection to the great outdoors. But that was in his pre-stroke days and Don---with his right side paralysis and severe aphasia---thought his hunting days were over. Fate had other plans. In September an acquaintance sent us a flyer about a great bunch of people who were in the process of organizing a deer hunt to re-introduce handicapped guys back into hunting. Don was ecstatic. They were members of the Flat River Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation who had teamed up with Wheelin’ Sportsmen to sponsor this Michigan event.
The hunt weekend took place October 21st and 22nd but the fun started a month before when disabled men were invited to a shooting range for a sight-in day. Don took his 12 gauge shot gun and his 357 hand gun and the guys at the sportsmen club checked him out for safety and helped him figure out which gun was best for him to use. They had him try a variety of gun tripods, scopes, and rifle holders that could all be adapted for one-handed shooting. They also had him try a canvas blind with a bar at the window where he could rest his forearm as he shot with his 357 and, bingo, that was the right combination for Don. When they pulled the target down that he’d been shooting at from the blind, it proved that his marksmanship was more than competent, despite the fact that he’d never shot left-handed before. After that sight-in day, Don was so excited nothing could wipe the glow off his face.
The hunt days came and the organizing committee had thought of everything. There were gulf carts to hunt from for the guys who couldn’t transfer to hunting blinds. The blinds for the men who could transfer were set up and waiting at day-break. Each disabled guy was teamed up with an able-bodied volunteer who was not allowed to hunt. When one of the hunters harvested a deer a team of trackers was only a cell phone call away. Volunteers were also lined up to take the game to a processing place that gave a deep discount to disabled hunters. I’m still amazed at the number of man hours that were donated to make this free-of-charge hunt possible for wheelchair bound men like my husband.
I was able to join my husband on Saturday night when they had a deer camp-style get together that included a chow line for the hunters, their families and the volunteers. The food was all made with wild game and tasted fantastic. There was a campfire and “brag pole” outside and inside everyone swapped stories about their day’s adventure. The whole evening was filled with joyful faces and heartfelt laughter. Seventeen men had signed up to hunt Saturday, Sunday or on both days. Of those guys who hunted that first day, five where successful. My husband was not one of them but his day was none-the-less one of the best he’s had since his stroke.
Someone asked me if I was nervous letting my disabled husband go hunting and I can honestly say that I wasn’t. The volunteers at the sight-in day were so safety conscious and the hunt was so well planned that I knew he was in good hands. It would have been frosting on the cake had Don been one of the lucky hunters, but unlike the days when he hunted the family farm to help put food on the table, we don’t have a lot of mouths to feed and hunting, for Don, was never about the trophy. Hunting, for him, is about tradition and getting back to nature and I am grateful to the men, women and organizations that sponsored this event. They truly understand the deep-seeded place that hunting holds in the hearts of guys like my husband. The event not only gave Don several days of much needed male bonding, it also gave him back a piece of himself.
If anyone is interested in researching disability outdoor sports, start with the Wheelin’ Sportsmen, NWTF. http://www.wheelinsportsmen.org/wheelin/?SUBSITE=wheelin They are dedicated “to providing people with disabilities, including disabled hunters, disabled anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities.” An affordable membership includes a quarterly magazine.
My husband didn’t need any specialized equipment to go deer hunting, but I did find many interesting items on the internet that are made specifically for disabled hunters. There are units that attach to wheelchairs to support rifles, adaptive outdoor clothing to make it easier to dress a person with paralysis, accessible blinds, trigger activators, and all-terrain wheelchairs just to name a few. For the stroke survivor with the will to get back into outdoor sports, there is a way to turn that dream into a reality. Whoever said a paralyzed guy can’t go hunting was wrong.
Jean Riva ©