Category Archives: Adapting Equipment

I’ll Try Again

Turkey season in upstate New York has been open for a week now. I’ve been able to get out five days and have probably averaged about 5 1/2 hours of hunting time each day. Since the season began I have seen only three hens and they were quite a ways away. It’s much more difficult to hunt turkeys during the fall season. In the spring, both the hens and gobblers are moving most of the day. Hens wander off each day to lay an egg in their secluded nest and then returned to the Toms. After they have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs they begin nesting and the gobblers start moving around looking for a female to breed. This makes them very susceptible to calling.

In the fall turkeys follow eating habits and rarely call to each other. So, it is extremely difficult to call them into range. The technique, able-bodied hunters use, is to move quickly through the woods until signs are found that the turkeys are near and then try to call them in. This is so difficult that many able-bodied hunters don’t bother hunting turkeys in the fall.

Waiting

Waiting

My friend Andy likes to say we are going to be sitting in our chairs all day anyway, so we might as well enjoy what we’re doing. It is that philosophy that takes me to the blind most days in the fall. Today was an exceptionally special day and I would like to share some of the “events” that nature chose to share with me. The blind I went to today is on the west side of a field that runs north and south. It was unusual that I arrived there around 9 o’clock as that’s quite early for me. The sun was coming up directly in front of me and treated me to several special sights. A heavy dew was on the grass in the field and the sunlight reflected off it looking like 1000 little twinkles. I was also aware that more than half of the field was covered with shadows created by the trees in the hedgerow across from me. While I was watching the shadows slowly grew smaller, but what was really wild was watching them move to my left as the sun slowly arced to my right. Neither of these was a fast process and you could almost see the shadows move slowly.

By noon I was getting extremely warm and began to be concerned about overheating. This process can lead to autonomic dyslexia, which can be a life-threatening emergency. I decided to leave. When I got home it was 76° and I knew I had made the right choice. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but Sunday is forecast to be sunny and in the mid-50s. There’s still a week of the season left and because I love being out so much I’ll try again.

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Chairbound Sportsman

For an outdoors-man who becomes disabled and ultimately wheelchair-bound the struggle to regain quality-of-life can be overwhelming. New skills must be developed, in spite of compromised abilities, in order to return to the lifestyle they love. But, while daunting, the development of new skills to replace the old ones lost is within their grasp if they persevere and refuse to accept failure as an outcome.

The higher the level of injury the greater the challenge. We are just beginning to see the development of new types of recreational wheelchairs, both manual and power, being developed for those who want to return to the outdoor life. Four-wheel-drive and track wheelchairs are becoming more widely available. However, in spite of these changes, especially with an activity like hunting, chances of returning to the solitary hunting lifestyle will be nearly impossible.

Even with these new, highly specialized chairs there is still the need for additional help from other able-bodied individuals. In order to hunt, an individual in a chair will also need some type of support system. For many individuals who become disabled the loss of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is one of the most difficult issues for them to face, which makes asking for help difficult.

Hunting requirements are very different depending on the region of the United States. Prior to my accident, I hunted in many states along the East Coast. Shots are rarely taken over 150 yards and in most areas you’re never far from civilization. While I have never hunted west of the Mississippi River I’ve received quite a bit of information from my friend Andy Dahmen, who lives in Utah, and has also hunted in Idaho and Wyoming. This fall he shot a bull elk that was over 560 yards away. The distance of the shots, the vast amounts of terrain that must be covered and the size of the animals harvested all demand a greater support system for a hunter out West. In the East you can usually get by with a friend or two, but out West is a different story.

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho


Hunting out West for an individual who is in a wheelchair requires a number of able-bodied individuals to assist. Fortunately, there are people who understand and have formed volunteer organizations to assist the disabled. One of these groups the Utah chapter of Chairbound Hunters is titled Chairbound Sportsman. I have taken their Mission statement verbatim off their website so you can understand what these individuals are trying to do.

“We create hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities for wheelchair bound individuals and Disabled Veterans. Outdoor Activities are hard enough, but retrieving game, is next to impossible. With our volunteers, we can help with the hard stuff and make their outings a success. Our Goal is to offer experiences to those that thought they could never get into the outdoors again. Volunteers, Landowners and Sponsors are Critical to our success.”

Getting Ready to Roll

Getting Ready to Roll


It is difficult for many individuals to understand what their kindness and thoughtfulness means to the participant. Without the support from others, many in the disabled community would be unable to participate in the activities that provide for our quality of life. Handihelp does not accept advertisement on the website. I would, however, recommend either volunteering or make a donation to keep organizations like these functioning.

An Awesome Winter Day

I’m always looking for something different to do that will get me outside this time of year. The last couple years I went for a dog sled ride, but was hoping to do something different this winter. Imagine my surprise when two neighbors invited me to go ice fishing. I was excited not only for doing something different, but it also gave me the opportunity to work on adapting the equipment I would need to be successful. I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy the challenge of how to adapt the equipment so that I can use it. Add to this the anticipation of being outdoors in this weather as well as looking forward to a challenge.

IceFishing

IceFishing

Sunday, January 31 was the day. They went early and set everything up and then my son Mark drove to Lake of the Isles where we were going to fish. My Extreme X8 handled the ice really well. When we got there Tom and John helped set up my pole and get me started. Even though the temperature was around 42 there was a stiff breeze. We set up outside and fished for a while. After I caught some perch we decided to go in the ice hut where there was a heater. We also fished in the tent. Inside the tent you could see all the way to the bottom 10’-12’ down and watch the fish swim around.

Got a Bite

Got a Bite

What a great day! Spending time with friends, who love the out-of-doors as much as I do, is awesome. Add to that the sense of the peace, quiet and serenity and it was unreal, especially in the tent. I’m a lucky man!

Unreal

Unreal

Out on the Ice

Out on the Ice

Unique Opportunity

In August Handihelp was part of an exhibit put on by the Inclusive Recreation Resource Center at the Outdoor Adventure Day at Fort Drum. It was a great day! There were over 30 exhibitors which ranged from the Woodsman Team from the Environmental School of Forestry from Syracuse University to Rangers from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

We had the opportunity to talk to a large number of people, but my interaction with one gentleman proved to be extremely interesting and fruitful. Although he was in civilian clothes I was pretty sure that he was a soldier. He seemed very interested in the adaptations I had on display and the fact that I was also a motivational speaker. When he got ready to leave, he told me he was a chaplain for the Warrior Transition Unit and asked if I would be willing to come and speak to them. Once in a while I had contacts similar to this, but it seemed like nothing ever came of them, but this time it was going to be different. About a week later I got an email from him inviting me to come and speak to the Wounded Warriors.

Flyer

Flyer

There will be a luncheon on Friday, October 16th, after which I will be able to interact with the soldiers. I am truly humbled and honored to be given this very unique opportunity. I want to thank the soldiers for their service and the sacrifice they have made for our country and our way of life. I can think of no honor greater than being able to help them make a smooth transition back to civilian life regardless of their disability.

Talking with a visitor

Talking with a visitor

The Chaplain

The Chaplain and his son

Why We Hunt

A vast majority of animal-rights activists, anti-hunters and others who have never hunted probably believe that most hunters just want to kill an animal. A better term to use instead of kill would be harvest. Harvest is a term usually used to refer to crops. Species, like crops, because of man altering the natural environment, must also be managed to ensure their growth and survival. One very common misconception is that nature is benevolent and always provides what is best for the animals. Nature, like so many other things in the natural world, is comprised of yin and yang and can be unbelievably cruel and heartless. It is really wrong to give Nature human characteristics. It’s really just a force of the natural world. Prior to my accident, I snowshoed into several deer yards and saw a fair number of deer, mostly fawns and yearlings, which had died a painful and cruel death from starvation. What’s best for the game population is now determined by a state’s Environmental Conservation Department and many factors influence the rules and regulations. However, I don’t believe most hunters hunt just to harvest game.

Waiting

Waiting

After struggling for 11 years trying to compensate for all the challenges placed on me by quadriplegia and hunting from a wheelchair, I was finally able to harvest a turkey. Since then I have been fortunate enough to harvest 4 more turkeys in the last 5 years. This Spring I have hunted more than I ever have since my accident. The hunting season ended Sunday on a rainy day. I last got out Saturday and didn’t see a turkey, but did have a hummingbird come to the honeysuckle I was sitting in and was about a foot from my face. That was pretty cool, but I would have rather seen a turkey. As a matter of fact, I did not see a turkey the entire month of May.

What I would like to do is explain some of the reasons why so many hunt. The challenge of matching your skills and abilities against a wild animal is stimulating, exciting, frustrating and rewarding. To the turkeys I’m just another predator; it is irrelevant I’m in a wheelchair or that I use my mouth to fire my gun. The most mail I receive on Handihelp are from individuals recently disabled asking questions about affordable adaptions available which will help enable them to return to hunting and fishing that is such an important part of who they are. One email writer, Randy, summed it up better than I ever could:
“Before the accident, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors; camping, fishing, hunting. It’s where my heart lived. I never felt more alive than when I was out there and testing myself. I know you understand. It wasn’t just being out there. It was being out there the way I wanted to be out there — with me doing the work. Testing my skills and knowledge both with and against nature. I know you understand that part as well. Losing that part of me in the accident felt like losing a quintessential part of who I was. I tried going back into the woods, but it didn’t feel the
same. I couldn’t recapture that ‘feeling.'”

Deer

Deer

Many feel a connection with nature during the time spend hunting and fishing. Often, as you can see below, nature chooses to share some special moments with those who are spending so much time in the out of doors. The enjoyment I get sitting in a blind is many fold. There is an intensity in my mind that prohibits thoughts of the stressors common in everyday life. Any second I feel the game will come into view and I must be ready. After a few hours of this the intensity wanes, I find myself struggling between nodding off and remaining alert. The whole time there is a serenity that is present which is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the natural environment. Many hunters live for moments like these.
Coyote

Some very generous friends have given me a GoPro camera, which is specifically designed to capture dramatic moments in the out of doors. I believe many individuals who have disabilities are encouraged to challenge their perceived limitations when they can visibly see what others with similar disabilities are doing. There is a plethora of videos on Handihelp for that specific reason. This hunting season I’ve had the GoPro attached to the cradle that holds my gun with the expectation I would be able to capture some turkeys on film. Unfortunately, the turkeys did not cooperate. However, there have still been very exceptional moments. Included are two of them that I was able to capture when nature treated me to very special occurrences. The one shows two of the three deer that came into the field about 30 yards away from me. The second and by far the most unique is one of a beautiful blonde coyote, which passed within 25 yards of my blind. These are more dramatic examples of the benefits of sitting in a blind for hours at a time. Less dramatic, but by no means less striking, are watching the shadows of clouds racing across the field to where you are sitting, or in the fall, watching leaves spiraling down in the wind while sunlight flashes off one side of them as they spin to the ground. Believing at one time these moments were gone forever, I now treasure every day I’m in the natural environment.

What Do You See?

The Dress
More than likely you are aware of the great dress debate which captured the public’s attention for a couple days last month. Some people saw the dress as gold and white (left) and others saw it as black and blue (right). The fashion police finally identified the dress as black and blue. What people saw, if I have it correct, was determined by light and certain sensory receptors in the perceiver’s brain.

It always amazes me how two people can look at the same object and see two different things. This happens quite a bit between my son Mark and me. As a result of his engineering training he usually has a different perspective than me. Fortunately, my disability has changed what I see. I’ll give you a challenge. Look at the picture below and tell yourself what you see.
Broom & Dustpan
Now this is a perfect example of how what I see has changed since my accident. Pre-injury I would have seen only a slightly different type of broom and dustpan. However, when I saw it a month or so ago I saw, a multi-purpose tool which had nothing to do with sweeping the floor. I did notice it was pretty inexpensive so, I ordered it!
When it arrived I was pleasantly surprise how well made it was. After some minor adaptions I had myself an extremely useful multipurpose tool which enables me to do something I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do for 16 years.

Just below you can see the adaptions I made and one of my new uses of the dustpan. It works better that anything I have made for picking up larger objects. Adapted DustpanHowever, the job I bought it for was as a tool which would allow me to feed the dogs when my wife is gone. A challenge I have been trying to solve since my injury. My nurse fills the dog dishes, before she leaves, and places them on the microwave. I am able to get them down on the kitchen counter and slide them onto the dustpan and then lower the dish to the ground. I feel smug every time I do it.

Looking at an object and seeing more than the obvious is a real asset. Oh, I can also use it to sweep the floor.

My Exoskeleton Is Broken

Great strides are being made to help people who are paralyzed to walk again. Most people believe it is just a matter of time and research until paralysis can be cured. In the meantime, progress is being made to help paraplegics walk. Generally, these mechanical systems are referred to as exoskeletons. Wikipedia defines an exoskeleton as:

“A powered exoskeleton, also known as powered armor, exoframe, or exosuit, is a mobile machine consisting primarily of an outer framework (akin to an insect’s exoskeleton) worn by a person, and powered by a system of motors or hydraulics that delivers at least part of the energy for limb movement.”

Helping-Paraplegics-Walk

Right now it is my understanding that the individuals having the opportunity to use these devices must meet certain criteria. Requirements include age, height and weight, degree of fitness and level of injury. At 6’4″, 250 pounds, 71 years old and the complete C6 quadriplegic, it is obvious; I do not meet the criteria. However, I still have and use an exoskeleton. It is called a power wheelchair and it’s a damn good thing I have two of them. Without one of these exoskeletons I cannot move about at all.

During hunting seasons the exoskeleton I use the most is my four-wheel-drive wheelchair. For a power wheelchair it’s very old. 12 years old to be exact. When it’s working I can pursue my passion which is hunting and being in the out of doors. For those of you who mistakenly believe the purpose of hunting is to kill animals I’d like to try and set things straight. Hunting is about spending time in the environment you love. An environment that shares her mysteries with you as you spend more time with her. Watching leaves spiraling down in the wind while rays of sunlight reflect off their surface, making them look like twinkling stars. Hearing coyotes, yip and howl as they gather together to begin their evening hunt. There is always something to observe while sitting for hours in a blind. You are out there matching wits against natures wiliest of creatures. To them, I’m just another predator. They don’t care that I’m in a wheelchair, they don’t care that I fire my weapon with my mouth and they don’t care I sit in one spot for hours or days matching my skills against theirs.

So not having access to this wheelchair severely impacts my quality of life. While I have another chair, which I probably use 80% of the time, it would be useless in the places I really wish to go. This exoskeleton is for those who want to be on pavement or spend time in a shopping mall or stay-at-home and watch TV. I believe it’s difficult for able-bodied people to truly understand the importance of the wheelchair in the disabled person’s life. It truly is our exoskeleton providing access to the world and I hope it can be fixed quickly.
Out and About