Category Archives: Hunting

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.

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.

Sometimes It’s Really Tough

You’ve probably heard about the snowfall totals south of Buffalo, New York this week. My understanding is in some areas, it approaches 7 feet. The same lake effect snow event produced large amounts of snow, where I live, east of Lake Ontario. The big difference is the fact that Lake Ontario’s eastern end is quite a bit wider than the end of Lake Erie. As a result of that, the wind direction here can oscillate and spread the snow over a much larger area reducing the totals in any one place. Usually when there is a lake effect storm off Lake Ontario the major accumulation is south of us. However, the snow bands were moving over our area most every day. Because of the force of the wind blowing, drifting is quite a problem. New York’s governor has declared Jefferson County as well as a number of other counties in a state of emergency.
Lake Effect Snow Total Nov 2014

One of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make is the confinement the winter causes for me. Prior to my accident I was very active in the winter months jogging, downhill skiing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing were all winter activities that I loved participating in. The quadriplegia, resulting from my accident almost 16 years ago, had a tremendous impact on my lifestyle. I have struggled over the years to regain control of my quality of life. It hasn’t been easy, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job persevering.
Without a doubt the activity I still love the most is hunting. Harvesting game was never the major reason I hunted. The time I spend outdoors sitting in a blind is what gives me a chance to renew my inner self. When the weather cooperates, I usually spend 4 to 5 hours a day sitting outside. It’s an unusual day when nature doesn’t share some of her special happenings with me. Another one of the beneficial effects on me is the impact on my mind of the solitude around me. That’s hard to contrive in my regular daily life.

I know my wife is right when she tells me I need to get out more, but out where? Going to the movies, out to dinner or any of the number of similar activities just doesn’t do it for me. It never did and it never will. It can be a sore subject at times between my wife and me.

I couldn’t wait for the blizzard to stop so I could return to hunting since there are several weeks left in New York State deer season. But conditions are preventing this from happening. My four-wheel-drive wheelchair will not be able to navigate through the drifts and get me where I want to go even though it’s not very far away.

It’s a constant struggle to keep this frustrating situation from developing into depression. As I read over this blog, I’m sure it seems petty to most able-bodied individuals. Only another individual who is paralyzed knows the struggle we go through much of the time to maintain a positive attitude. As I said in the title sometimes it’s pretty tough. Weather Bureau just issued another Lake Effect Advisory

A different Year

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

Fort Drum Workshop

Last month an intensive 3-day training course was presented by the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Fish & Wildlife Management Program from Fort Drum, New York. Fort Drum is the home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

The workshop was entitled Accessibility for Outdoor Recreation Programs & Facilities on Military Installations. The course was geared to staff on military installations responsible for outdoor recreation, including trails, fishing, hunting, camping and picnic areas, and beaches. Its intent was to provide a background and working knowledge of issues to address to increase accessibility to all persons.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to present on my hunting and fishing adaptions and experiences. I put on a Power Point presentation on My Evolution as a Wheelchair Hunter and Fisherman. On the final day, at the Skeet Range I demonstrated the hunting set up on the Extreme wheelchair including my trigger adapter which allows the weapon to be fired with the mouth. Firing 3 times at different targets allowed the audience to see the amazing maneuverability of adaptive gun mount. There was also the opportunity to demonstrate some of the adaptations which allow me to cast and fish.

The workshop was well received and a lot of pertinent information was shared. Participants came from far away as Fort Wainwright, Alaska.