This story was published in Alberta Outdoorsmen in April 2010
“Click ... click!”
“Click ... click, clickety click!“
David immediately stops in his tracks and freezes. He knows the distinctive sound of electric wheelchair brakes disengaging and re-engaging, and is likewise familiar with the obligatory cussing. Nothing gets your undivided attention like the thought of a quadriplegic nearby, clumsily manoeuvring an electric wheelchair about in a confined propane heated space with a loaded 300 Winchester Magnum rifle attached ( I mean, what could possibly go wrong?), and it has David on high alert. This frantic movement can signal only one thing to him ( unless you consider the heater) … a deer has been spotted and his buddy is trying to take aim.
He squints as he scans the meadow westward ahead of the blind… nothing. David slowly turns his eyes northward, not wanting to move a muscle, and is shocked to see in the slough-bottom about 180 yards out, a beautiful whitetail buck looking back at him.
Now, you may not guess it, but hunting with a quadriplegic poses a few logistical problems, especially if you plan to arm him or her. First, the gun has to be securely held by a gun rest. Then a way to aim and fire the guns safely needs to be devised, and lastly, a way to get to the field every week and remain warm enough (us quads seem to be cold-blooded) to actually make an accurate shot must be accomplished.
After many years of trial and error, David and I have the first two pretty much figured out. My wheelchair now has a gun holder securely mounted and we adapted a Browning semi-automatic 300 Winchester Magnum so that it can be fired by clenching my teeth on a clothespin type device. Fortunately, for the last requirement, we have Brian Powell.
Brian is tall and lean, full of PNV and when you say “Hunt”, he lights up like a yellow lab that just heard the word ''walk'''. After hunting with us one cold year, Brian (think of MacGyver with OCD) decides that we need a heated blind. The next hunt, David and Brian show up after an all-night, no-sleep building (and no doubt BS) session, beaming with pride and huge grins. Behind the truck on a trailer, they're towing a round bale, camouflage covered thing on skids. Their creation is complete with wheelchair ramp, propane heater, and Lazy Susan rotating mechanism in case it needs to be pointed in different directions.
Back to the story. David and I meet at the gate to our hunting grounds at 8 AM. David walks over to my wheelchair accessible van and opens the passenger door.
''So buddy, you ready?''
''You bet! It looks great, fresh snow!''
''There's fresh tracks all over, this should be good!'' David exclaims. ''I'll throw my stuff in.''
David places his gun in the back of my van and jumps in. In a few minutes we have driven the half-mile down the narrow, winding road and arrived at our hunting blind.
''I'll light the heater and set the decoy out. You can stay warm here until I'm back.''
''Sounds good,'' I reply, never turning down an offer to stay warm.
Soon Dave is back and I'm parked in the heated blind, complete with parka, hood, earplugs, rifle, and coffee … wow, this is roughing it! It's well below freezing temps and there's a foot of snow or so on the ground, but inside here, we're toasty warm. David loads my rifle and checks the safety.
''You get aimed at the decoy and I'll take the van back to the road.''
''Sounds good. If I have any heater problems you'll hear three shots!'' I reply, a little wary of being alone with a potential fire hazard.
''After one I'll be back!'' Dave reassures me.
I soon settle in and make sure that I'm aimed to hit anything that approaches the decoy. In the past we've seen bucks walk right up to inspect it. Once I'm confident that a deer in that area would be a kill, I sit motionless ( when you're a quadriplegic in an electric wheelchair, with a loaded rifle, alone in a heated blind, Murphy is not your friend and remaining motionless attracts less of his attention).
I'm quietly enjoying my coffee and notice that the window to my right is fogged over. Oh well… we'll fix that when Dave's back. After 15 minutes or so, I hear footsteps in the snow and surmise it's David's return ( or one BIG deer!).
''Ka-Boom!'' the shock wave makes the heater sputter.
I'm jolted fully awake now, wondering what David is shooting at. David opens the door to the shack. ''There was a buck crossing the meadow to the right! I'll go check for blood in a half hour but he kept going.''
Dave removes the frosty window so that we can see the meadow that had the deer in it. For the next half-hour we chat and enjoy a coffee.
''I'm going to check for blood, then go for a walk around and see where the deer are.'' says Dave.
''Okay, don't walk near the direction of the two windows,'' I warn, ''This thing ( my rifle) is always live!''
''Don't worry about me, after I leave that meadow I won't be going near any direction you can shoot, everything you can see will be fair game,'' says Dave, as he grabs his rifle and heads out the door.
I resume my Murphy reduction pose and quietly watch him follow the deer trail down the meadow to my right and disappear into the far bush. Sitting motionless, I doze off into the land of limbo where it takes nothing to occupy your mind ( not that it takes much with me), and time peacefully fast forwards. About an hour later I'm awakened from my daze by the sight of two whitetail bucks walking one behind the other about 50 yards behind the decoy, seemingly oblivious to its existence.
Darn, why hadn't I seen them sooner? I fumble ( us quadriplegics are pretty good at this part) to get rid of my mitts so that I can press the safety into the ''fire'' position. It takes several tries of tapping ( more like flailing in desperation) the button, all the while trying to stay quiet. Finally the safety is off. Now, where are those deer?
''There they are, how did they get over there so fast?'' I muttered to myself as I spot the two bucks near the right edge of the meadow. They are covering ground fast, even at a walking pace.
The sound of my wheelchair seems loud as I turn right to take game. I let go of the joystick on my chair, grabbed the clothespin trigger puller and take game. The deer walk out the right side of my field of view before I can shoot. I grab the joystick again to turn right and try to take aim, being mindful not to turn or upset the propane heater. I lined up on the trailing buck just as he disappears into the bush.
I just missed a golden opportunity at one of two large whitetail bucks, this is what we worked the whole season for an I blew it! A quadriplegic getting a shot at a live deer is about as easy as putting contact lenses in a cat. Things just don't all come together very often.
I sit there dumbfounded for a few moments, staring at the spot where the deer disappeared, hoping for their return but knowing that it is extremely unlikely. I realised that if only somebody able-bodied were here it would have been a relatively easy 150 yard shot for them.
Then something makes me scan out the window to the right. I looked in disbelief at a large whitetail buck slowly picking his way through the tall grass about 180 yards away, unbelievable! Talk about an emotional roller coaster! Now to try to safely turn my wheelchair and aim at the deer.
''Click ... click! Click''
Dang, my foot is jammed against the heater with the back of my wheelchair jammed against the wall.
''Click ... click, clickety click!'' (remember the start of this story?)
I finally get dislodged and aimed out the small 1 ft. square window. With my left palm I get the clothespin in my mouth. Looking through the scope, I see a nice whitetail buck quartering away to the right. Just as the crosshairs meet the kill zone he stops and turns his head back towards the blind. I slowly clench my teeth on the trigger puller.
Dave notices the deer in the meadow looking back at him. He tries to remain motionless, hoping to give his buddy time to take aim.
The heater sputters in protest from the shockwave. The firing of a gun is actually a surprise to me, one advantage I do have when hunting. Since I don't know exactly when the gun is going to fire, there is no opportunity to flinch and pull off target (but I like to let on as if I'm really calm, cool, collected, and buck-fever free). In my head I can see a picture of the deer with the crosshairs on the kill zone when the gun fired, but a scan of the field revealed no trace of the deer.
The door to the shack bursts open.
''He folded like a cheap suit!'' David beams ''You got him buddy!'' with a huge hug.
Hunting as a quadriplegic gives one a newfound appreciation for friends and family. When you see the effort that these great people put in to invent and build the necessary equipment, and then take time to put it all together on hunt after hunt, knowing that the odds of success are slim, is so inspiring.
Then after the shooting is done there is the cleaning and processing of the game, hauling and storing of equipment, it really is a monumental effort. There is also the disrupting of the family with early mornings, and a few late evenings complete with a generous exchange of great words of wisdom that seemed to flow quicker and ever wiser with the appropriate lubrication. The work that these folks are willing to do to help me participate in life makes me feel the need to get off my butt ( figuratively speaking) and give 100% too.
Thanks go to my and every other disabled persons support team. May you somehow get as much out of helping as we get out of being a participant in life, not just a spectator.