Friday, December 7, 2012

THE CATNAP BUCK


If you think my friend Don Christensen hung up his rifle after helping Ralph shoot the “Blind Man’s Buck,” think again. Hunting on his property in Spooner, Wisconsin, Don received a dose of good luck from an unlikely source.
Here’s the story in Don’s own words:
It had been a slow four days of hunting. My daughter Beth and I had only seen two small does and a pair of spikes. I wanted to hunt on Nov 21, the day before Thanksgiving, and figured something would show up because Beth decided to take the evening off to start Thanksgiving prep. Seems there is always a day or two during season when she has something else to do, and that's always when I have opportunities.
I had been sitting for an hour in a blind 100 yards behind my house when our cat—a jet-black female named Bob (because of her short ears)—felt she needed to come out in the woods and hang out by my stand. I have no idea why she does this. I've never even petted her, but she inevitably shows up and scratches at the door of the shooting house. I wasn't in my elevated shooting house this time so she jumped right up on the windowsill. I whispered a few obscenities to her and she, being a cat, jumped onto my rifle rest and burrowed down in the blanket on my lap and went to sleep. I figured things would get pretty intense if I surprised her with a shot during the evening, but being quadriplegic, there wasn't much I could do.

Bob performs double duty as lapwarmer and good-luck charm.

Not long after that, a buck stepped onto the food plot about 100 yards from me. My rifle rest would only turn about half the necessary distance to get my sights on the deer, so I needed to turn the chair quite a ways. By the time I realized that, he was only about 80 yards away, standing in the oats.
I turned and my wheelchair made a loud click. He froze broadside, looking in my direction, but I had turned just far enough where I could do the finer aiming adjustments with the joystick on my rest. Thankfully he stood still for the couple of seconds that took. A little squeeze on my bite trigger and BOOM went my .243.
The shot seemed to have no effect on the buck and he trotted off to the right out of view. You know, that cat never even moved until I started shaking after the shot as the adrenaline left my system. Reminds me, I've got to bring her out some turkey from dinner. Don't get me wrong and assume I like that cat but she did stay quiet when I needed her to.
I knew the shot felt perfect, so the buck wouldn't go far. I gave my son Riley a call and he came out to recover the deer. I couldn't figure out what was going on because there was no blood, no hair, absolutely no sign of a hit. My whole family, my caregiver, and the neighbor searched the area but there was absolutely no sign of any kind. We decided to let him be till morning, then start really working the woods. The morning search didn't go any better, so I was totally confused. Riley set up a target back in the woods and I took a shot to check the scope. Perfect shot… I knew I did not miss.
One more look by Riley did the trick. The 8-point buck had trotted about 80 yards before piling up on the backside of our pond. Never a drop of blood…it was a complete pass through right behind the shoulder and the Hornaday BTSP never expanded!
Anyway, he's in the cooler and now it's up to Beth to tip over the big one. We'll be out again this afternoon! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blind Man’s Buck



            “It sounds like the beginning of a joke,” says Don Christensen, of Spooner, Wisconsin. “A quadriplegic and a blind guy go deer hunting…”
            These two, however, dropped the punch line on an eight-point buck.
Here’s their story:
Don Christensen

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the late 1990’s, Don—who has lost the use of his arms and legs—never let the debilitating disease dampen his enthusiasm for hunting. He created a website, 
http://afarcry.info/, to help people with disabilities access the outdoors.
“When my buddy Ralph Barten suggested that we harvest a deer together, I was intrigued but I knew it wouldn’t be a simple task,” Don says. “Ralph said he’d be my arms if I’d be his eyes.”

Ralph Barten

Ralph, who hails from Ladysmith, Wisconsin, is completely blind. He has enjoyed many successful hunts with the help of a “spotter” (someone looking over his shoulder to advise him where to aim).
“Since I’m in a wheelchair, the only way for me to see over Ralph’s shoulder would be to have him sit on my lap, and that was NOT gonna happen!” Don says with a laugh.
“That’s where my son Riley came on board,” Don says. “We borrowed an iScope, which is a bracket designed to hold a smartphone up to the back of a riflescope.”
The iScope works well with a smartphone in good light to take video through the scope. “Unfortunately, we were going to be sitting in a dark shooting house and the phone couldn’t gather enough light for a viewable picture,” Don explains. “Riley found a way to attach a small webcam to the bracket and hooked it up to his laptop. Ralph came to visit and we shot some paper targets to make sure we were ready.”
            On the evening of Friday, October 19, Ralph, Don and Riley arrived at Hogsback Ranch, a hunting preserve in central Wisconsin. They met the owner, Nathan Wininger, along with Roger Devenport and Cam Tribolet from The Way Outfitters, who had helped arrange the hunt.
They spent Saturday morning devising a game plan and recording interviews for Outdoor Bound TV. That afternoon they faced a looming challenge before the hunt even began: Don’s motorized wheelchair lacked sufficient torque to climb the steep ramp to the stand, which sat six feet off the ground.

Somehow the crew muscled Don and his 300-pound chair up the incline.

            Returning to earth was a bit easier. The team figured a way to tie safety ropes to the chair and “rappel” it down the ramp. But before that…
            A fine buck entered the food plot an hour after the hunters and their helpers had settled into the stand. “It was early, so we decided to wait,” Don says. “About 45 minutes later we saw one of the ranch’s dream bucks, one that would score almost 250 inches. I don’t know how long we watched him but it sure made the evening go by quickly.”
            Shortly before nightfall another shooter buck presented an opportunity. Riley’s invention worked perfectly as Don instructed Ralph where to aim and when to squeeze the trigger. After the shot, the deer ran 100 yards across the food plot and into the woods. “We felt nervous because he looked just fine. A couple guys slipped down to find the trail, but an hour of searching turned up no blood or hair,” Don says. “The next morning we returned and found absolutely nothing, so it was off to the range to see what was going on with Ralph’s scope. A couple shots proved why that buck was untouched. Somehow the scope had gotten knocked out of alignment because it was shooting 6 inches high and 6 inches right!”

            This video shows the moments leading up to the errant shot:


            On Sunday afternoon the hopeful hunters were back on stand. They saw a monster buck but didn’t have the green light for one that size. “It was a treat just to watch him,” Don says. “A shooter buck appeared during the last minutes of daylight. That would’ve been okay but the laptop I was viewing was almost out of battery life. We took a hurried shot before dark but didn’t connect.”
            The weekend hunt was over, but Nathan invited Ralph and Don to return. Don says he knew they had some bugs to work out before giving it another shot. “Riley and a friend of mine fine-tuned the camera setup, and Ralph and I smoothed out our communication. We put the camera on my TC Encore and made sure the 7mm-08 was shooting hairsplitting groups. Almost before I knew it, we were on the road again to give it one more try.”
            On Friday, November 2, Ralph, Don and Riley were in the shooting house with Nathan and Bob (cameraman for Outdoor Bound TV). “It was a beautiful afternoon for November and by the time Riley had all our equipment in place, the first doe stepped onto the food plot,” Don says. “The rut was beginning to heat up and it wasn’t long before a buck chased her off into the woods. A short time later, a shooter buck appeared right next to the stand. He worked his way in front of us, but at just 45 yards, he was almost too close for Ralph and me to communicate.”
Ralph already had the rifle on a sandbag and pointed out the window, so Don whispered directions like “up a lot” and “a little to the right” to put the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder. Every time the deer moved, they had to start the process all over. Then Don coached Ralph to cock the hammer, take a deep breath and let half of it out. After some final aiming adjustments, Don said, “Squeeze.”

Here’s what Don saw as he helped Ralph aim:

            Ralph asked excitedly, “Did we get him? Did we get him?”
It was a perfect double-lung shot. The buck ran 15 feet and collapsed.
            “We did it, buddy!” Don blurted.

            “Our success shows that when good people tackle a challenge together, anything is possible,” Don says.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SHOOTING FROM A VEHICLE


Tips for Safe and Successful Hunting from a Four-Wheel Blind
            Let’s begin by clarifying that I’m neither advocating “road hunting” nor encouraging my readers to engage in illegal activity. Hunting/shooting from inside a car or truck, or from the saddle of an ATV, is widely prohibited; however, some states allow disabled individuals to hunt from a vehicle. I’d much rather sit in a blind and feel the earth under my boots, but sometimes the convenience or mobility of hunting from a vehicle makes it worthwhile. Although it’s no guarantee that you’ll kill game, this practice has helped me punch tags in Wyoming and Montana.

Here’s some advice based on my experience:
DO THE PAPERWORK AND KEEP IT LEGAL
            The fact that you’re handicapped doesn’t automatically grant you any privileges. To legally shoot from a vehicle, you must go through proper channels and obtain official authorization from the regulatory agency of the state in which you’ll be hunting. The nomenclature varies from state to state; in Wyoming I had a Disabled Hunter Permit, and in Montana I had a Permit to Hunt From a Vehicle.
            I went through similar processes to get my permits for Wyoming (in 2009) and Montana (in 2011). I had to fill out a form (available online for download) that required a description of my disability and a signed statement from my doctor. In both cases, I received my permit from the Game and Fish Dept. just two weeks after mailing the completed form. There was no charge for the permit.
Check state laws before heading out to hunt from a vehicle. In addition to a permit, you must have a valid license as well as any required tags for the region you’re hunting and the species you’re pursuing.
I came across an interesting detail while researching this topic: The Pennsylvania Game Commission considers an electric-powered wheelchair a “motorized vehicle,” so if you use one to get around in the woods, you’ll need a Disabled Hunter Permit to hunt in the Keystone State.
My Montana license and permit.

COMMON-SENSE RULES
A Disabled Hunter Permit does not authorize you to drive and hunt anywhere you damn well please. You must respect private property and obey rules governing the use of motor vehicles on public lands.
Each state has its own specific regulations and details, but generally speaking, a permit holder: may not hunt from a state or federal highway; may not shoot across a public roadway; may only shoot from a stationary vehicle with the motor turned off. All these rules make safety sense, and the last one also helps the shooter because vibration from an idling engine can make it difficult to aim.

KEEP THE GUN UNLOADED
Never trust a gun’s safety, and never cruise around with a loaded firearm in the vehicle. Keep the chamber empty and the action open until you’re ready to shoot.
Ron makes sure the .270 is empty before we head out for mule deer.

WIGGLE ROOM
Make sure the vehicle has enough interior space for you to aim and shoot safely and comfortably. My needs are rather roomy because a point man (usually Ron) aims for me while we both view the sight picture on the scopecam, and I decide when to activate the trigger.
In this photo we’re sitting in the back seat of a Suburban, hoping to ambush a Montana muley.

PROPER REST
Whether you hunt from a treestand, ground blind or vehicle, a steady rifle rest contributes to accurate shot placement. Adjustable shooting sticks can be set up inside a vehicle to provide support at the proper height. It is NOT a good idea to rest a gun on the top edge of a partially open window.
If you plan to simply lower the window and rest the rifle on the door, use a sandbag, small cushion or rolled-up jacket to protect the window frame as well as the gun’s forestock.
We used this sandbag while hunting pronghorns in Wyoming.

POSITIONING FOR THE SHOT
In the ideal scenario, you will have scouted the area, arrived early and parked broadside for a good view of the spot where you expect animals to emerge.
It’s a different story if you have to spot and “stalk” game in open country, as my friend Ron and I did while hunting pronghorns in Wyoming. We sat in the back seat of our guide’s Mega Cab pickup and set up to shoot out the driver’s-side window. We chose this arrangement because it made things easier as the guide carefully approached the herd and turned the truck broadside for our shot. He knew that if he had a good, unobstructed view of an antelope, we did too.
Drawing down on an antelope.

MUZZLE OUT THE WINDOW
The first commandment of gun safety says keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. When hunting from a vehicle, that rule goes out the window—quite literally, because it’s usually the best place to put the business end of your rifle.
Always travel with the gun (action open, chamber empty) securely stowed. When you’ve reached the hunting spot and turned off the motor, it’s time to load. Before loading or working the action, put the muzzle out the window. I mean OUT, not just pointed toward the window. And the muzzle should stay out the window until you unload, and especially while unloading.
Make sure the muzzle is as far out the window as is reasonably possible when you shoot, because you don’t want the muzzle blast to occur within the confines of the vehicle.

COMMUNICATE
Everyone in the vehicle should know what the shooter is doing and when he’s ready to squeeze the trigger. Since Ron and I shoot from the back seat, the muzzle isn’t very far from the driver. We always warn him to cover his ears before we shoot.
We put the 4WD stalk on this pronghorn and dropped it with a 120-yard shot.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

MY PHILOSOPHY


Last April I hunted red stag in La Pampa, Argentina, and the lodge owner was impressed with my attitude and desire to hunt. He told my story to an Argentine photographer who is working on a book about red stag hunting. The photographer decided to include a photo of me in the book and asked me to write a brief text.
Here’s what I came up with:


NEVER GIVE UP
            What should a hunter do when his body begins to fail him? I asked myself this question six years ago when I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Even as my hands, arms and legs became too weak to function, my passion for the outdoors remained strong. Through this passion I found the only answer: When a hunter’s body begins to fail him, he must keep hunting.
            As a young man, I often took to the woods alone. Now I hunt red stag with the help of good friends and modern technology. Instead of bemoaning my disability, I cultivate a positive attitude that helps me focus on what I can do. I can’t walk—but I have a wheelchair to help me get around; I can’t handle a gun—but my friends carry, load and aim the rifle for me; my finger can’t squeeze the trigger—but I have a switch that activates the trigger when I inhale on a tube; I can’t sneak through the brush and stalk a stag—but I have the patience to sit quietly and wait until one comes to me.
            I can still get out in the field to enjoy nature’s sights, smells and sounds. And when I hear a red stag roar, I feel my pulse quicken as the adrenaline surges!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CAZANDO CHANCHOS (HUNTING HOGS) IN URUGUAY, DAY 3


Ron, Luiz and I enjoyed our three-day hunt in Uruguay at a lodge called Rincon de los Matreros.

            Here’s what happened on the last day of our adventure:
During breakfast this morning, we noticed that one of the ranch hands outside was already preparing lunch. The small hog we killed yesterday evening had been scalded (to remove the hair), split lengthwise and wired to a grill.
In typical South American asado fashion, the grill leaned on one side of the pit while a fire burned on the other side. As the wood became red hot, the chef used a shovel to spread glowing embers under the grill. This technique doesn’t scorch the meat with open flames, and it lets the chef control the temperature to cook the pork to perfection.


And perfect it was! I’m kinda glad you weren’t there to join us because then we didn’t have to be polite and share.
That afternoon we returned to the same spot we had hunted on the first day. The chanchos were definitely wiser. We caught fleeting glimpses of a few sulking in the woods, but none ventured out in the open. They finally sent a scout; he must have drawn the short straw and was none too pleased about it. He appeared at the left edge of the clearing, glanced about nervously and melted into the woods.
The hog was back a few moments later. Still looking uncomfortable, he stepped into full view and then, just as quickly, scampered for cover. “The wind is from a different direction today,” Ron said. “He’s catching our scent.”
Twice more that hog did the here-and-gone routine so quickly that Luiz couldn’t even get the camera on it. Then the chancho nervioso seemed to gather his courage. When he trotted out and started munching corn, Ron and I gave him no time to change his mind.
Laurindo hid the dead hog in the grass and we began the waiting game again. An hour later we saw five hogs working their way through some tall grass on the hillside to our left. They also seemed wary, but eventually two of them made the mistake of coming out in the open. We ended our hunt with another perfect head shot.
Enjoy the video:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

CAZANDO CHANCHOS (HUNTING HOGS) IN URUGUAY, DAY 2


Ron, Luiz and I enjoyed our three-day hunt in Uruguay at a lodge called Rincon de los Matreros.
            Here’s what happened on the second day of our adventure:
I’ve finally learned that pacing myself makes my travels more enjoyable, and Ron had no objections when I suggested that we hunt only in the afternoons on this trip. Today I awoke around 8:30 and Luiz wheeled me to the breakfast table just as Ron was returning from a morning stroll. (He said a white cat had followed him around like a puppy.)
We took it easy for much of the day and then headed out at 3:30. This stand site occupied a 20- by 100-yard flat spot at the base of a steep hill. Laurindo had scattered corn about 60 yards from the shooting house. After we got situated in the blind, Ron and I tested my trigger control to avoid the need for last-minute, hurried adjustments.
The first critter to appear was a young red stag that trotted down the hill on our left, nibbled at the corn for a few minutes, and then disappeared back up the hill. Soon after that, Ron pointed out two larger stags on the brushy hillside. They lowered their heads to click antlers a couple times but didn’t do any serious sparring.
Suddenly we heard a series of evenly spaced, high-pitched yelps come from behind the blind. I gave Laurindo a questioning look. “Axis deer,” he said. “They know we’re here.”
The barking continued for several minutes as three axis does voiced their disapproval of our presence. Then…silence. A long silence. When the sinking sun touched the hilltop, Luiz said, “Looks like the hogs won this round.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, a pair of 100-pound porkers sauntered in from our left. Unlike the restless bunch we saw yesterday, these two settled right down to business and started feeding. Laurindo, who really enjoyed watching Ron and me shoot as a team, urged us to act quickly: “Kill one of them. We might have time to get another one tonight.”
A hog stood broadside long enough for Ron to hold the crosshairs on its ear; I inhaled on my trigger tube, and—BOOM—that chancho was brain-dead before I could exhale.
Laurindo went out to check our work, dragged the hog away from the corn and returned to the blind to resume our stakeout. Twenty minutes later, in the gathering dusk, we decided to call it quits. Laurindo went to get the pickup. He took two steps from the blind and did an immediate about-face.
Chanchos!” he whispered.
We had barely enough light for my scopecam to work as two big sows and four yearlings came into view. Ron got on target quickly when one of the smaller hogs moved to the left, turned to face us, and lowered its head. We tallied an instant kill when our bullet entered the base of the hog’s skull.
When Laurindo loaded the 60-pounder on the truck, he said, “Perfect size. We’ll put it on the grill tomorrow.”
Here’s the video:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

CAZANDO CHANCHOS (HUNTING HOGS) IN URUGUAY, DAY 1


Ron, Luiz and I enjoyed our three-day hunt in Uruguay at a lodge called Rincon de los Matreros.

            Here’s what happened on the first day of our adventure:
            In April I told Ron that I had no plans to hunt in the USA this year because the long (nine-plus hours) flight from Rio de Janeiro has become too hard on me. His immediate response was to make arrangements to visit me in Brazil in September. My immediate response to that—because I know my redneck friend would go bonkers if we just lounged on the beach for a week—was to plan a south-of-the-Equator hunt with my buddy.
            My first thoughts turned toward Argentina, but red stag season only runs from March through July, and my condition renders dove hunting out of the question (at least until we figure a way to wingshoot as a team with my adaptive gear). I had enjoyed a hog hunt in July 2011 at Rincon de los Matreros lodge in Uruguay, and decided another visit was in order.
            Ron arrived in Rio on September 9, and the next morning we were on our way to Uruguay. My aide Luiz Paier accompanied us on an adventure full of “firsts” for him: first time on an airplane, first international trip, first hunt.
            We began with a 2-hour flight to Porto Alegre (in southern Brazil) and had time for a sandwich before catching the 1-hour flight to Montevideo. Laurindo, the head guide at Rincon de los Matreros, greeted us and loaded our bags in his pickup. We then made the 3 1/2-hour drive north to the small town of Treinta y Tres (which means Thirty-Three) and the lodge. We got there around 8 p.m., had dinner with the owner, Mathieu Jetten, and hit the hay.
            Ron mounted my adaptive shooting gear on Mathieu’s .243 after breakfast the next morning, and we spent much of the day relaxing and catching up on conversation. We headed out at 3:30.
Rincon de los Matreros is a high-fence hunting operation that covers more than 3,000 acres of very hilly countryside, with 10 solidly built shooting houses distributed throughout the grounds. Each blind overlooks an automatic feeder that scatters corn to attract several types of deer as well as feral goats and hogs. I don’t try to kid myself into believing we’re hunting extremely wary, 100-percent-wild animals; however, it requires patience to wait for the right animal to show up, and skill to put one down with a well-placed shot. And I truly enjoy the time spent with friends in a rural setting.
After a bouncy, 20-minute ride we reached our blind. I sat by the left wall, Ron sat to my right, Luiz—video camera in hand—squeezed in on the other side of Ron, and Laurindo sat behind me. Our objective was to take eating-size hogs of 100 pounds or less.
Shortly after we settled in, the feeder clattered and spread some corn on the ground. “That’s like ringing the dinner bell,” Ron said as five porkers trotted into view.
“They’re all the right size,” Laurindo said. “Take the one you want.”
Easier said than done. A gang of young hogs behaves like a group of rambunctious schoolboys that crowd together, jostle one another and never stand still. When one finally strayed from the rest, Ron steadied the crosshairs and I inhaled on my trigger tube. And nothing happened!
The bumpy ride to the blind had nudged the trigger actuator out of alignment, but Ron quickly got it back on track. Just as quickly, though, the luckiest oinker in Uruguay rejoined his buddies and signed a new lease on life.
After a few more minutes, a different hog made the fatal mistake of drifting far enough away from the sheltering crowd to give us a clear shot. The pig went down and obviously wasn’t going to get back up; its continued thrashing, however, told us we hadn’t scored an instant kill.
Still toting the camera, Luiz followed Laurindo when he went down to dispatch the hog. Luiz was quite impressed when Laurindo nonchalantly pushed his knife into the hog’s throat, and jokingly called our guide “evil” and “cold blooded.”
“There’s a good chance that more chanchos will come in before dark,” Laurindo said. “What do you want to do?”
We all agreed to wait and see. Ron kept telling Luiz to go hide by the feeder with Laurindo’s knife so he could leap out and stab a pig. Soon Luiz had a new nickname: Blade.
An hour after our first shot, a dozen hogs tumbled out of the woods and restlessly milled around as they scarfed up corn. Ron turned on the scopecam, Luiz put the trigger tube in my mouth, and we watched for an opportunity. Patience paid off when 80 pounds of fresh pork put just enough distance between himself and his brethren by taking a few steps to our left. A head shot conjugated this one into past tense before it hit the ground.
The fallen hog twitched spasmodically, prompting Luiz to ask, “Is it dead?”
“No,” Ron said flatly. “Go finish it off with the knife.”

Enjoy the video:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

IMPROVE YOUR HUNTING VIDEOS


            I’ve been taking a video camera on my hunts since October 2010, but I never packed a tripod because I wanted to streamline my baggage as much as possible. In previous posts I stressed the importance of using a firm rifle rest for optimum shooting performance. Chalk one up for the Practice What You Preach Dept.—I finally realized the same concept applies when shooting video.
            When I travel, one of my personal aides goes with me and, in addition to other responsibilities, acts as cameraman. Three different aides have accompanied me on hunts, and all did a fine job with the camera; however, through no fault of their own, the handheld video got shaky at times (especially during zoomed-in closeups) and always jumped when the rifle fired. Even if you’re expecting it, the sudden, loud sound of a gunshot causes an uncontrollable, reflexive flinch that disappoints viwers when the lens abruptly leaps away from the animal at the hunt’s climactic moment.
            Before our recent trip to Uruguay, I asked Luiz to wipe the dust off my tripod—a lightweight, inexpensive model I’ve had for 23 years—and put it in my suitcase. As you’ll see in this video, that little tripod made a huge difference in image quality.
            The first part was recorded without a tripod because some hogs showed up much sooner than expected. Although Luiz remained Steady-Eddie while handling the camera, he involuntarily flinched at the rifle’s report.
            While waiting for more hogs to appear, Luiz set up the tripod. Note the rock-solid improvement in the second sequence. Luiz framed the image and then kept his hands off the camera when the rifle fired.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

SHOW-N-TELL


            In this 7-minute video my good friend and premier point man, Ron Wagner, helps me demonstrate how we use my adaptive shooting gear.
            Like my hunts, this project required a team effort: My aide Luiz Paier proved himself a very capable cameraman on our recent trip to Uruguay; Ron conducted an informative show-n-tell session; and I edited the video.
            If you have any questions about the equipment or how we use it, please post them in the comments section.


Monday, September 17, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 6 of 6)


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of my South Carolina grande finale:
Finally a Buck
“Don’t shoot the first buck you see tonight,” Ray Sedgwick advised me as he parked the truck. “The bigger ones come out later.”
This afternoon—Thursday, the last day of my whitetail safari—we weren’t at the club. Instead, I’d be hunting a small parcel that Ray leases just for himself and his son, and that meant I could take a buck. My host said he knew of at least one good 8-point visiting the bait, and he hoped I’d get a shot at it.
Ray backed the four-wheeler off the trailer, helped me onto the seat and punched the throttle. We skirted a large hayfield and entered the hardwoods on the other side, and then followed a winding trail for 150 yards to reach the stand: a box blind about 5 feet off the ground. A bunch of cardinals indicated the bait’s location at the end of a 70-yard shooting lane. Ray told me he was scattering corn there every two or three days, to the tune of about 50 pounds a week.
After getting me situated in the blind, Ray handed me the rifle and said, “I’ll pick you up after dark.” Then he pointed a finger at me and added, in mock seriousness, “Don’t go wandering off. Wait right here till I get back.”
Temperatures in the low 60s made it a pleasant evening to spend in the woods, so I relaxed and took in the show. The opening act, put on by a flock of cardinals and a supporting cast of sparrows, lasted about 30 minutes. Next a hen turkey stepped up to scratch out a solo performance for a half-hour or so.
Then I noticed a doe sneaking in from the right, just 35 yards in front of me. Entering the shooting lane, she turned and walked directly to the corn. She was safe today; her cohort, however, was not.
A buck entered stage left, antlers glinting in a shaft of golden sunlight that seemed to make him glow against the backdrop of shadowy woods. I remember noticing how sleek he looked as he stood there, broadside. (I’ve since learned that trim-bodied bucks are young’uns. This fella was probably two years old.) Not willing to gamble away this perfect opportunity in hopes that a bigger buck would appear, I ignored Ray’s advice, raised the .270 and never even glanced at the antlers.
When the rifle roared, the buck slammed to the ground and lay on his side, legs flailing. I didn’t cycle the bolt because I figured he was anchored. I watched, flabbergasted, as the deer struggled to his feet and disappeared in the woods to my right.
“You bonehead!” I chided myself. “If you had been ready, you could have shot again.”
After a brief intermission, the show—as it always must—went on. In the remaining 90 minutes of daylight, the cardinals returned, then the turkey, and then the doe. The turkey ended up walking right toward me and roosting in a tree above the blind. Just before darkness lowered the curtains, a raccoon waddled over to have some corn.
When Ray showed up I told him I had knocked one over, so he helped me onto the four-wheeler and we rode down to the corn to investigate. “Well, he couldn’t have gone very far,” Ray said, inspecting the area with a flashlight. “There’s a lot of blood and some pieces of lung tissue.”
As he followed the sign, Ray let out a soft howl like a trailing hound (“aroo aroooo”) every time he found blood. He finally returned, dragging the deer: a spindly 6-point.
“I told you not to shoot the first buck you saw!” he said.

“The antlers really aren’t that important,” I said.
“This buck is a trophy to me.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ON THE ROAD


My good friend Ron will arrive in Rio on Sunday, September 9. We’ll be going for it and get’n dirty on a hog hunt in Uruguay Sept 10-14.
            Right now I’m busy organizing my gear and packing for the trip, so don’t expect any new posts before September 17.
            Hasta la vuelta, Amigos!
Ron and me
Ehrhardt, SC
April 2009

Saturday, September 1, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 5 of 6)


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of a busy morning in South Carolina:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 4 of 6)


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of a rainy morning in South Carolina:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 3 of 6)


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of my second-chance doe in Georgia:
Luck of the Draw
            On the morning of November 2, 2006, Ligia and I left Wilmington and headed south to the home of Spud and Chris Woodward in Brunswick, Georgia. I knew Chris because we both worked on the edit staff of Sport Fishing magazine. Although we emailed back and forth nearly every day, we rarely saw each other. I had never met her husband, Spud.
We paused at the Woodwards’ house just long enough to stash our North Carolina venison in their freezer, transfer luggage to Chris’ SUV and get on the road to their hunting camp. Spud followed us in his pickup.
            Chris and Spud don’t get excited about deer season but they are avid turkey hunters. The hunting camp—actually a comfortable, two-story cabin surrounded by several hundred acres of overgrown pine plantation near Baxley—belongs to their friend, Glenn. When Spud asked, Glenn graciously agreed to let us use the cabin and hunt deer on his property.
Early morning view of the pond behind the cabin

Spud had gone out to the property the week before to anchor several pop-up blinds in likely spots and give the deer time to get used to them. He took care to place them in locations accessible by pickup, so I’d only have to shuffle about 10 yards after getting out of the truck. With help from my walker, I could crouch through the blind’s door and sit on a folding stool. The walker then stayed in front of me as a gun rest. For this hunt I’d be using Chris’ Ithaca.243, powered by 95-grain Nosler handloads from Spud’s dad.
The first day I hunted over a “beanfield” at the head of a draw just a quarter-mile from the cabin. The field measured about 80 by 35 yards, but the area obviously wasn’t a bean-friendly environment. The few, widely spaced plants that managed to survive in the sandy soil were only 6 inches tall. Judging from the tracks, however, deer visited on a regular basis.
The blind sat 5 yards inside the pines on the beanfield’s east side, giving me a good view of the field and the pines on the other side. The draw sloped downhill to my right, where it grew thicker with mixed hardwoods. We hunted morning and evening, taking a midday break for lunch and a siesta. I saw nothing larger than bluejays the first day.
Spud hunted a different spot, but I could tell where his mind really was. When he came to pick me up, his first question was, “See any turkeys?”
The next morning I saw only songbirds while keeping vigil near the intersection of two deer trails in a large stand of pines. I should have stayed closer to camp—on the front porch, perhaps. Spud and I saw a deer as we drove back for lunch, and Ligia told us she had seen four deer just 50 yards from the cabin when she went for a morning walk.
I returned to the beanfield blind that afternoon. As the sun dipped out of sight and the evening began to get chilly, I noticed movement about 120 yards out front and to my right. A fox was walking through the woods, headed up the draw toward me. Wait, that’s not a fox, it’s a deer! Two deer!
The pair of does stopped at the opposite edge of the beanfield, about 60 yards away, and looked around. I shifted my position so I could shoot in that direction more comfortably. Before I could take aim, the deer stepped into the open field and started walking to my left. Within seconds, one doe was crossing in front of me, broadside at a scant 30 yards.
I flicked off the safety, moved the rifle to my left to get slightly ahead of the moving deer and…

BAM!
Oh s**t!
I bumped the trigger while repositioning the .243 and sent a wild warning shot over the deer’s bow.
I cycled the bolt and kept my eye on the deer as they sprinted directly away from me. To my amazement, they stopped as soon as they reached the pines on the other side of the beanfield. One doe stood broadside at 65 yards, her hindquarters hidden by a tree. But I had a clear view of her front half, so I held the crosshairs behind the leg and squeezed. I figured the deer dropped instantly because I saw only one white flag bound away.
Spud walked up soon after my second shot. I told him the story in the gathering darkness and pointed toward the spot where I expected him to find my deer. He radioed Chris—who, back at the cabin with Ligia, had heard the shots—and asked her to bring the truck and a strong flashlight.
When the ladies arrived, Ligia and I waited by the truck while Spud and Chris went to retrieve the deer. Imagine my surprise when I saw the flashlights bobbing in expanding circles, and a 20-minute search failed to produce a body. I felt sure of a hit because the sight picture looked perfect and my walker provided a steady rest. And it had happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get the shakes.
 “I’ll come out tomorrow to look in daylight,” Spud said, and we all agreed that was the best plan. I wasn’t worried because I’ve seen heart-shot whitetails run 100 yards while dead on their feet.
I slept in while Spud took his .25-06 for an early morning walk. Chris, Ligia and I were finishing breakfast when Spud poked his head in the door and said, “I found Andy’s deer. I’m gonna take the truck and get it now.”
The ladies cheered and I said, “I knew it!”
Spud said the deer apparently ran 70 yards after I shot it. Our autopsy of the deer revealed that my bullet had hit high in the ribs and passed through without expanding much. The small, high exit wound left no blood trail. It also damaged no meat, so the quarters and backstraps were in excellent condition.

Chris and I pose with my doe.

“We have fresh venison,” Ligia says with a smile.

Spud begins the task of skinning the deer.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 2 of 6)


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.

Here’s the story of my Halloween hunt near Wilmington, NC:
Spooky Squirrels
            Some folks say they only hunt squirrels because it hones their stalking and shooting skills, making them better big-game hunters. I need no such excuses. I go squirrel hunting because I love to hunt squirrels.
As a teenager in Pennsylvania I used to rush home from school, grab my single-shot 20 gauge and orange vest, and head for nearby woodlots in search of bushytails. When I was in my mid-20s, I lived in Philadelphia. Every Saturday in October and November I’d wake up at 3:30, drive to State Game Lands in south central Pennsylvania and greet the dawn on a hardwood ridge overlooking the Susquehanna River, squirrel gun in hand. My pulse always started racing at the glimpse of a tail flicking among the branches or the sound of a small critter shuffling through fallen leaves—and it still does!
            While we were finalizing plans for the North Carolina trip, I learned that my host, Mike Marsh, shares my passion for squirrel hunting. Although deer would be my priority, Mike also put squirrels on the hit list.
            The day after I shot the two does, Ligia and I slept in and relaxed all morning while Mike (a freelance outdoor writer) worked in his home office. After lunch Mike and I drove about 30 miles to meet his friend Basil, who had “the perfect squirrel spot.”
            Basil emerged from his tool shed when he heard us pull into the driveway, and we held a brief meeting to map out our strategy. We’d be hunting about a mile from the house; Mike drove the pickup along a double-rut road and Basil followed us on his four-wheeler. When we stopped, Mike helped me onto the four-wheeler behind Basil and then followed on foot while we motored 200 yards through creekbottom hardwoods.
            We reached a small opening among some oak trees where Basil had set up a corn feeder to attract deer and hogs (baiting is legal in North Carolina). The corn, dosed out by the feeder in timed intervals, also draws other critters such as songbirds, raccoons and squirrels.
            It took my friends several minutes to find a firm place where the legs of the plastic patio chair didn’t sink in the soft ground. I settled into the chair—wiggling around to make sure it wouldn’t shift or sink—while Basil opened my four-legged walker in front of me and draped my camo coat over it. Situated 15 yards from the feeder, this setup doubled as a gun rest and mini-blind. Mike handed me his 20 gauge Remington autoloader and a box of #6 high-brass shells, and wished me luck.
            “We’ll be about 400 yards over this way,” Mike said, pointing to my right. He carried a .410, Basil toted a .22.
Today + These Woods = Not a good time and place to be a squirrel.
            I relaxed, inhaled deeply and relished the earthy, leaf-loam scent of the autumn woods. My heart began beating wildly a half-hour later when I heard the sound of claws on tree bark somewhere behind me. I audibly tracked the squirrel’s progress as it scampered from branch to branch and passed overhead, taking the high road toward the feeder. I finally saw the rodent descending a tree trunk 10 yards in front of me, slightly to the left. It paused 10 feet from the ground and struck a classic squirrel pose: facing downward, body flattened against the tree, head held out.
I mustered enough strength to lift the shotgun from the walker and raise the barrel high enough to draw a bead on the squirrel’s head. The gun wasn’t rock steady, but I punched the trigger and dropped the afternoon’s first bushytail. The earthy, leaf-loam scent of autumn woods smells infinitely better when mixed with the pungent aroma of burnt gunpowder.
By nightfall I had tallied four squirrels. Then I heard a sound that told me I wasn’t the only hunter in the area. A barred owl hooted loudly from a nearby tree, and another owl answered off in the distance. They called back and forth for a few minutes, and their spooky conversation reminded me what day it was.
When Mike and Basil returned, I greeted them with “Happy Halloween!”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SILVER ANNIVERSARY


This week Ligia and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.
Of course I believe she’s the most wonderful woman in the world (sorry, Mom!). I became an outdoor writer because Ligia always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, but maybe that’s because she knows she is my Number One dream. My sunshine daydream.


Here are two stories about our relationship worth publishing in an outdoors blog:



DECIDING MOMENT
            October 1986—we’d been dating for a year, Ligia lived in Philadelphia, I lived in Pittsburgh, we decided to meet for a weekend in Harrisburg (the halfway point). That Saturday was the opener of Pennsylvania’s small game season, and I knew things were getting serious if I was willing to give up a day of hunting to spend time with her.
            On Saturday evening we were on our way out to dinner when a rabbit bounced across the hotel driveway. I stopped the car so we could watch the bunny, which had paused on the lawn.
            “What a cute rabbit,” Ligia said in her charming Brazilian accent. “I bet it would taste good!”
            I knew right then she was the girl for me.

COVER GIRL
            August 1995—we took a trip to the Florida Keys so I could work on several assignments for Brazilian fishing magazines.
            Ligia and I spent an afternoon dodging rain squalls and chasing bonefish near Islamorada with Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud ’N Mary’s Marina. Of course the little lady outfished me; I was thrilled, however, because the fish she caught provided fantastic photo ops.
            As the sun sank into Florida Bay and we stowed the rods, Richard said, “I’ve only known you two for a few hours, but I noticed something. You’re more than husband and wife. You’re best friends.”
            That trip made Ligia a cover girl, posing with Richard and an Islamorada bonefish she caught. And we stayed in touch with Richard, who became a true friend over the years.

            Ligia certainly honors the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows we took 25 years ago. She encourages me to go hunting as much as possible.
Enjoy the slide show.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

“KINDNESS OF STRANGERS” TOUR (Part 1 of 6)



In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of my deer hunt near Wilmington, NC:

Sunday, July 22, 2012


EVOLUTION OF MY SHOOTING SETUP
(PART 4 of 4)
SHOOTING OFF AT THE MOUTH 
            Dealing with ALS has taught me the true meaning of “adaptive shooting gear” because I’ve had to keep adapting my strategies and equipment to stay in the hunt as the disease progressively eroded my strength and mobility.

Here’s how (and why) I began using a sip-activated trigger control:
           

Friday, July 13, 2012


SURPRISES
DOUBLING UP ON SC DEER
            As explained in the post “Evolution of My Shooting Setup (Part 2),” in 2008 I bought an LM100 gun rest and BT-100 trigger control from BE Adaptive (www.be-adaptive.com), along with a Trophy Shot scopecam. My buddy Ron Wagner offered to assist me on a deer hunt that fall at our favorite lodge—Bang’s Paradise Valley Hunting Club (www.paradisevalleyhuntingclub.com) in Ehrhardt, South Carolina.


            Here’s the story of our first hunt as a team:
           

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


EVOLUTION OF MY SHOOTING SETUP
(PART 3 of 4)
BACK TO STICKS
            Dealing with ALS has taught me the true meaning of “adaptive shooting gear” because I’ve had to keep adapting my strategies and equipment to stay in the hunt as the disease progressively eroded my strength and mobility.
Here’s how (and why) Ron and I made my setup more agile:
      

Sunday, June 24, 2012


GATOR HUNT

            My job at Sport Fishing magazine required several trips each year to our headquarters in Orlando, FL, and I wanted to squeeze in some hunting after one such trip in January 2007. Shooting oversized mice at nearby theme parks was a tempting but illegal idea, so I decided to go for an alligator.

Friday, June 8, 2012


EVOLUTION OF MY SHOOTING SETUP
(PART 2 of 4)
WHEELCHAIR GUN SUPPORT

            Dealing with ALS has taught me the true meaning of “adaptive shooting gear” because I’ve had to keep adapting my strategies and equipment to stay in the hunt as the disease progressively eroded my strength and mobility.
            Here’s how I turned my battlewagon into a gunship:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


A BEAR NAMED DESTINY
This week marks the sixth anniversary of my Vancouver Island black bear hunt, and I have every reason to celebrate.

I embarked on the adventure in early June 2006, shortly after learning I had ALS. Statistics show that most ALS patients die within five years of diagnosis. Not only am I still alive, I’m still hunting!
My neurologist had advised against going on such trips because “it might be too strenuous.” My wife and I agreed that the psychological benefits of pursuing my passions would justify all efforts involved. It would be far worse for my health to simply give up and stay home.
This was my first experience as a disabled hunter, and it gave me the confidence to plan and enjoy many more adventures.
Here’s the story:

Monday, May 28, 2012


WYOMING BEAR HUNT SUCCESS!
I just received great news in an email from my friend Cliff in Nebraska.
I met Cliff Harris and his friend Herb Swan at an Idaho hunting lodge in June 2010. Cliff’s vision is so poor that he’s legally blind, but he was able to hunt with a good riflescope and help from Herb. Ron and I showed them my adaptive shooting gear, and I commented that Cliff might benefit from a scopecam because it would help a companion coach him while aiming.
We stayed in touch, sharing news of our hunts. Then Herb emailed me in February: He and Cliff were looking for a scopecam to use on a spring bear hunt, but the Trophy Shot website was no longer available. Where could they find one?
A few years ago I had acquired a spare scopecam to keep as a backup; I offered to send it to Cliff. His positive attitude and sense of humor shine through in his description of the hunt, so here it is in Cliff’s own words.

Herb and I went on our spring bear hunt in Wyoming. The first day to hunt was Mother's Day. Herb had his bear in about three hours. He bagged a real nice black boar that measured  about six feet.
Since there was only one guide, whoever wasn't hunting had to wait back at camp. The next day was my turn. Jim, the guide, was hesitant to let me up in a tree stand. It was only 12-15 feet high. I kept telling him that I've fallen farther than that before. But the first night he took me to a ground blind. We didn't see a thing.
The second day he reported the baits had been hit at both the ground blind and the same stand that Herb shot his bear, and then he gave in and let me hunt from the tree stand. We didn't see anything but it gave me a chance to get comfortable with the scope cam.
On the third night we were back in the same tree stand. We were settled in the stand by 5 p.m. and Jim was snoring by about 5:15. I was using my binoculars trying to see something. This stand had two baits. One was straight out at about 70 yards. I could see it fine. But the other was about 150 degrees to the left at 100 yards. I had a tough time seeing that one.
At 7 Jim wakes up and almost screams “There's a bear coming!”
I get the muzzle on the bait in front of us. Jim said the bear was looking right at us. It then took off into the trees to our left. Jim told me to get on the bait to our left. It took a good 5 minutes for the bear to show itself. When it did, Jim helped me get the crosshairs on it and I squeezed the trigger. It ran back into some very thick cover. Jim went after it and after 15 minutes he spooked it out. It ran across a creek. It didn't go very far. It let out its death moans and the hunt was over.
My bear is a good looking 5-foot sow. It’s a reddish cinnamon color with dark ears, paws and tail. The biologist who checked it in figured it to be about 8 or 9 years old. For the area we were hunting he said it was an old bear. Now it’s a dead bear.
Herb and I took our bears to a taxidermist in Rawlins WY to have rugs made. I'm not sure how my guide dog will like that, but we'll find out in about nine months or so.
I do thank you for the scope cam. I think it will allow me to hunt for many more years. As of now, Herb and I don't have anything planned. I'm sure that will change in the near future. I'll let you know what's next.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012


EVOLUTION OF MY SHOOTING SETUP
(PART 1 of 4)
FRONT-END SUPPORT

            Dealing with ALS has taught me the true meaning of “adaptive shooting gear” because I’ve had to keep adapting my strategies and equipment to stay in the hunt as the disease progressively eroded my strength and mobility.
            Here’s how I compensated for my weak arms at the onset of ALS: