Friday, June 8, 2012

(PART 2 of 4)

            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:
January 2, 2008 was the worst day of my life. As I sat alone in a ground blind near Baxley, Georgia, I realized my arms had finally become too weak to raise the rifle to my shoulder, even with a tripod supporting the forestock. Although I saw several turkeys and chuckled at the antics of songbirds flitting about the corn stubble, a nagging thought kept me from fully enjoying that calm, cold afternoon on the deer stand: I can’t safely handle a gun any more. This is my last hunt.
            Despite receiving a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2006 and experiencing the progressive loss of voluntary muscle function in the ensuing years, I had maintained an active, positive outlook thanks to unwavering support from my wife Ligia. Believing that I really had spent my last day afield, however, put me in a gloomy mood. My outlook changed dramatically in May 2008, when I became the victim of a benevolent conspiracy.
Ligia and my good friend Ron Wagner informed me that they were planning another deer hunt, and that they would “force” me to join them. Actually, they planned two hunts. “I can take a week of vacation in October and another in December,” Ligia said.
            “And I’ll take time off from my business to be there for you,” Ron added.
            Ron knew what he was getting into. Friends since childhood, we grew up hunting together in Pennsylvania. We stayed in touch after I moved to Brazil in 1990 and Ron was aware of my health problems. When I decided to go deer hunting in 2007, I chose Bang’s Paradise Valley Hunting Club in Ehrhardt, South Carolina, because Ligia and I were so favorably impressed by the place and people during a turkey hunt there. (Check ’em out at www.paradisevalleyhuntingclub,com/bangspvhc/)
            In 2007 I used a walker but needed assistance rising from bed and getting in/out of vehicles, and Ligia couldn’t do all the lifting. I had home health aides in Brazil, but who could help us in the States? Only one name came to mind; Ron immediately agreed when I explained my needs and asked him to join us. Our October 2007 trip went smoothly (except I missed a big buck!). Ron and one of Bang’s guides would help me into a ground blind and then leave me to hunt solo for several hours. Just 12 months later I would need another person in the blind to help me.
            As ALS continued to weaken my body, our bond of friendship grew even stronger. Unlike some of my other friends, Ron never said he felt sorry about my condition or that he was praying for me. Instead, he vowed to “do whatever it takes” to help me keep hunting, and he backed up his words with action. That’s when he and Ligia made plans for us to return to Paradise Valley Hunting Club to hunt deer in October 2008.
            This news washed away my gloom and helped me see a bright future because I had something to look forward to and prepare for. I spent the next few months researching gun supports for disabled shooters and looking on the Internet for devices that would meet my specific needs (my light, folding wheelchair lacks batteries required to power motor-assisted equipment). I decided on an LM100 gun rest from BE Adaptive ( because it supports the rifle’s entire weight while allowing full range of movement for aiming. I also bought a BT-100 trigger control, which is designed to activate the trigger via cable when the shooter bites down on it. Since I had use of my hands, I found it more comfortable to hold the control in my lap and squeeze it with my fingers.
            To complete the setup I purchased a Trophy Shot scopecam, which mounts on nearly any scope and displays the scope’s-eye view, crosshairs and all, on a 2.5-inch color monitor. The screen allowed both of us to view the sight picture as Ron aimed the rifle; I could then decide when to squeeze the trigger.
            The LM100 suits nearly any wheelchair because it uses a baseplate that simply slides under the seat, so the hunter himself serves as a counterweight to hold everything steady. A swiveling arm fits into the baseplate, and the gun cradle rides on this arm. Velcro straps secure the gun to the cradle, which features adjustable posts to hold any size rifle. Lever and break-open guns (like an over/under) won’t work with this equipment; I hunted with bolt actions and semi-autos.
            Although the LM100 supports a gun’s full weight, it’s designed for paraplegics who have enough arm strength to at least maneuver the gun for aiming—which wasn’t my case. Ron would either sit to one side and slightly in front of me or stand behind me, with the LM100 swiveled to hold the gun between us, allowing both of us a good view of the scopecam monitor while he aimed.
Upon reaching a hunting spot, Ron would transfer me from vehicle to wheelchair, position and level my wheelchair at the stand site, assemble the gun support, open the pop-up blind and place it over us. After some practice it took only 10 minutes to get all set up.
My chair had to sit level to prevent the swiveling arm from drifting toward the downhill side. To center the bubble, Ron would lower one wheel by digging a tiny trench, or raise one side by propping something under a wheel.
Ron found it convenient to adjust the LM100’s pneumatic piston to hold the rifle tilted slightly higher than our predicted shooting angle. Then, when aiming, he exerted downward pressure on the gun cradle—which was a heck of a lot easier than exerting upward pressure while trying to remain steady.
Aided by this setup on our hunts in 2008, we took four whitetails, two hogs and a pile of squirrels.
This photo shows a Ruger 10/22 mounted on the LM100.

The Trophy Shot provides a scope’s-eye view, crosshairs and all.

Ron aims while we both accompany the sight picture. I’m holding the trigger control in my lap.

The last thing that deer ever saw!


  1. Andy,

    can you please share with me where you purchased your Trophy Shot Sport Camera, we have some young hunters who we would like to outfit their guns with this for safety, thank you, Bruce at

  2. Bruce,
    I bought my Trophy Shot in 2009, direct from Matco, which apparently manufactured the units for Wildlife Optics. Last year Matco quit offering the product, and the Wildlife Optics website went off the air about six months ago. It’s a shame that such a great device seems to have disappeared from the market.
    The most recent phone # I have for Wildlife Optics is 866-664-4028.