The onset of a physical disability, even if it is permanent, may not mean the end of the pleasures of fishing and hunting. Twenty-four years ago doctors told me I had chronic, progressive multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system. I have had to make adjustments over the years, but I am still enjoying the outdoors.
I am first and foremost a bow hunter. Disabled hunters may use a cross-bow, but for now I am still using a compound bow. For those of us with disabilities, bow hunting carries with it problems not faced when hunting with a firearm. Most successful archers hunt from a tree stand, but climbing a tree is especially challenging for a hunter with disabilities.
Friends built me a 4-foot-by-4-foot platform using three oak trees we found conveniently grouped together. I use an inclined stairway to reach the platform, slowly ascending on all fours. Safety is of paramount importance in all types of elevated stand hunting. A safety belt is needed to belt yourself in, even if you are sitting down.
I am unable to stand for long periods and require a good seat on my hunting platform. A seat from a boat works well. I have placed a nail through the seat so that it does not rotate until I am seated and withdraw the nail. This arrangement won't win any engineering awards, but it works.
Commercial ladder stands are available with rotating seats. Their advantage over a fixed stand would be that they can be moved to a different hunting site on short notice. Disabled bow hunters who cannot climb at all will want to build a blind on the ground.
If I don't have someone to take me into the woods in the morning, I get to my stand in the predawn darkness in an old four-wheel drive truck. I leave my bow tied to a string for hoisting into my stand, then drive the truck a hundred yards away and hide it in a clump of cedars. Deer don't seem to be too greatly spooked by a truck parked in the woods. My old truck, which I have crudely camouflaged, is 20 years old and I don't take it in polite society anymore.
You can still hunt even if you require a walker, arm crutches, shoulder crutches or even a wheel chair. One acquaintance hunts from an all-terrain vehicle. Friends have to help him onto it at the beginning of the day and back off of it again when his hunt is over, but it works well for him.
I use a walker in my everyday activities, but while a four- footed walker is fine on floors or other level surfaces, it does not work well in the woods. Arm crutches work fine for me on uneven surfaces, better than shoulder crutches. My trail through the woods with these looks like that of a confused alligator, but they get me into the outdoors. If disabled hunters realize they can't go as far, or as fast and certainly not as quietly as was once the case, they can still position themselves for some quality hunting.
Dis abled hunters may need more shooting practice than others. Although my arms are still strong enough to handle a 50- pound compound bow, I need constant work to maintain that strength and constant shooting practice to keep my skills up. My exercise equipment is as simple as a plastic jug of anti- freeze.
By gripping the handle, I can swing the weight vigorously, both laterally and vertically. This seems to add badly needed strength and control to my bow anchor arm. And while practicing shooting, retrieving the arrows after each shooting round can be demanding, but I take my time and sometimes use my truck to transport me to and from the target.
I also hunt with a gun. A disabled person hunting from the ground needs the cover of a good blind to hide the extra movements required to get into position for a shot. My blind has a slit all the way around it for shooting, and I use the same type of rotating seat I have in my tree stand. Even a wheelchair-bound hunter could hunt comfortably and safely from my blind.
I am always concerned about the amount of noise I make getting into my blind in the morning, especially when turkey hunting in the spring. First there is the noise of my truck, and then I must use a light to walk into my blind because my balance is almost entirely visual. Even at that, this spring a gobbler sounded off no more than a couple of hundred yards from my blind, and I was able to call him into shooting range.
Disabled duck and goose hunters should be able to hunt from a fixed blind without too many problems. Hunting upland birds, where hunters normally walk miles in a day, could be trying. A four-wheel all terrain vehicle might make it possible. Modification of the truck controls, allowing them to be worked by knee pressure or by foot, might be needed.
If you hunt with dogs, they might have to learn to tolerate the engine noise creeping up from behind while they are on point. I'll bet a dedicated wing shooter, though disabled, can find a way to pursue his sport.
Fishing is another outdoor sport that is well within the capability of the disabled. And while wade fishing, at one time my favorite, is beyond many of the disabled, lake fishing lends itself to our problem. Even for those confined to a wheelchair, lake fishing from a pontoon boat should be easy and fun.
And of course there are many places where bank fishing facilities are provided for the disabled. The Conservation Department provides access and facilities, including floating docks and jetties at a number of lakes for disabled fishermen. A life jacket that can be securely attached to the angler is important.
The disabled person is likely to be more active and accepted today, and the enjoyment of outdoor activities is one of the greatest blessings left to us. And just being outdoors - not necessarily filling a stringer or game bag - is the greatest success and accomplishment of any hunting or fishing trip.
We can still enjoy the sight of early morning mist rising from some hidden hollow, sunrise over some placid lake shoreline or the flip-flop fly down sound of turkeys leaving the roost at dawn. These are God's richest blessing to the lover of the great outdoors; a successful hunting or fishing trip is just a bonus.
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