The hum of tires on pavement lulled me to sleep as my friend, Ron Wagner, drove our rental van out of the Denver airport and north on I-25. I had been snoozing for a while when I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. “Andy, look.” Ron said. “Antelope!” Seeing my first antelope brought me out of a slumber to begin living the dream of a Western adventure. We saw more than 100 pronghorns on the two-hour drive to Cheyenne, where we stopped for dinner and a good night’s rest in a hotel. When my head hit the pillow, I couldn’t believe I was finally in Wyoming.
As a disabled hunter with ALS, you might think I’d never make it on a real hunt out in the Western wild. But you’d be wrong. With the right gear and a little help from my friends, I not only had the hunt of my life, but I bagged a big mule deer. Here’s the story of how I did it.
In 2006 I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), an incurable malady that progressively paralyzes the body by destroying the nerve cells responsible for voluntary muscle movement. Within two years I needed a wheelchair, and my arms had become too weak to hold a rifle. That’s when Ron, my lifelong friend and hunting buddy, vowed to “do whatever it takes” to help get me back in the woods.
Knowing Ron would keep his promise inspired me to research equipment for disabled shooters that would meet my specific needs. For getting around in the wild, I found a light, folding wheelchair lacks batteries required to power motor-assisted equipment. And for shooting, BE-Adaptive had what I needed: the Scope Camera System mounts on nearly any optic and displays the scope’s-eye view, crosshairs and all, on a 2.5-inch color monitor. The screen allows both of us to view the sight picture as Ron handles and aims the rifle for me. When the crosshairs look right, I squeeze the trigger with a cable release that I hold in my hands.
Ron and I grew up in Pennsylvania and had always dreamed of a hunt out West. Encouraged by our success in hunting whitetails as a team, I told him I was ready to try for mule deer and antelope. “Just say when and where,” he replied. “I’ll be there for you.”
After reviewing license costs and hunter success rates for several states, I decided on Wyoming as our best bet. Hours of research on the Internet and about a dozen email inquiries led me to an outfitter who eagerly accepted the challenge when I explained my disability and the way Ron handles the rifle for me. I booked a deer/antelope combo hunt for October 5 to 9, 2009, and applied for our tags according to the outfitter’s instructions.