Monday, May 28, 2012

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

(PART 1 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 compensated for my weak arms at the onset of ALS:

Monday, May 14, 2012

My 2010 Red Stag Hunt

Here's the story:

Monday, May 7, 2012

            For several reasons (high cost, difficult portability, lack of a power source on my wheelchair), I don’t use a motorized bracket that would allow me to aim a rifle by myself. I rely on assistance from a “point man” to aim while we both view the sight picture in my scopecam monitor, and I decide when to squeeze the trigger with my cable release.
            Ron Wagner—my lifelong friend, hunting buddy and most trusted point man—defines The Point Man Rule. “When we take a deer, Andy gets all the credit,” he says. “If we miss, it’s all my fault.”
            Last year I went on a hog hunt in Uruguay without my scopecam because the batteries quit holding a charge (I’ve since found replacements.) I asked my guide, Laurindo, to shoulder the .243 and aim normally, and then tell me when to squeeze.
            We had a target-rich environment because feral hogs of all sizes swarmed the bait sites. We killed four hogs in three days, but this video (filmed by my aide Alex) shows the ones that got away. First we—that is, I—score a perfect head shot on a 100-pound boar. Then we—I mean, Laurindo—buries a bullet in the dirt and scatters a bunch of 60-pounders like so many bowling pins. He provokes a stampede with the next shot, then splits the difference between two boars, and, for the grand finale, overshoots a fat sow to kick up a geyser in the pond.
            In Laurindo’s defense, the scope had somehow gotten knocked out of alignment; after a few minutes at the bench he was back on target.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

            Every good rifleman finds a way to support his habit, and disabled hunters should be no different. I’m talking about using a sturdy rest for your firearm.
            Many permanent ground blinds –ready made or custom built—feature shooting rails or window frames that can steady a rifle. Hunting in the open or from pop-up blinds poses a greater challenge when it’s time to aim. Before needing a wheelchair, I used a four-legged walker to reach the blind. Once settled in a folding stool, I’d position the walker in front of me to serve as a gun rest. Here’s a pic of me using the setup on a deer hunt in Georgia:
             As my condition worsened, I depended on a wheelchair, and my arms became too weak to hold a rifle. I bought a model LM100 wheelchair-mounted bracket from BE-Adaptive ( that supports the rifle’s weight yet allows full range of movement for aiming. BE-Adaptive also makes a motorized gun bracket for quadriplegics. Controlled via joystick or chin movement, it draws power from a 12-volt battery. This photo shows the results of a South Carolina squirrel safari with a Ruger semi-auto .22 on the LM100:
        Collapsible shooting sticks rate as the best option for disabled hunters who have use of their arms. The sticks adjust to hold a rifle steady whether you’re standing, sitting or kneeling, and they offer maneuverability when you need to change shooting angles quickly. Keith Jordan, of Alabama, demonstrates how he uses shooting sticks:

Each shooter must find what works best for him, and then spend time practicing at the rifle range. How do you hold your crosshairs steady in hunting situations?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused. —Ernest Hemingway
            Although I never viewed the hard-drinking, obsessively macho Papa as a role model for my personal life, the man had a way with words. As an outdoor writer, I always agreed with this quote; I came to appreciate it even more after ALS entered my life.
            Nowadays when I go where I have to go and do what I have to do, it’s in a wheelchair. I use a lightweight, foldable, Brazilian-made chair that easily stows in a car or plane for travel. You won’t see me use the phrase “confined to a wheelchair” because it expresses the exact opposite of what I feel. My chair—my battlewagon—gives me the freedom to get out in the woods.
If my wheelchair could talk, it would entertain you with tales of slogging through the mud in South Carolina’s Low Country, bouncing around in the bed of a pickup while we looked for pronghorns and mule deer in eastern Wyoming, carefully negotiating a rough trail to our ground blind on a bear hunt in the Rockies of Idaho, shivering during a wintry stakeout for whitetails on Montana’s prairie, and enduring flat tires in Argentina’s La Pampa province—while pointing to scars that back up the stories.
            I always feel uneasy about leaving my chair in the hands of airline baggage handlers. It often comes back with the brakes knocked out of alignment. On the return flight from a hog hunt in Uruguay last year, my chair emerged with a broken foot support. The reps for Pluna airlines were very helpful, however, and I received a reimbursement just four days after replacing the part.
            The rigors of hunting and travel have definitely detracted from my chariot’s cosmetics, but I like it that way. I wouldn’t be nearly as proud of a shiny, unblemished wheelchair that had never left the safety of my home.