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,, 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


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:
            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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.