I’m proud to say the May 2013 issue of Outdoor Life magazine includes a short piece about me in the “My Outdoor Life” section. The editor, Andrew McKean, “interviewed” me by emailing a list of questions, which I answered in writing. We covered much more than Andrew was able to publish in the half-page article, so I’ll put up my lengthy answers here in three posts. Here’s the second part.
Deer hunting with Andrew McKean in
Q: There's a lot about you that impresses me, but one of the most remarkable details is that your passion for hunting hasn't dimmed. Post-ALS, where have you hunted? Any remarkable or memorable hunts in the mix?
A: I refuse to let a minor setback like an incurable, fatal illness diminish my passion for hunting or my zest for life.
I’ve done more hunting in the six years since my diagnosis than in the 16 years prior! As explained earlier, I went through a long stretch when opportunities to hunt were scarce and I had other demands on my time. Shortly after my diagnosis I jettisoned from my vocabulary phrases like “some day” and “maybe next year,” and started taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Since 2006 I’ve hunted in British Columbia (black bear on Vancouver Island); North Carolina (whitetail, squirrel); Georgia (whitetail, turkey), South Carolina (whitetail, turkey, wild hog, squirrel); Florida (alligator, hog); Alabama (whitetail); Texas (fallow deer, axis deer, hog); Wyoming (pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dog); Idaho (black bear); Montana (whitetail, mule deer); Argentina (red stag, European boar); Uruguay (feral hog).
As I answer this question I look around my living room and see antlers, skulls, hides and dozens of photos on display to remind me of wonderful days afield. Three hunts stand out for three different reasons.
I had booked this hunt with Vancouver Island Guide Outfitters a year in advance, when my symptoms were just beginning to show. My doctor issued the diagnosis of ALS just one month before I was to embark on the adventure, so I asked his opinion. “Bear hunting? Don’t go. It could be too strenuous.”
Ligia and I agreed that the rewards of taking the trip would justify all efforts involved. It would be far worse for my health to simply give up and stay home. The only ones who regret our decision to go on that hunt are the doctor—we found a new one—and the original owner of the 7-foot black bear skin that now adorns our wall. I had a fantastic time, saw some gorgeous country and realized that even a guy with ALS can, and should, get out to try new experiences. This trip’s success encouraged me to plan more hunts.
During Christmas week at Bang’s Paradise Valley Hunting Club in
, my good friend
Ron Wagner and I took a break from deer hunting to shoot some squirrels. We
invited nine-year-old Klay Elixson, who was in camp with his grandfather, to
join us. Ehrhardt,
We had a hoot that morning as the three of us took turns using my adaptive shooting gear to pick off bushytails. More importantly, that outing led to a lasting friendship. Since then, Klay always comes to see me when I’m back at
so we can spend quality time in the blind hunting deer, turkeys, hogs, and
especially squirrels. Paradise Valley
pronghorn and mule deer
When I told my friend Ron Wagner that I’d like to try hunting out West, he immediately replied, “Just say when and where. I’ll be there for you.”
Research on the Internet led me to an outfitter in
who accepted the challenge of guiding a disabled hunter. Ron and I, along with
our wives, had a fun, action-packed trip. We marveled at the landscapes and saw
plenty of game every day—new, exciting game for us Eastern boys.
We shot pronghorns and prairie dogs early in the week, and on the fourth morning of our hunt, Ron helped me take a mule deer. Another dream came came true when I gripped that muley’s antler and inhaled the invigorating, snowy air.
That adventure taught me that, yes, dreams come true, but nobody delivers fulfilled dreams to your doorstep. I was inspired to keep planning new adventures and put forth the effort to make my dreams become reality.
Q: And why do you continue to hunt even though it takes such a physical toll on your body?
A: Although he encouraged me to pursue my interests, my dad was no outdoorsman, so hunting never came easily for me. If I wanted to go, I was on my own, or I had to find neighbors or cousins willing to take me.
I never took hunting for granted, and I learned to cherish my time in the woods. Now, when I see a sunrise, hear a red stag roar, breathe in the scents of the woods, feel the adrenaline rush that only hunters know, I forget any discomfort I may have endured to get out there.
During a bear hunt in the Idaho Rockies, as the guide was driving Ron and me in his Mitsubishi 4x4 over a terribly bumpy logging road, he noticed that my head was getting jolted around quite a bit. “Do all these bumps bother your neck?” he asked. I laughed and asked, “If I say yes, what can you do about it?”
My philosophy is, “If you wanna play, you gotta pay.”
But I do need to pace myself on a trip, typically hunting only mornings or afternoons.
Researching and planning the next hunt keeps my mind engaged in positive activity—a crucial factor for anyone with a physically debilitating illness. Cancer patients receive chemotherapy, so I decided to treat my ALS with camotherapy.
Besides, what else is there to do? I never learned needlepoint and I’m lousy at checkers.
Idaho Rockies, June 2010