As the leaves fall and hunting seasons begin, many people head out to fields, woods and lakes in search of prize game. That includes veterans, for whom there often seems to be a natural connection to the outdoors and hunting. And for veterans who have sustained a spinal cord injury, use of a wheelchair does not limit their participation.
Paralyzed Veteran John Bennett with his Paralyzed Veterans' NSO
Paralyzed Veterans of America member John Bennett enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1991 at the age of 20. He served until 2005. But during his second month of duty in Iraq, he was shot in the back by a sniper, shattering two vertebrae and severely damaging or destroying several internal organs. John was flown to Germany after seven days of stabilizing for more specialized surgeries.
Two weeks later, he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to begin recovery while awaiting his medical discharge. After 14 years of service to his country, he could no longer walk.
But this avid outdoorsman from Montana soon found he could still enjoy hunting. Only three months after being discharged from the hospital, he participated in his first wheelchair hunt in Wisconsin. The next month, he took his two oldest daughters on their first hunt. John had found hunting to be an activity where he could leave his disability behind and experience more freedom.
John believes hunting is a great way to be active and participate in a sport that he finds both relaxing and thrilling. He started bow hunting in 2007 and now has hopes of becoming a member of the US Paralympics team, competing in archery.
Other Paralyzed Veterans’ members also say hunting and shooting sports have helped with their goal of being active and appreciate the events sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans.
Originally from Brenton, WA, Ernie Butler served in the U.S. Air Force 1970 - 1976 as a para-rescueman also known as a “PJ”. In 1995, while at the world skydiving championships, he sustained a spinal cord injury in a fall. He was hospitalized for many months, and recovery was long.
As executive director for the Northwest Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans, Ernie has had many interesting hunting experiences. During an Alaskan Brown Bear hunt in 2008 he used a hydraulic lift to hunt for bears in Alaska. The lift is basically a mobile hunting stand/blind that can be raised for position.
Ernie says he has always found his wheelchair to be a unique hunting experience that still provides for much enjoyment and a great time with friends.
Bill Kokendoffer from the Mid-America chapter suffered a spinal cord injury 37 years ago—only 9 months after leaving the service. Since then he has been thoroughly engaged in hunting and shooting activities, including dove, deer, and “wing” hunting, which includes ducks and pheasants. He also participates in the Paralyzed Veterans Trap Circuit.
In 2001, Glen Bentley was named advocacy director for the Lone Star chapter and then government relations director before becoming the chapter's current executive director. He has mostly participated in the trapshooting circuit with Paralyzed Veterans, but as part of the Lone Star Chapter he has been involved in providing hunting events for Paralyzed Veterans’ members. Glen served in the US Army in the Cavalry.
Like other wheelchair sports, hunting provides the opportunity to engage in an event an individual enjoyed before injury, to stay active and enjoy the camaraderie of others who enjoy the sport. A wheelchair doesn’t have to stop you.
For more information about shooting sports or hunting activities, please contact Andy MacDonald, email@example.com.
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Sean Kumnick is majoring in political science and economics at The George Washington University.