This story has several selfless people who took part in this adventure and worked behind the scenes to make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happen – first and foremost, my wife, my hunting buddies, organizations like Utah Chairbound Hunters, Utah Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit Association, Utah Division of Wildlife, and the landowners and operators of the ranch. I’m sure there were more who sacrificed and served to make this happen who would rather not take credit. To everyone, I say thank you as I am grateful and feel somewhat unworthy of the kindness and opportunity. Telling this story isn’t to boast, but rather to show some small measure of gratitude to the friends and organizations that made this hunt happen.
This story began 10 years ago. You see, 10 years ago, I started a new life. Not a divorce or sober living and I didn’t move to a foreign place or change my religion. I had a construction accident and became “chairbound” and paralyzed from the chest down. Since the accident, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot in my new life, things like skiing, wheelchair rugby, and being blessed with twin boys. Hunting is another one of those challenges I’ve taken on in this new life of mine. I didn’t hunt growing up or before the accident. Since then, I’ve been able to hunt deer, elk, pigs, pheasants, and turkeys all with great friends and my wife’s support.
This last October, I was given the opportunity at a once-in-alifetime Utah moose hunt. I know what you’re thinking, these are huge animals that can be aggressive, so how is a guy in a wheelchair with no muscles that work in his hands going to harvest a 1,400 pound moose? Just the chance at seeing one would be a treat as I’d only seen five in my life before the hunt. The idea of a moose hunt also left doubt in my mind. The thought of wounding an animal and not being able to follow it worried me from an ethical standpoint. Having a wounded animal go down a deep canyon for friends to track and haul out also weighed on my mind. These doubts left me wondering whether or not to accept the tag and even if I was worthy of such a tag, but with encouragement from others, I accepted the challenge.
With that being said, I’m reminded of a turkey hunt with two friends, Clint and Nyk (both of whom were on the moose hunt). We were calling a tom that was far enough away to measure in miles, coming in hot to a trail we were on. If he came, I would have one shot, or so I thought. This tom climbed all the way out of the canyon, gobbling his head off. He popped out from behind the oak 20 yards away, firing off gobble after gobble. When I pulled the trigger, all I heard was the click of a misfire. By now, most turkeys would have been long gone. Clint, who was crouched behind my wheelchair and helped me with the gun when needed, ejected the shell and threw in shell #2. I pulled the trigger again and hit the only oak branch in front of the tom. He ran off the ridge and back down to safety. Then, tom #2 magically stepped out from behind the same oak patch. I pulled the trigger, and the gun jammed. Luckily, Clint reached over me, ejected shell #3, caught it, and threw it back in the chamber all in one motion. Bang! The big tom was down.
Why did I feel the need to tell two hunting stories in one? Because we learned something that day. We were blessed for our effort. I sacrifice and work extremely hard when hunting as I’m paralyzed and in a wheelchair, not to mention the effort it takes anyone who is hunting with me. Things just aren’t as easy or simple for me or for my hunting buddies with me. I, along with every chairbound or disabled individual, have to accept and trust that the good Lord will meet me halfway. It’s something I have learned from experience, just like the turkey hunt described above. When I’m putting forth real effort, things just seem to work out, like someone else is making up the other half of that effort. Religious or not, it’s hard to explain. Things just go our way more than they should.
On October 13th, five of my close friends and I got to experience the hunt-of-a-lifetime. Paul and his family run the ranch and treated us like kings. From lodging to feeding us to hunting with us, we made new friends with the Anderson family. The first morning, we were up and at it before dawn on a newly frosted landscape. We hunted the ridgetops, stopping and glassing at every vantage point we had, hoping to see that distinctive black spot on a hillside. The day was cold and windy, so most of the moose we were seeing were deep in the canyons and in aspen patches where I couldn’t get to.
However, we were seeing some moose, including one bull that was a potential shooter if he’d work his way out of the canyon bottom later that day. At lunch, we stopped in a sunny spot low and out of the wind and ate lunch on the tailgates. We continued to move, glass, move, glass, move, and glass. With not too much excitement and windy conditions, we pushed on until the sun was about to set.
Paul stopped the UTV and said, “We can turn around and hunt our way back down to the lodge or we can press on and drive back in the dark.”
I spoke up and said, “Let’s keep going. I have a good feeling we are going to see a monster bull on the next ridge.”
There was one last ridge to check and then we would be out of shooting light. We drove out to the knob, and like a perfectly played game plan, we had a big Shiras bull at about 150 yards. Paul saw him first and told me to get my gun out as he might be a shooter. The bull didn’t know we were there and was feeding away and to our right. Paul turned the UTV perfectly into position as Clint pulled the .338 Federal out of the gun rack and put it in my arms. Once I had the bull in my sights, I was itching to pull the trigger as I saw that wide rack glowing in the setting sun. Paul could see he had double fronts on the right side but couldn’t see his left said.
I said, “He’s good enough for me, guys. I’m pulling the trigger!”
Paul agreed. I checked the safety and found him in the crosshairs. I instantly thought back to a graphic showing a moose’s vitals that I had studied before the hunt and put the crosshairs in his armpit. Bang! The next thing I heard were the words every hunter wants to hear after the shot, “You got him!” He immediately went down. The bull staggered to get back up on his front legs. Paul said to shoot him one more time between the shoulders. I found him in my crosshairs and finished him with a final shot. As we got over to him, we realized he wasn’t just big enough for me, he was big enough for anybody! A 50" Shiras moose is hard to come by. Like so many times before, things just worked out inexplicably, like someone had met me halfway.