Dwayne is a superstar. He plays ice hockey for his high school. He is a sponsored snow boarder. He gets good grades and has a cute girlfriend. But Dwayne is deaf. He has not let this drag him down however. On the contrary, he has used his disability as fuel that he uses to excel at everything that he sets his mind to. And so when he let his dad know that he wanted to give big game hunting a try, everyone knew that it wouldn't be long before he was putting meat on the table.
To hunt with Dwayne is a treat, and a lesson in paying attention to your surroundings; visually. Because he cannot hear, he relies on his other senses heavily. We take the sense of sound for granted while hunting. I think many of us would say that sight is our primary sense used while hunting but if you pay attention to it, hearing is relied heavily upon as well. So hiking through the woods with Dwayne is enough to make you paranoid. There is no looking at the trail; he is constantly scanning the trees 360 degrees around him. I don't think it would be that much of a stretch to liken him to a fresh soldier dumped into the Vietnamese jungle before encountering Charlie for the first time. The intensity in which he scans is scary, but it is infectious. You soon find yourself picking every twig and branch apart as well. His sense of smell is heightened too. Many a time he has tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to his nose and indeed, there was the smell of wapiti in the air that I had overlooked (or oversmelled?). We haven't been able to get Dwayne an elk yet, but this year he did put his first big game animal on the ground; a nice mature doe pronghorn.
The prairie that the pronghorn inhabits poses less of a challenge for spotting animals hidden in vegetation but it is amazing how these fleet footed members of the unique family Antilocapradae can blend into the gentle folds of the land. It is equally impressive the distance in which Dwayne can spot these animals without the aid of optics. I have heard the eyesight of pronghorns compared to that of 8 power binoculars. If this is so, I would rate Dwayne's eyesight to at least 4 power. Well maybe not but it is still amazing.
I was the first one to make it to camp this year and I ended up getting my doe only an hour after arriving in our hunting area. As soon as Dwayne showed up, my efforts switched to getting him on one and I knew where a group of 6 does and 5 fawns was hanging out not far from camp. We loaded up and headed out. Dwayne was ridiculously excited after seeing my antelope and was rearing to get a crack at one. I parked the truck and we set out for the big bowl where I had seen them earlier. As we crested the ridge and peered into the bowl, we were granted with the sight that we were hoping for. The group had not moved 50 yards from where they had been feeding earlier. I rangefindered the group at just over 300 yards away and Dwayne got set up with his rifle's forearm resting on his shooting sticks and his butt stock resting between the stays of his backpack. I held up three fingers and then two 0's and he knew that the goats were within his comfort zone and gave me the thumbs up. He settled into his rest, took a deep breath and put the crosshairs of his .308 Winchester behind the shoulder of the closest doe. Then I heard footsteps... and they were right behind us and not human. I spun around to see a good 13 or 14 inch buck staring us down from only 40 paces. Dwayne could not hear the buck's approach of course and there was no telling what this buck would do. If the buck took off in the wrong direction he would most likely take the does with him. I just stared at the buck wishing with all my might that the shot would ring out. The buck lowered and raised his head in a fast, sweeping motion and stomped his foot (a sign of aggression). My brain was about to explode. I didn't know if Dwayne would be finally getting his first big game animal or if I would be explaining to a game warden why I had to defend myself with my .40 S&W against an angry, rutted up antelope. As the buck took a step towards us, and my fingers first made contact with the grip of my Springfield XD, Dwayne's shot rang out. The buck wasn't expecting me to have such a deep voice and figured that this guy that spoke with explosions probably wasn't worth a fight and he took off. I spun around to see the group of does flying across the prairie. But one was lying on the ground where the others had been. Dwayne had done his part and put a great shot on her. I turned Dwayne around and pointed towards the buck who was now running straight away at about 100 yards. The look on Dwayne's face was one of pure confusion. He would have to wait for his dad to show up in camp to get the explanation of the craziness that took place through sign language.
We got up to his doe and the sense of accomplishment on his face was priceless. He had conquered another hurdle and was overjoyed. I will never forget sitting around the campfire that night with Dwayne signing to me across the campfire with his dad translating. That is probably the best thank you that I have ever gotten and it I look forward to more hunts with Dwayne, the prodigy. I know I can learn as much from him as he can from me, if not more; especially the lesson of never giving up, no matter what life throws at you.