Three Cheers for Brandon (Wheelchair Hunter)
The accident for Brandon, when it came, was seemingly benign.
Here was a 17 year old kid, riding in a Hare Scramble race in 2002 - an INCREDIBLY fast kid... who had no fear. Racing in the A250 class and routinely beating AA riders, he rode effortlessly and at a blistering pace.
This was also a kid that was batting .560 as a Junior in high school and still holds the batting average record in that school.
He was heavily recruited by major colleges and was sure to go to school on a scholarship - and a major league career seemed well within reach.
At 5' 11" and 190 pounds, he was narrow in the waist and wide in the shoulders... he seemed to have it all.
In a split second, that part of his life was interrupted by a high side kicker that sent him over the handlebars and into a helicopter for a ride that would forever change his life.
Initially unable to move at all, Brandon regained partial use of his arms but none of the use of his legs.
Fast forward 8 years later and Brandon is now a 25 year old man who has gone on to finish college and works a regular job.
His uncle and I work together and I have known the family for years - at work and also racing in the same Hare Scramble races.
I learned that Brandon wanted to hunt and immediately jumped at the chance to help.
Brandon and his grandfather visited the club in the summer and we talked about options for his hunting.
We settled on ground blinds placed on certain lanes down in the woods, as he can not swivel left and right very well to aim the rifle.
Primarily using the bush hog on the tractor, I mowed lanes in the thickest and nastiest stuff I could find, trying to stay near areas where swamps and mixed pines and hardwoods join together.
Season rolled around and as is always the case in the LowCountry of SC, it is hot, miserable and bug ridden. Put a hunter in a closed up ground blind and you multiply the heat.
No complaints from Brandon. He made 2 weekend trips in August and early September. Using a golf cart, we move him down to the stand and then help him into his wheelchair and position him in the blind.
Brandon uses a special set of shooting sticks to support the front of the rifle and we position his chair to direct the rifle up the mowed lane - in some cases, there are 2 lanes that run away from the stand - but we do have to keep the lanes fairly close to each other.
Such was the case on the afternoon of 8 October this year - Brandon was placed into his favorite blind on the edge of a ditch where a dry swamp meets the edge of a stand of mature pines and hardwoods. In this same stand earlier in the year, Brandon had passed on numerous does and 2 small bucks...
Forty year old pines tower over one of the lanes and only 30 degrees to the right, another lane is placed along the ditch with over reaching live oaks, which are dropping acorns. Deer routinely pass through this area, moving from dense thickets that are scattered throughout the pines and into the areas where the acorns are falling.
The early afternoon passes him by with only the screeching of crows and the occasional scolding of grey squirrels.
The shadows lengthen as the afternoon stretches into the gloom of early dusk...
I am in a stand that is about 300 yards or so away as the crow flies - on the other side of the dry swamp... I pass the afternoon and see no deer. I hear a few shots but none real close to the stand - although one shot near dark sounds like it is on the club but further away than Brandon is.
Dark finally falls... and I gather my stuff and descend the stand and make my way over to where Brandon is....
As I approach the blind in the golf cart, I call out to Brandon... asking what he saw..
Well, he states, "I saw four and there should be a dead doe at the end of the far lane"!
WOW, that was Brandon that shot earlier!!!! Elation floods through me and Brandon relates the story...
As the gloom of evening started, first one doe and then another moved out into the lane and began to feed. Moving the rifle to that lane and repositioning the shooting sticks, Brandon calmly waits... he knows that in early October we occasionally see bucks chasing the does...
No bucks appear and two more does feed out into the lane...
Darkness begins to threaten as the group of four does feed.
Realizing that a buck might not appear, Brandon decides to take a doe - but the biggest one is also the furthest one out and the others are semi-blocking his shot.
Peering through the Nikon scope, Brandon waits...
Seconds tick by and Brandon feels his heart in his chest... a pair of bumbling racoons cross the lane but the does barely give them a glance.
Light seeps from the day as shades of gray begin to steal the remaining light... still Brandon waits, his sights set on the mature doe at the far end of the lane.
The does mill about... and finally, the head, shoulders and torso of the doe he wants are exposed... the 270 WSM is touched off - BOOOOOMMMM - the sound of the muzzle brake is deafening and recoil of the rifle momentarily take Brandon's eyes from the deer... When he looks back up, he sees the rear of the doe buck up in the air and she takes off...
Silence descends and night falls fully.
Brandon is left wondering... Did I make a good shot? Why did she kick like that? I know she ran off but am I sure which way she went? Do I know exactly where she was when I shot her????
Back to the present.... I walk up the lane but it is full dark now and Brandon can not see to guide me to the location... it is simply too dark and too far out there.
I come back to the blind and we load into the golf cart and move up into the lane.
Brandon carefully studies as we move cautiously forward... "Stop right here" he says... "this is where she was standing".
I try to shine back to the blind and realize I can not even see it from here in the flashlight...
"Are you sure?" I ask and am immediately reassured... Brandon shows me where he thinks she was standing and also points.. "She went that way" he states...
I look and do not see anything... there is grass and undergrowth there and I see no hoof marks, blood or any other indicators. Brandon seems sure so I go to my knees and start to look... "There!" Brandon says, from his perch in the cart, "right by your left hand... a drop of blood".
I look and sure enough, there it is.... bright pink and foamy... Brandon sees it from 5 feet away while I am hunched right there over it!
We decide to back out and give it a moment... we hang a headlamp on a bush right there and move back to the blind where we gather Brandon's stuff....
We have another hunter with us and we drive over there to pick her up. We find her walking down the road already, grinning... "I knew you either had one or were looking for one, so I thought I would walk to camp!" she happily states.
We go to camp and word spreads rapidly - Brandon has one down!
With two additional members, we return to the scene.... the blood trail is slight but we pick it up... and mark it with tissue paper as we track the deer... she is curving in a slightly counter-clockwise direction....
The trail peters out and we look back at the travel path... we are now down to trying to project which way she went.... which is not sucessful. We track back to the last tissue paper and start looking again.... and BINGO - we find a spot of blood... but she had made a hard right hand turn that we did not expect.
It unraveled very quickly after that! Blood spots turned to blood spatters and the trail picked up in intensity....
"Here she is" one of the other members called out!
We had found here... a mature 110 pound doe!! For this area of SC that is a good sized doe!!!
The shot was 130 - 135 yards and she was drilled dead center in the lungs - a great shot!
She went roughly 50 yards but in heavy cover which made her harder to find.
We made our way to camp, where we weighed and logged the deer into the camp records.
Brandon and I took her to the processor, where we took some photos and rejoiced in Brandon's success!
I have to say that I was far more excited than Brandon, who was fairly unrattled and stoic.
Brandon smiled calmly and simply stated, "I guess I will start hunting with the crossbow now"...
Wow! I have no doubt that he can do it also, if he tries!!!!
Join me as an old man truly stands in awe of the kid... and kid who can... a kid who will... and kid who does.
I am not sure who is teaching who here...