Concerns of the Disabled or Aging Bowhunter

Sponsored by The Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America, & Barnett Crossbows.  Hosted by Doug Bermel – Shooting Coordinator for
The author on an African hunt may have been confined to a wheel chair but that didn’t stop him.

My name is Douglas Bermel and I am the Shooting Coordinator for Disabled Archers with the Archery Trade Association.

I have a degenerative disease called adrenal leouko dystrophy, which is similar to MS. I am slowly losing muscle control in my lower extremities. I have been a bowhunter for 25 years. I started with a compound bow, but as my disease worsened I switched to the crossbow. I have taken many animals with my crossbow in several countries, such as whitetail, turkey, bobcat, African game, antelope, bear and even an alligator. I have also been active in several organizations, including The Minnesota Bow Hunters Association, International Bowfishing Association, United Foundation for Disabled Archers, Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America, and the Wheeling Sportsmen, a division of the NWTF.

Some of my ATA duties are to seek, test, evaluate and list equipment on the ATA Web site adaptive that can be used by disabled archers. Some items are developed and manufactured by able-bodied people to help a disabled person. Although their intentions are good, they don’t always consult a disabled person to see if the product can work for them. Some of these products are bulky or heavy, and awkward to handle. I like to inspect each item before I include it on the ATA’s Web site.

Another duty of mine is to educate able-bodied hunters about the concerns of disabled bowhunters. When a person becomes disabled or can no longer hunt in traditional manners, they need time to accept what has happened to them and learn how to accept help from others. This can be a long process unless they receive strong positive reinforcement. Even then it will take time. Most disabled people think their life is over, and they will never again be able to hunt. If they’re lucky, their spouse, a good friend, or a close relative will show them how to use a little ingenuity to overcome all obstacles. No matter what the person’s disability, there are products to help get you back outdoors and bowhunting again.

Mark Pierloeni shoots a compound and doesn’t let the fact he is in a wheel chair deter him.

I’m also working to find ways to retain bowhunters who have given up the sport. We’re not recruiting as many hunters as we’re losing each year. In many cases these are aging hunters who find our sport too difficult to continue. They’ve hunted a certain way for many years and they aren’t ready to change. Maybe they’re too proud to accept help, and are uninformed about which products can help them continue hunting. The cost of specialized products for disabled hunters can be expensive, but if you have the passion to hunt you can seek ways to acquire this equipment.

Shawn Berto suffers from MS but she hunts still thanks to equipment made for her physical situation.

Each of us knows someone who is disabled or has quit hunting. If you wish to help them return to our sport, first realize it might require patience. They might not be ready to jump right back into hunting again after their injury. The adjustment period varies by individual and by the injury or disease’s severity. Once they accept their situation, they need to find ways to overcome their disability. Giving up a lifetime of independence and relying on someone for help often requires a long, difficult learning process. Most of them feel they’re a burden and that they’re holding you back. You must let them know you’re there for them no matter what it takes. Learn all you can about their abilities and be truthful with them. Drawing a bow or climbing into a tree stand might be too difficult, and meeting their every need might not be possible. Even so, whenever you can help them succeed, the extra time and effort you contribute will be well worth it. And when all the plans come together and your friend or loved one harvests an animal, you’ll know it was a team effort and that you can share in the success. The smile on their face lets you know you were part of it. You can be proud that you made a difference.

Let’s now move on to the concerns of disabled or aging bowhunters.

Eric Will uses a special sip and puff set up to stay in the game.

A: Equipment
Many products are available for disabled bowhunters, whether they’re amputees, quadriplegics or even blind. You must evaluate your needs and determine what works best for you. Take the time to research each item you intend to use and make sure it meets your needs. What works for some disabled bowhunters might not work for you. Experiment and try different products. Be flexible. With a little modification, certain products will provide years of great service.

B: Sources to Locate
Several companies manufacture products specifically for disabled bowhunters. Rather than start from scratch on your own, I encourage you to contact me for help. As the ATA’s Shooting Coordinator for Disabled Archers, I can provide an ever-expanding list of adaptive equipment. Call or email me, describe your disability, and I will refer you to Web sites with the products you should consider.

In addition, several other organizations have equipment lists where you might find needed items. The Internet is a great source for locating helpful products, but the best way to learn what is worthwhile is by talking to other disabled bowhunters and asking what they use. Most of them will gladly share what has worked for them and usually let you try out their equipment. Please realize my position with the Archery Trade Association prevents me from endorsing specific products, but I can provide information on how to locate equipment that suits your disability.

C: Mobility in the Field
I have all the equipment I need to bowhunt, but getting into the woods to hunt requires some special gear. Further, what works for me might not work everywhere. Some states allow handicapped bowhunters to obtain a permit to hunt from a vehicle. Your assistant might also help you reach your location. Make sure you have everything you need before they leave you alone to hunt. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer or do not have someone to assist, consider an adaptive machine to take you into afield. Some ATVs and power wheelchairs have special controls to accommodate your needs. In fact, some ATVs have special controls and a rear end that folds down so you can roll in and out. I’ve also seen a power wheelchair with caterpillar-like tracks that can get you just about anywhere you need to go. The only obstacle with certain products is their expense. The benefit, of course, is that they will last a long time and give you greater independence.

D: Weather Options
Be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you, because disabled people have little tolerance for hot, cold or extreme weather. Always check the weather where you intend to hunt so you can be properly equipped, whether it’s raining, snowing or blowing. Extreme cold can cause severe problems, especially if you have poor circulation or no feeling in your extremities. Also be aware of extreme heat. Pack plenty of water and drink constantly to stay hydrated. so they must be prepared.

Also be aware of what the weather brought in previous days. Mud or snow can prevent access to your spot. Always remain aware of your surroundings and come prepared to deal with each situation.

E: Clothing
Many clothing products are available for disabled hunters, who need a little more to stay comfortable in cold, windy weather. If you hunt from a shelter, consider buying a propane-powered heating device. Some gloves, hats, socks and full-body suits are battery-powered to generate heat. Some require only small batteries, but others need a 12-volt battery. These can be inconvenient to carry, wear and maintain, but if you can stay warm they’re worth the expense and trouble. Some heated suits have a digital readout to let you know the air temperature inside. This is a great feature for those with no feeling in their legs. A quick glance ensures the correct temperature is being generated. Another great source of heat is chemical hand and toe warmers. Just open the package, shake the bag and it starts to generating heat for the desired area. If you prefer just a glove on your shooting hand consider using a hand muff with a chemical hand-warmer inside.

Don’t scrimp on rainwear. It must be breathable yet waterproof for even the worst storms. Boots are another major consideration. They should be waterproof and comfortable. Although the choices are many, do not go with the cheapest. Find a solid, high-quality boot with all the right features to meet your specific needs. Good boots tend to be expensive, but they’re worth their cost.

F: Crossbow Misconceptions
So far I haven’t said anything controversial, so I guess it’s time to say something about crossbows. Lots of myths, rumors and misconceptions give crossbows a bad name. Some people say they’re a “cross-gun,” or a.30-06 on a string. Many critics have never seen a crossbow in use, and they go by what others tell them. No matter what other people say, handicapped bowhunters should not feel guilty using a crossbow. Crossbows are heavy and sometimes awkward to handle. They can be tough to get into a shooting position. Shouldering them requires visible movements that are difficult for handicapped people. They’re also noisy and require extra movement to cock, so a second shot is usually impossible.

Granted, scopes can be helpful, but they’re just a sighting tool. You still must know how to shoot. The crossbow is strictly a short-range weapon and its ballistics are no better than most compounds. In fact, today’s compounds shoot farther, flatter and faster than most crossbows. I’ve read claims from a New York group that they have shot 4-inch groups at 100 yards with a crossbow. This might be possible if you shoot in calm, controlled conditions at known ranges, but how often does that happen in the deer woods? When shooting beyond 25 yards, even a 3-yard miscalculation might mean a miss or poor hit. Shots of 100 yards require you to account for an 8- to 12-foot drop. Does that sound like an ethical shot?

We also hear that crossbows are a poacher’s weapon or that they cause too many deer to be shot. Similar arguments were common in the 1970s when compounds hit the market. Those comments were false then and they remain false today. Granted, the average hunter can pick up a crossbow, shoot a few arrows to sight in, and be ready to hunt in the same day. A compound bow requires more practice to become proficient, but the leap from recurves to compounds is far greater than from compounds to crossbows. You still must practice with your crossbow in varying conditions and at varying distances to make ethical shots. You owe that to the game you pursue.

Denny Campbell uses a mouth tab to enable him to shoot his bow in spite of his weak left arm.

It saddens me to read that The North American Bowhunter Coalition considers crossbows the biggest threat to bowhunting today. This is absolutely ridiculous in an era with declining numbers of hunters and fewer places to shoot archery and go hunting. Crossbow users are hunters and strong allies. We belong to archery clubs, pay federal excise sales taxes on archery equipment, and work on legislative issues to protect bowhunting. We have as big of a stake in bowhunting as anyone.

My sense is that crossbow opponents do not want anyone hunting deer during “their” season. But I believe crossbows should be used to attain and retain bowhunters, especially those youngsters, women or aging persons who struggle to draw a compound bow. Rather than use the crossbow to divide hunters against themselves with false arguments, we should put crossbows to work bolstering our sport.

Going forward, I urge everyone to make the first move. Talk to disabled people, encourage them, and let them know you’re willing to help. Convince them that with a little help and ingenuity they can return to the outdoors. Just realize that disabled people have a strong will but might be too proud to seek help. They might not be sure what it takes to resume hunting or how to go about it. With positive reinforcement and a push in the right direction, they can once again be bowhunters.

I want to see crossbow and compound-bow hunters learn how to support each other. We’re all fighting for the same cause. The threats we face from increased development, habitat destruction and loss of access to hunting lands threaten all forms of hunting. Those forces don’t care if we use recurves, longbows, compound bows or crossbows; and they don’t care if we call a shaft an arrow or a bolt. We all use tree stands, ground blinds, calls, scents and decoys. We’re all bowhunters, so let’s stand together and fight for our bowhunting heritage.