Mark Bergin was hidden behind a pronghorn decoy, and although a rutting buck was within bow range, the shot angle was wrong. "There was nothing I could do but watch him turn on a dime and high-tail it out of there," Bergin said excitedly. "But it was really cool!"
"About a half-hour later I spotted another good buck," he continued. "I didn't want to be faced with another head-on shot, so I decided to drop the decoy and put on a sneak. I walked in a crouched position as low as I could, and when I'd slipped to within 30 yards of him, I prepared for a shot."
Because muscular dystrophy has robbed Bergin of much of his upper-body strength, his 25-inch Hickory Creek compound bow has a Draw-Loc system attached to it. He has the strength to cock it by placing the bow under his foot and pulling the Draw-Loc with his lower back muscles. Once it's cocked, the bow remains at full draw until he touches the release.
"I swung my left arm onto a Shooting Pal arm rest I'd strapped to my waist," he said. "This metal rest sits against my left hip and holds the weight of my bow arm and bow. I did all this while kneeling behind some sagebrush. After that, I stood up slowly and placed my 30-yard pin on the buck's chest. My shot was perfect- the arrow penetrated both lungs and the buck ran only 50 yards. After I saw him fall I was so excited and happy I had tears in my eyes."
Now think about this: Bergin's impressive accomplishment- stalking and killing a pronghorn on the prairie while armed with a bow and arrow- becomes almost unbelievable when you consider it was his first day of bowhunting for any game animal! His success wasn't a fluke, either. It was simply the result of a never-give-up attitude and 6 months of dedicated practice at the archery range.
HELP THROUGH HUNTING
Bergin became interested in bowhunting after he discovered a group of inspiring men and women who belong to the Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America (PCBA). Since it was formed in 1993, this non-profit organization has helped thousands of physically challenged hunters across the United States and Canada participate in target archery and bowhunting.
With the help of its individual members and nearly 100 corporate members, the PCBA arranges and sponsors various hunts and shoots throughout the country and also works with numerous state and national archery organizations. In addition, the PCBA works with manufacturers to develop specific adaptive equipment that will benefit disabled archers.
A major emphasis of the organization is placed on reaching out to people with disabilities who've never been exposed to arguably the greatest recreational therapy in the world: bowhunting. Newly injured and inexperienced hunters/ shooters with disabilities are shown how they can shoot a compound bow or crossbow, regardless of their impairment.
Karen Vought, secretary-treasurer of the PCBA and wife of a disabled bowhunter, knows there are more challenges ahead. "We've made great strides, but we have many more individuals to help and many more who within a year will find themselves physically challenged due to an accident or illness," she said. "Able-bodied hunters like myself need to remember this fact: It can happen to any of us at any time."
Wisconsin hunter Duane Johnson is proof. "Two branches of the pine tree broke," he said. "I was just about to step into my treestand- about 15 feet up- when I fell backward, crashing through the tree's lower branches. I landed flat on my back. I broke one arm and my back, which left me paralyzed from the waist down. Because I was hunting alone and it was very cold- about 10 degrees- I knew if I didn't get myself out of the woods, I'd die. So I crawled-if you can call it that- with my one good arm to a road. The distance was only 200 yards, but it took me 15 hours. I tell people I know what Hell is like, because I've been there."
SUCCESS ON EVERY LEVEL
Bergin's success story is one of many told during dinner each night at the PCBA's 2004 pronghorn hunt in Gillette, Wyoming. In fact, as hunters arrived for the evening meal after each day's hunt, the volunteer guides and outfitters would update the "Buck Board." The final tally after day No. 3 was staggering- 18 bucks for 20 bowhunters!
This incredible success rate was accomplished due to the excellent pre-hunt preparation of hunt coordinator Steve Bricker and a large team of dedicated Gillette volunteers. Each PCBA hunter had his/her own ground blind overlooking a waterhole, and great care was taken in positioning the blinds so each bowhunter would have a close-range shot.
Bergin will also attend this year's pronghorn hunt in Wyoming, but this time he plans to sit at a waterhole like his fellow PCBA members.
"I loved decoying and stalking bucks on the prairie," he said. "I still have good use of my legs, and I feel blessed each day I can get out of bed and walk across the floor. But after listening to the other hunters talk about having bucks circle their ground blinds at 10-20 yards- man, I want some of that action!"
One of the biggest bucks taken during the 2004 hunt was by Cameron Dean, who was named president of the PCBA in June, 2005. Unlike many PCBA members, Dean had full use of his arms and legs. What set him apart was he hunted totally blind. Dean (who died after a lengthy illness on Sept. 1, 2005, at the age of 42) lost his sight 17 years ago due to brain tumors, which were subsequently removed during surgery.
"My Wyoming buddy Skip Lloyd helps me aim my bow," Dean explained after the 2004 hunt. "I shoot right-handed but use a left-handed bow. That way, Skip can sit behind me and look past my nose at my sight pins. With his left hand he guides my bow arm (left arm) on target, then signals for me to release an arrow by tapping a finger on my right forearm. It's a simple system that really works well."
In re-telling the story of his pronghorn kill, Dean couldn't help but smile like a kid on Christmas morning. "Skip had explained the dimensions of the waterhole in front of our blind, so I knew approximately how far of a shot I'd have depending on where a pronghorn stopped to drink," he said. "Skip told me to draw when a big buck appeared on the backside of the waterhole, about 20 yards away.
"But as soon as I drew I heard the sound of pronghorn hooves hitting the ground, so I knew something had happened. I figured the buck must have seen me move and ran off, so I was about to let-up on my draw when Skip whispered, 'He's behind the water a bit, but you can still take him.'
"Skip raised my bow arm a bit, and I tried to control my breathing as I waited for him to tap my forearm. The anticipation of waiting for his shooting signal is what I remember most. God, was I excited! When I felt Skip's finger tap, I concentrated on staying solid and not dropping my bow arm. A split-second later the arrow was gone, then I heard it hit the buck.
"The impact sound took a bit longer than I expected because the shot turned out to be 37 yards. Almost immediately Skip was hugging me and saying I'd made a good shot. My wife, Renee, was also in the blind with us, and when the buck fell within sight, she gave me a big hug, too. It's a moment I'll never forget."
After dinner on the final evening of the hunt, several bowhunters took the opportunity to address everyone in attendance and thank their guides, outfitters and the large staff of cooks and other helpers.
There's no doubt the event will forever be fondly remembered by all of the hunters and their families. And as this hunt proved, the burning desire to share time afield with family and friends can conquer any challenge.