I recently sent an e-mail to the NAHC asking some questions that were probably better suited for a cardiologist, but I figured the NAHC was full of middle-aged hunter-warriors like me who might have better advice than the average, sports-car-driving, big-city cardiologist (avid hunter Dr. Warren Strickland being an exception to that rule, of course).
By way of introduction, let me start out by saying that I'm a recently retired U.S. Marine (30 years). I'm a meat eater who took my turn in Kuwait and Iraq in 2004, and I have the following T-shirts: NAHC Life Member, National Rifle Association Life Member, former Scuba Dive Master, an above average hunter, an average fisherman, an average father, a pretty good grandpa, an Archie-Bunker-kind-of-husband, and I'm currently in denial about being in my early 50s.
I thrived on the stress that comes with being a Type "A" Patriot, and I smoked cigarettes for 30 years. End result: I had a heart attack and a triple by-pass this past summer. No regrets, however, because I've been a good boy ever since. I quit smoking, started eating more fish, chicken, fruit, veggies, garlic, fish oil, an occasional wild turkey breast and lots of lean deer and pronghorn meat.
Man, do I miss those chicken fried steaks with white sausage gravy! But to look at it from the other perspective, if I was dead I'd of course miss hunting, my hunting gear, my dogs, my horses, my truck, my wife, my grandkid, my kids, my hunting buddies and my boss, who gives me the money I need to buy more hunting gear. So I guess I'll just have another apple and quit whining.
At approximately week 14 after being field-dressed by my fantastic heart surgeon, I beat feet for my annual deer camp in northeast Wyoming. My little piece of heaven is a place near and dear to my heart, and the place names up in that country are a delight in themselves: Spotted Horse, Wounded Wolf, Recluse, Medicine Bow and Dead Swede, among others.
Before I packed my gun and other gear, I of course obtained my lovely wife's half-hearted blessing to go. I completed cardiac rehab and I had some assurance that my chest bone was healed enough to withstand the adventure and the recoil of my .270 Win. Once I got to Wyoming, I proceeded to fill my two pronghorn tags and two mule deer tags to ensure that I followed my doctor's orders to eat "lean meat." During the trip I stayed below 4,000 feet of elevation where I felt good because like it or not, heart attacks cause damage to your body. And accordingly, I'll have to remind myself routinely that I have to pace myself when doing physical activity, like it or not. I'm not sure if that means my dream bighorn sheep hunt is off the table, but I will have to be realistic regardless. I'm sure I'll find out during some hunt in the future.
I had my son, Myles, in Wyoming with me, along with my brothers Doug and Darin and my cousin Mike, and I have to admit I felt guilty for about 3 seconds when they would complete a drag of one of my animals, hang it, skin it and butcher it for me while I took a nap. I, of course, never took advantage of their willingness to help. Yeah, right.
All in all, despite not being able to do many push-ups yet, the hunt was a great, relaxing success and just what the doctor ordered. And 10 days in God's country is certainly better than a month in rehab. There were no Boone & Crockett Club trophies taken, but most of our tags were filled with gorgeous, healthy mule deer and tasty pronghorn freezer meat—all taken by fair chase under the gorgeous Wyoming sky. Most importantly, many additional memories were stored in the gray matter that has accelerated my healing process.
My young son, Myles, not only took care of me during the hunt by doing a lot of the heavy lifting that I wasn't ready for, but he also took care of his two Wyoming deer tags with class. The boy made two kills with two impressive 175- and 210-yard heart shots from my .300 Win. Mag. He made me proud during the hunt, and he demonstrated to me that I'll never have to worry about him not having meat in his freezer, and I'm confident that he'll be part of our nation's proud hunting heritage and traditions by standing in support of our sport in the future.
For anyone who has never hunted in Wyoming, I encourage you to do so. Yes you can get out your check book and have a great hunt with a licensed outfitter in the state and that's certainly not a bad way to go. But, if you have a tight budget, with a little research you can find some great places to hunt, be it the federal, state or private ranch walk-in areas throughout the state.
The photo that accompanies this short article is proof that there is indeed life after heart surgery. If it's happened to you, then heal up, eat right, get in shape and keep moving. If you do all that, there will be no reason you can't hunt hard and heavy again. Ooh Rah and Happy Hunting, Comrades!