Blind hunter sights in opportunity to take a buck
Blind hunter sights in opportunity to take a buck
After cautiously waiting and watching the shadows grow light, the buck mule deer slowly stepped out of the trees.
Vance Wilson turned his head and whispered, “He’s out now, I think we’ll get a shot.”
Darrel Chapman, sitting next to Wilson in front of a large pinyon tree, barely tilted his head at Wilson’s voice.
“Stand up and get ready,” Wilson said, and the two men rose together, Chapman mounting the rifle on a tripod stand.
At the sound, the deer looked in the men’s direction but stayed his ground.
A few adjustments with the rifle and then Wilson whispered, “You’re on him. Shoot.”
The boom of the rifle split the quiet dawn, and Wilson watched the buck stumble, run a short distance and fall.
“You got him,” he said, throwing an arm around Chapman in congratulations.
But Chapman never saw the shot, never saw the four-point buck fall and never saw the great smile of pride and pleasure on Wilson’s face.
Chapman is blind, his eyesight stolen five years ago by macular degeneration.
His lost eyesight hasn’t stopped the 81-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran from bowling, playing shuffleboard and competitive golf, or hiking Grand Mesa with his wife, Sue.
Now, he’s possibly the first blind hunter in Colorado take a big game animal with a rifle.
Colorado joins a handful of states allowing blind hunters to use rifles when hunting. A slew of restrictions and requirements must be met, of course, including hunting with a sighted companion.
The state often issues what are called “accommodation permits” to disabled hunters.
These permits allow such things as shooting from a vehicle and allowing an able-bodied companion to track and dispatch a wounded animal.
But it’s rare for the state to receive applications from visually impaired hunters, said Wendy Padilla, former Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“That percentage of our accommodation permits is extremely small,” she said.
Chapman isn’t the first visually impaired hunter to receive an accommodation permit, said Padilla, but he might be the first to harvest an animal.
“Once we issue the permit, it’s pretty rare they tell me about their success,” Padilla said. “I’m so happy to hear this hunt went well.”
The idea of a blind person carrying a loaded weapon carries enormous weight.
“I’ve been doing these elk and deer hunts with disabled veterans for about five years now and a year ago Darrel approached me about going hunting,” said Matt Lucas, a recreational therapist at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction. “I had taken vets with all sorts of disabilities but never one that is visually impaired. I knew this was going to be a big challenge, but I never say never.”
Lucas began researching what other states are doing for blind hunters and discovered most of them approve the use of laser sights, where a laser beam shines directly on the target.
Initially designed to improve target acquisition for handgun shooting, laser sights are illegal in most hunting situations.
But in this situation, the laser sight enables a companion hunter to see where the blind hunter is pointing his or her rifle.
When Chapman prepared to shoot his deer, Wilson quietly guided him to put the laser on a vital area.
“You can only see the laser out to 75 yards or so and that’s if it’s in the shade,” said Wilson, who worked at the Dallas VA hospital before moving earlier this year to Molina. “So we only had a small window of time from when it got light enough to shoot and it got too light to see the laser.”
Lucas, Wilson and Chapman had earlier spent time at a shooting range practicing with the laser and worked out a touch system of signalling where to point the rifle. During the actual hunt, however, whispering proved more effective.
Initially, the idea of allowing a blind person to hunt was met with mixed enthusiasm from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“Because I know Matt and have worked with him on several veteran hunts, I was comfortable with the idea,” said Kathleen Tadvick, education coordinator for the Division of Wildlife’s Northwest Regional office in Grand Junction. “I thought it was an awesome opportunity, my only worry was making sure he had the proper mentor in the field with him.”
Tadvick checked with DOW Rifle area manager JT Romatzke and the local DOW field officer Dan Skinner to get their input and they, too, expressed full confidence in Lucas, she said.
Their only concern was making sure the permit and proper hunting license were obtained.
Once the permit and license were procured, the hunt was scheduled for a ranch north of Rifle.
“We sat out there for two days, waiting for that chance,” said Chapman, who borrowed the rifle he used from his daughter, Sandy Theis of Grand Junction. “I was so excited to finally get my opportunity.”
Sue Chapman rolled her blue eyes when asked if the trophy would some day adorn their house.
“It’s a lovely deer, but I’m not sure we’ve made a decision on that yet,” she said, looking at Darrel.
Darrel shrugged and laughed.
“Maybe we’ll donate it to the VA for all the work they did,” he said.