Keeping the Challenge – By Sam Hossler

No, not that one. We’ll get you a bigger one,” the guide was whispering in David Erich’s ear. Dave relayed the hushed conversation to me later that evening. I was sitting in a blind about 75 yards away watching events unfold in the forest at Paradise Ranch in Centre County, Pennsylvania.
It was the hunt of a lifetime for two Pennsylvania disabled hunters. and the whitetail buck Dave was told not to shoot would have been a real trophy on just about anybody’s wall.  In fact, I had the camera trained on the animal just knowing at any second the crossbow bolt would slice through the evening air at more than 300 feet per second and nail the biggest whitetail I had ever seen in the wild.

And I knew Dave could do it; I had watched him practice that afternoon with his crossbow. At 40 yards he grouped his bolts in a 2-inch circle every time.

You may think that’s not much of a feat but consider this: Dave is  paralyzed from the waist down plus in part of his torso which gives him no use of his fingers and very limited use of his arms. His wheelchair, which he must hunt from, is motorized and offers the left to right movement in lining up his bow. To gain or lower elevation his dad, Butch, a machinist, built a hydraulic cylinder into the bar that holds the bow (this is operated by two buttons that Dave can activate by hitting them with his hand). The crossbow is securely clamped into the bar that is attached to the cylinder and the trigger has been elongated so his hand can release the bolt by moving his whole arm slowly back.

According to Butch, each wheelchair is different and the mechanism musr be customized for each. This was a new chair for Dave, and Butch redesigned and rebuilt the shooting platform just before archery season this year. To his credit over the years, Dave has taken two does and a five-point buck with his crossbow up until this hunt. He said he went spring gobbler hunting once but all he saw was a gray squirrel.

Erich has hunted since he was in his teens in 1979, and the desire never left him, even after suffering a near fatal automobile crash while in the military. The accident left him paralyzed but he never gave up hope of hunting again. In 1992 he was well enough to try and with the help of his father found that even with his disability he still enjoyed the outdoors.

The other hunter, Gordon Sisler, was from south central Pennsylvania and had been disabled from birth.  Gordon has been a rifle hunter up until now and bought his crossbow when he heard he was picked for this hunt at Paradise Ranch. His bow is mounted on a cross bar by Velcro with no method of raising or lowering it. The release is triggered by a string he holds in his teeth and sets off by pulling his lips together. In practice his shots were somewhat off, due to his bow not held tight to the mount. However, Pat Strawser, his guide, felt his accuracy was plenty good enough for close,range shooting at deer. With two weeks of crossbow experience he was taking a dream hunt of a lifetime for whitetail.

Paradise Ranch is tucked back in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, just north of State College. Almost 1,000 acres of prime whitetail habitat is enhanced with extensive wildlife management. Only 4 years old, the ranch has already gained the reputation of producing trophy-size bucks and unparalleled comfort in the lodge for its guests. Trophy bucks were brought in
supplement the herd and the gene pool. Not only did they look for good genetic factors with the
bucks but with the does as well. Selective harvesting and a good gene pool have given them a magnificent herd.

Ernie Kramer, who heads up the United Bow Hunters of Pennsylvania disabled program, explained that they arranged a hunt in Alabama for 1999. It turned out both Erich and Sisler had been at the top of the list to go, however, Alabama doesn’t allow non-residents to use a crossbow, disabled or not, a disappointment all around. He then contacted Donny Beaver at
Paradise Ranch to see what a hunt of this type would cost. Beaver quickly donated two hunts for these disabled hunters. Kramer said the hunters were selected because they were wheelchair bound and used crossbows. Both Erich and Sisler fit the criteria.

Kramer has a database of 77 Pennsylvania disabled hunters and is looking to expand that. By receiving these hunts as donations the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania were able to take the money that would have been spent and send donations to Hunt of A Lifetime, Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America and Buckmasters Disabled Services.

Kramer said, “I can’t thank Donny Beaver enough for his generosity” I arrived at the lodge just as lunch was being served by two lovely ladies who catered to your every wish. Then we went out to have some practice with the crossbows.

Along about 4 o’clock that afternoon, the two wheelchair accessible vans were loaded with hunters, helpers and equipment.  I rode with the guide. Uncle Phil Scheryer who would take Erich to his blind.

On the way I spotted a spike buck slinking away through the underbrush, and as we rounded a curve there were two bucks, a doe and a yearling at the edge of the woods.  One was a nice eight and the other a dandy six-point.  They definitely weren’t shooters at Paradise.

We pulled into a wide spot on the trail with the van right behind us.  A blind of fallen logs and branches was at the edge of the woods looking out over the trail and an open grassy area on the other side.  Maneuvering the wheelchair in position, branches had to be cleared away to give Dave a clear view.

Later I watched from the distance as deer began walking near Dave’s blind.  at one moment, two good bucks came out.  Unfortunately, neither gave Dave a shot.

The following morning, Dave got his chance and sent a well-placed bolt through a big buck.  The deer went less than 50 yards and dropped.  Gordon also had a shooter buck come within range that evening and made a good shot.  It was a great trophy for a first-time bowhunter.  No hunt could have had a happier ending <—<<

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