Close-up photo of a male mallard tail curl and feathers

When the Blind See – Overcoming Disability in the Duck Blind

A day in the duck blind assisting a blind hunter proves that ability is simply a matter of perspective

We’re all doubting Thomases whether we like it or not. The impossible, in our mind, is always impossible. It takes the miraculous to shatter our perception of impossibility; we need to see it to believe it. It took the Minneapolis Miracle to realize that sometimes the football gods take pity on us Vikings devout. Most of us, even after seeing it play out before us, didn’t believe it until watching it for the seventh or seven hundredth time on replay.

I didn’t need a replay after witnessing an even more miraculous moment last November.  I believed it when I saw it, but I did need to pinch myself a few times. It all started with a phone call from my disabled buddy, Steve, the day before.

“Hey, sorry to disturb while you’re working, but I’ve gotta talk to ya,” Steve greeted. Before I could get in a word, his excitement continued, “Is there any way you can take tomorrow off work to be our ‘able-body’ for us disabled guys? Mike, who’s legally blind, wants to go duck hunting – it’d be great to get him on some birds. He’s been to some of our shooting events in the past and has done well with a helper, so don’t worry, you’ll be his eyes. He’ll tell you how to position him to shoot.”

“Well, yeah! I don’t know how this is going to work, but I’d be thrilled to help him. Has he been out at all this year?”

“Ya know, I haven’t a clue. My guess is it’s been a while.”

It sure looked that way once I was able to hunker down in the blind after setting out a super spread of dabblers, geese, and a few dozen divers for good measure. At the first sight of him I was taken back to the days when I was wearing my He-Man onesie running to the garage to see my old man in his vintage TreBark coveralls dropping the tailgate for me to check out a deer he’d just arrowed. There Mike sat, decked out in the same camo. Atop that was a classic brown camo vest all us duck hunters wore before camouflage became a fashion statement in the blind. Nevertheless, I had my suspicion; there are some “old school” hunters still out there, albeit few and far between.

It wasn’t until after a warm handshake and the introductory small talk when I realized how long it had been for Mike since he’d last been in a duck blind. He asked if I’d be so kind to hand him his shells from under his chair. In a wink, I pulled out a box of Federals I hadn’t seen since I first started shooting my Wingmaster. He graciously handed the box back to me once he grabbed his three shells and began to load his shotgun. As I began to put the box back, I saw a sticker on it that read:

$7.99 GALYANS

“Where’d ya find this box – behind the rusted paint cans in your garage?!” I chided.

“Oh, what do you mean?” Mike mumbled.

I read him the sticker price and went on, “I haven’t shot a box of these Federals in probably 20 years! Heck, that’s around the same time when Galyan’s was bought out by Dick’s Sporting Goods, right?”

The chuckles coming from our fellow blind-mates – Steve to our left and my old man to our right – were hushed by mallard wings whistling overhead. All I could do was smile; I was glad he came. It had clearly been a while for Mike.

Incoming ducks test our preparedness

A pair of greenheads soon broke off from the flock. The drake backpedaled perfectly into the pocket in just one pass. Before I was able to position Mike properly, a shot was fired in the blind next to us. I exchanged some kind words to the fellas to wait a bit longer when the next opportunity comes – not everyone in the blind had shot a limit of mallards like they did a few days before.

I didn’t fully grasp the concept of how to move Mike into position to put a swing on the birds coming down. His gun barrel would clang on the front of the blind and stop our downward motion before we could fire off a round. It wasn’t until after a second apology on a flock that I stopped and practiced more than the two-minute crash course he put me through before shooting light.

I needed to adopt the mentality that his arms, shoulder, and torso were an extension of mine. I had to sit closer behind him while looking over his shoulders and down the barrel’s spine – all while pivoting his arms and upper torso like a crane. The movements were mechanical – not entirely smooth, but manageable. It felt like I was operating a WWII antiaircraft gun.

It was then that it seemed the birds knew of their demise; not a single bird was seen for two hours. Remorse took its course – I wish I had practiced with him earlier to work out the kinks. The sentiment festered for another forty minutes until a bogey was finally spotted.

Bringing the pieces together to find success

“Mark at 2 o’clock,” Steve whispered from his wheelchair. I gave a few quacks to get its attention.

“Yep, he’s cupping up. Mike, let’s get you in position.” I readied.

Seconds later, it swooped down at 30 yards.

“He just dropped down like a roller coaster from right to left, Mike. It wasn’t a good shot for any of us righties. He’ll come around, though,” I reassured. It only took a few more quacks from my call for the drake to demonstrate his commitment.

“Alright, Mike, you’re getting this guy. He swung around and is now making his approach along the shoreline to our left . . . now he’s cupping his wings.” Sitting right behind him, I reached my left hand around his shoulder and gripped his forearm. Next was my right on his right. Taking a deep breath, I pivoted Mike’s torso up and to the left and began to put a swing on the drake.

“He’s coming in with his landing gear down. You’ve got a perfect bead on him.” I whispered while looking over his right shoulder and down the barrel.

I took another breath just as the drake started to backpedal into the X and then exhaled, “Three. Two. One. Take ’em!”

BOOM!

“YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT! YOOUU DID IT!” I exclaimed while hugging him like we had just won Game 7 of the World Series.

“YESSSS!!!! What did I shoot?” Mike enthusiastically responded.

“A majestic, male, red-tailed hawk! He’s a stud!”

“NO!!” Mike anguished.

“NO!” I joked (as the rest of the blind erupted in laughter). “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. You’ve got a dandy, drake mallard on the ice. He’s an absolute monster!”

“Oh my goodness, I was going to say . . .”

“Haha! Mike, all joking aside, I’m at a loss for words – I’ve never experienced anything greater in a blind than what I just did now.”

I left it at that with him so I could go make the retrieve; I was so excited to bring it back for him. Upon return, I put the full-curled greenhead in his hands. The feathers confirmed what his fingers where telling him. His beaming smile said it all to us in the blind: he’d bagged a trophy.

After he had his moment, I grabbed his right hand with mine and shook it. “I can’t thank you enough for coming out this morning. You’re a testament of possible.”

I was blind, but now I see.

A blind hunter and two able-bodies helping with the harvest of his trophy mallard

Post Script

I was always under the impression that you can’t hunt if you don’t have the legs to take you and the arms to bear a weapon. I was proven wrong three years ago, when I got a glimpse of what’s actually possible while on my first hunt with Capable Partners. During each hunt I experience the antithesis of disabled: they’ve all been able to continue to pursue their passions – one just has to have the fortitude to do it. Mike, along with the rest of them, exemplify it each time I’m graced in the blind with them.

If you or someone you know loves the great outdoors but cannot enjoy it due to disability, please don’t hesitate to contact Capable Partners. They provide incredible opportunities to get back in our great outdoors.

Last modified: July 4, 2020

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