I believe that the friend who shot me took that accident much harder than I did. After the accident, the two of us have remained good friends. When he got married, he asked me to be a groomsman in his wedding. He was one of my hunting buddies before the accident, and he’s one of my hunting buddies today. If I called him and said, “I want to go hunting,” he'd be at my house in a minute, dressed in camouflage and ready to take me anywhere I wanted to go. One of the unique aspects of our relationship is we were friends before the accident, we remained friends when I was in the hospital and during recovery, and we’re still good friends today. He visited me in the hospital, and he came over to my house when I came home. Even today, when he doesn’t come to my house, I go to his house. What happened to me was a pure accident. My friend didn’t intend to shoot me, and I didn’t intend to get shot. Things happen in life that no one plans for, and neither of us intended for this accident to damage our friendship, and it never has.
I'm often asked, “Why would you encourage other people with disabilities to develop ways to get back into the outdoors?” I believe being in the outdoors is better than being cooped-up in the house. Even if you don’t hunt and fish, you can view wildlife and photograph wildlife. You can enjoy everything in the outdoor world and enjoy the other people who like being outside instead of inside.
I don’t just hunt, I also fish - mostly for walleyes and northern pike. I have an electric reel that is hooked up to my fishing rod, and I have a joy stick that I can push and pull to set the hook and reel in the line that attaches to my wheelchair. Several rivers are near my home and quite a few lakes with walleyes, northern pike and panfish. The banks around the lakes are accessible for the most part. Most of the time, I fish from the shore, but I have rolled my wheelchair onto a pontoon boat at times and fished from a pontoon boat. I generally can catch as many fish as anyone else, especially when the fish are biting.
I do some ice fishing too - something I was into before my accident. Once I got my electric reel, I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t use that set-up to ice fish. I would fish every day of the year if I could. The condition of the ice determines whether someone goes with me, or I go by myself. Here in North Dakota, we have some really-cold temperatures, and our lakes and rivers usually freeze solid. I have a handicapped wheelchair van. So, when the ice is frozen hard enough, I can drive my van out onto the ice, get myself out of the van in my wheelchair and start ice fishing. However, I usually need someone else to drill the holes through which I fish. If the sun is out, and the wind isn’t blowing, I just sit out on the ice and enjoy the day while I'm fishing. But if it’s a cold, windy, nasty day, I have an Eskimo Quickfish 3 Portable Ice Shelter that is insulated. It keeps out cold temperatures and the wind. I can get in that little portable ice shelter over the hole I'm fishing in and be just as comfortable as possible. I even entered a contest on a Facebook page, and I was lucky enough to win this pop-up ice shelter. Just because the weather is cold, windy and really bad outside doesn’t mean I can’t go ice fishing.
I also ice fish on a lot of ponds close to home that don’t really have names. Sometimes we will get into a good school of fish, and I’ll catch a lot of them, but other times, I may not catch any. Fishing is just fishing - whether you're in a wheelchair or not.