My Achilles Heel

Just like everyone else I get super excited for the fall hunting seasons and any upcoming hunts that I might have planned. However, this year a large wrench was thrown into the mix. In early July I had to have emergency surgery to repair a complete tear of my Achilles tendon. Having drawn a couple of tags in other states, this put a serious damper on my hunting plans as the doctor laid out what recovery was going to look like.

“But Doctor, I have tags and hunts planned that start as soon as next month!”

“No, you don’t,” he replied with a cock-eyed smile. “You can’t rush this recovery and mess it up.”

Sadly, I turned some non-resident tags back in to get my preference points back and a refund but kept my resident tags. With six weeks of zero weight on my leg, followed by months of physical therapy going into my favorite time of year felt like a death sentence.

As August rolled around, I decided that I would rather get out and do some form of hunting than no hunting at all. I hooked up with my buddy Nick Heusser to go hunt archery antelope. As a disabled hunter, Nick hunts from his wheelchair and has proven to be a more successful hunter than most folks that I know. With Nick in his chair and me in a surgical boot and on crutches we were able to hit the desert thanks to some amazing friends that helped with ground blind setups for us both. We had some close calls, we passed on some and even missed some shots but ended up unsuccessful at notching our tags in our archery antelope endeavor, but I was so grateful to still be able to get out and hunt, which was mentally what I needed. 

Soon, the archery elk season rolled around, and the doctors approved me to start putting small amounts of weight on my leg but still confined to a surgical boot. I referred to this hunting as “Being in 1-wheel drive.” I wanted to hunt so bad that I decided to try and hobble into some wallows/water holes as I would rather sit and wait in an attempt to ambush, than not go hunting at all. Just hiking in and out from the wallows was exhausting in the surgical boot with my weak leg that had not been walked on for 6 weeks. This strategy didn’t last long, as I did not have the patience and could not sit still once I heard the first elk bugle. Soon my disability didn’t matter as much as chasing bulls, and I learned to just deal with being slow and awkward. All that mattered was that I could give chase, even if at a snail’s pace.

The rut kicked in and to my surprise I was able to get in close on multiple bulls. I absolutely love archery elk hunting and this experience of trying to do it in a surgical boot was humbling but made me more grateful than ever to be blessed with the opportunity to just get out and hunt. Luck smiled on me, and I was able to notch my tag on an unusual bull late in the season. A 43-yard broadside shot through the boilermaker put him down after just going 30 yards. And as always with elk, then the work began.  I don’t recommend packing out elk in a surgical boot by the way! 

Almost a week later I was fortunate to take my son out on a rifle elk hunt that also proved successful, with my boy taking an exceptional bull on the second day of his hunt. After we snuck our way into about 100 yards of the herd and the bugling herd bull, my son, Brayker knocked him down, successfully taking one of his biggest bulls to date. I was so grateful that I was physically able, although slowly, to take my son out and experience this hunt with him. A memory that I soon won’t forget.

A short eight days after my boy got his bull, gears shifted as the general mule deer season started. My expectations were NOT high as I knew that physically it would be extremely difficult to get into some of the areas I normally liked to hunt. With my injury it was going to be tough to get away from the crowds of hunters that always exist during the general season hunts. Nonetheless, I looked forward to getting out to look for some bucks.

We were fortunate to get some snow which helped me out by forcing deer to move into some areas that were certainly easier for me to access. One of those cold snowy mornings I found myself up about as high as I could get and glassing at daylight. I knew the area had deer as I had seen plenty of tracks in the same area a few days earlier. I would glass across the canyon and then slowly move down the ridge, glassing from different vantage points to see every part of the canyon. With almost 8 inches of snow it was the easy glassing that we all dream of for a mule deer hunt.

Over the first hour of the day, I had glassed a handful of deer including 4 small bucks but nothing that would get the heart rate up. After an hour, I slowly started working my way back up the ridge to a higher glassing spot when I noticed a deer across the canyon that had just stepped out into the edge of the brush line. I knew it was a buck as the body size was visibly much larger than those I had previously glassed. Pulling my binos up for a better look, I could just make out the frame but could not tell for sure how good of a buck he was, other than deciding he was worth trying to get a better look. 

I decided to drop down the next ridge to get closer and a better angle to throw a spotting scope on him.  After covering close to a 1000 yards I threw my binos up again as the buck had moved out of the thick brush and had a snowy backdrop providing a better opportunity to see what he really was. To my shock, when I glassed him, he was looking right at me… he had me pegged! I was shocked as I was so far away but apparently not as stealthy as I imagined (must have been my limp… haha) I couldn’t tell exactly how big he was but could see he had some good forks and one that looked to be a little bladed. He appeared to be a mature buck. I decided that in my physical condition, if I could get into position for a good shot I would try and take him. I quickly pulled my rangefinder out, and he was still almost 1000 yards away and on a steep angle uphill. I stayed still until he stopped looking at me and moved off back into the brush line. Then I quickly dropped down the ridge a few hundred more yards hoping to glass him up again, but I assumed that I already blew my opportunity when he spotted me. Before I could even start glassing, I noticed him sneaking with his head down through the brush about 100 yards from where I had last seen him enter the brush line. I quickly tossed my pack over a large fallen tree followed quickly by my gun. It was a steep uphill angle, but I picked him up in the scope as he was approaching a large pine. Once he stepped behind the tree could see that he would only have about 5-6 steps before disappearing into thick timber. After ranging the tree and dialing my scope, I took a few breaths and waited for him to hopefully step out. I He held up behind the tree for about a minute giving me time to settle in behind the gun. Finally, he stepped out broadside and stopped. With a slow squeeze of the trigger, the buck dropped where he stood. It all happened so fast that I finally had a chance to take it all in.

 It took me 45 minutes to get to the other side of the canyon to get over to the buck. What a beautiful sight he was laying there in the snow. Being solo, I took my time to enjoy the moment… a buck in the snow with a gorgeous view. It doesn’t get much better. 

I took my time processing and packing up the buck… I had a long way to go with a heavy load on 1 ½ legs, but I had all day to enjoy the process… one slow, limping step at a time. I can only hope to get lucky and have more days like this again in the future.

A short time later I was fortunate enough to get out after a couple of whitetail bucks in a couple of different states putting many more slow miles on my leg. The doctors told me to take physical therapy seriously. At this point the best physical therapy for my Achilles seems to be putting more and more miles on my recovering leg. Sounds like a prescription for more hunts if you ask me.

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