In a quiet, empty field ringed by trees, Nick James sits completely still.
Nothing moves. Not his feet, hands or chest. Not even his eyes as he stares down the barrel of his mounted rifle.
He is waiting for a deer, a buck if he’s lucky, to poke out of the tangled wood. If it does, he’ll turn his head to his right shoulder to a tube that connects to his gun. He’ll inhale once on the tube to unlock the safety, twice to fire.
His gun will explode in a cannon-like burst of sound. If he hits his mark, though, he will not proudly walk over and check on his kill.
Because James is in a wheelchair.
‘Nobody singles you out’
Gerald Moore sits behind a folding table at the Clinton National Guard Armory and checks people in at the 21st Upstate Mobility Impaired Deer Hunt. Moore, a wildlife biologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has helped organize the event with the DNR since 1995.
The hunt is available to people permanently confined to wheelchairs; permanently requiring the use of walking aids like crutches, walkers and canes; or people with single or double leg amputations.
Often the hunters are wounded military veterans.
“It provides an opportunity for these guys to have a quality deer hunt where they often wouldn’t be able to do so without a lot of assistance,” Moore says.
The program started with nine hunters on one hunting site. This year there are 80 hunters and 22 hosts who offered up their land for the recent November weekend, the second of two hunts DNR organized this fall in the Upstate. Applicants can sign up for one or both hunts.
On this afternoon in the armory, hunters dressed in camo sit down for a barbecue lunch next to able-bodied partners who will accompany them on the outing. “It’s more about the fellowship than just the hunt,” James says, while talking to other hunters before the meal. The 18-year-old Aynor native, with brown hair, pillowy cheeks and a quiet voice, is among the youngest hunters in the group.
Between sips of sweet tea, they chat about the types of guns they own and the various places they’ve been hunting.
“You get to see a lot of people that have the same injuries as you,” James says. “Nobody singles you out.”
After lunch, there is a raffle of door prizes – gift cards to the outdoor store Cabela’s and small jars of doe urine, a scent used to attract bucks on the hunt. Then the hunters disperse to their trucks and head to their hunting sites.
James and his father Stephen James join a group at The Scott Place, a renovated hunting cabin built in the 1840s tucked into the woods in Newberry County. Every wall has at least one row of mounted antlers. There’s lasagna in the stove for supper.
“It’s humbling for those of us that have full mobility and don’t even think about the challenges that they deal with every day,” says Trey Taylor, the lodge host. “Everyone gets so excited when they shoot something. It’s been a lot of fun over the years.”
After a hearty welcome, Taylor gives the hunters a safety speech before releasing them to their blinds.
Stephen James loads his son onto the ramp of the family minivan and buckles him into place on the passenger side. They drive slowly on a dirt road with ruts and potholes to an empty field.
The van door slides open and James is wheeled down onto uneven grass. His wheelchair pitches and squeaks as he gets in position in the pop-up blind, a tent-like structure with a camouflage cover.
The blind is a hot, dark control room, barely big enough for two people. The sun bears down on the afternoon and a light breeze moves through the trees.
Father helps son set up his gun mount.
The waiting begins.
Learning to hunt again
James has always loved hunting. His father took him out for the first time when he was 6 months old. He shot his first deer at 6 years old.
James also was passionate about fishing and running dogs in Aynor. As a teen he was a volunteer firefighter with dreams of one day becoming a full-time firefighter for Horry County.
That changed after the car accident in 2014.
The smashup that crushed the firefighter dream the way a collision crumples metal.
He was 16, paralyzed.
James lost movement in his legs and was left with very limited use of his hands. He could no longer grip his gun. He could no longer feed himself.
But it was a trip to the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta hospital that specializes in spinal cord injury and brain injuries, where the Jameses learned about adaptable equipment for people with mobility impairments.
They found that, with a gun-mounting apparatus that screwed into base of his chair and uses a special bracket that links to his rifle, James could hunt again. Then they heard about the DNR’s Upstate hunt.
“It’s a lot of fun hunting with my son. It’s been a drastic learning curve since his accident,” Stephen James says.
At DNR’s first hunt of the year, James killed his first buck since his accident.
“That thrilled me,” Stephen James says.
On the field in Newberry, the sun dips below the treeline and the air cools. It’s been more than four hours, and James continues to stare at the field until it becomes too dark to see or shoot. They call it a day.
There was no deer, no movement from the treeline, no cannon-like burst of sound.
But as James wheels back to the van under a blanket of emerging stars, he smiles slightly and says, “Still fun.”
Want to know more?
For information about the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Mobility Impaired Deer Hunts, including requirments and applications, visit www.dnr.sc.gov/hunting/mobilityhunt.html.