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Dedicated to all who see themselves as disabled

It’s not easy for a 5th-year Parkinson’s patient to commit financially to an event taking place a year later, let alone commit to go on a bear hunt. But that’s what I did.

We were with Jim McKinley of Cameron Accounting of Missouri, completing our tax return. Jim was telling Sharon and me about his hunt at Tyler Kelly’s Camp in Allagash, Maine, and that Wade Kelley, the outfitter and owner, was a Master Maine Guide with 25 years of tracking experience. He said they averaged 85 percent success for hunters, with his group achieving 100 percent success last year. He then asked if I wanted to go with them the next fall, the cost being $1,500, plus travel, with guns, ammo, three meals a day, lodging, game dressing and skinning and freezing included.

What could I say? Who would turn down the chance to get attacked by a bear?

A black bear can run 35 mph and climb a tree in a matter of seconds. They have a nose like a blood hound and the hearing of a piano tuner. They can’t actually play a piano but I hear they can dance. With all that talent, who would say no? So I dropped my money down and kissed my wife goodbye. We then spent the next several months asking ourselves if we had made the right decision, me being slow both physically and perhaps mentally. But since the deposit was non-refundable and my life insurance was paid up, Sharon encouraged me to go.

When the time finally arrived, a group of us flew from Kansas City to Presque Isle, Maine, where we were met by the camp outfitter and hide skinner, Wade and Benny, who drove us to the camp. The day was spent resting, sighting in our guns, and preparing our gear.

Day One

There were ten of us. They crammed us in three rigs and drove us down the logging roads for an hour and a half each day. The average speed was 50 mph over gravel roads, all the while dodging logging trucks, coyote pups, porcupine, and moose. Each hunter was stationed in a tree stand or ground stand (if you were foolish enough to accept one) a mile apart. I was placed at the last station in a ground stand with a walkie-talkie and was told to call if I needed anything. I thought I might call for a shake and hamburger but reconsidered when I thought about the bear’s nose and the bloodhound thing. We were to stay in our stand until we were picked up. That meant sitting from 3 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. with minimum movement or sound. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that when I was healthy, aside from the fact that having Parkinson’s means never sitting still for more than a minute at a time.

Each station was baited by placing 50-gallon barrels about 30 yards away from the hunter. The barrel had a 24-inch hole cut in the side so the bear could access the donuts and chocolate that was placed inside each day. I wasn’t worried how close the bear would be to my stand as much as how it would approach the barrel. My ground blind was 5 feet high (eye level to a bear), and there was a bear trail on each side of me. I thought that a bear cub might climb up in my lap and then call for its mother. What a photo-op that would be.

It was 4 p.m. when three one-year-old cubs appeared in front of the bait barrel. One jumped inside and fought off the other two while trying to eat the treats inside. After a few minutes, one of the two on the outside went around to the back of the barrel, stood up and tipped the barrel over. He then scrambled back around to the downed opening and fought his way inside, only to be tossed back out. Meanwhile, the third cub wandered toward me. They were cute up till that moment. Then I began to worry: Where's the momma bear? What if the cub comes to my stand and squeals in fear for its life? But at twenty yards out, the cub wondered off to my right and disappeared in the brush while the two others continued to fight for treat dominance. After 25 minutes, two of the three cubs vanished, and five minutes later the third cub popped out of the barrel and wandered off. The momma bear was never seen, but I was later told they are never far off and listen for a distress call to which they respond with suddenness and full force. The rest of the day was left to the squirrels and the 90-degree heat, accompanied by mosquitoes.

Day Two

The second day was just like the first day only without the bear cubs. I was bored and wiggly. By 7 p.m. I slipped down from my stand and walked to the road. Then I realized I had 45 minutes to wait for Wade to pick me up, so I tried whistling, but my lips were dry. I held my gun up, so if a bear saw me he might think twice before killing me. When Wade picked me up, he told me the greatest opportunity to see a bear was from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. He encouraged me to try to stay in my stand. I countered with a proposal that he sit in my stand from 3 to 6:59 p.m., and then I would switch with him and sit real still from 7 to 7:45 p.m. We compromised and agreed that I would go to my stand an hour later for the rest of the hunt.

Day Three

I entered my stand at 3:45 p.m., fully expecting to see a bear. It was 89 degrees with a slight breeze. I believe in prayer and had prayed to harvest a bear this day. We were hunting on 2.3 million acres of overpopulated bear and moose country. It was necessary and civil that they be reduced in population. I thought the prayer was quite appropriate.

Day three was just like day two until 7 p.m. At 7 p.m. I sat up, propped up my gun and sat perfectly still. I rehearsed over and over in my mind, “Bear enters stage right, take off my glasses, take off the safety, aim at the bear’s front shoulder and pull the trigger. Remember, take off the safety!”

At 7:10 p.m., I heard a branch break, which drew my focus off to the right. I imagined him moving toward the opening slowly and quietly. I was later told that a bear seldom gives his position away.

At 7:26 p.m., a bear entered at stage right just like I had rehearsed in my mind. To my surprise, my heart began to palpitate uncontrollably. My right hand began to shake, and adrenaline shot through my veins stimulated by fear and reality. I thought, “What if I miss! They will understand that the guy with Parkinson’s can’t hit the broadside of a three-car garage. But they won’t believe that what I saw of the bear’s back was level with the top of the barrel. He is big! Take off the safety.”

He walked over to the bait barrel and reached toward the hole in the side. Upon grasping it, he flipped the barrel towards his body and hit himself in the head. I took the opportunity to take the gun off safety as he bonked his head and turned toward my stand as if it were my fault. I took off my glasses and scoped his left shoulder, knowing that his heart was tucked under there somewhere just below his lungs. He reapproached the barrel while I was steadying my 30-06. When I had him scoped, I didn’t pause to enjoy the view. I gently squeezed the trigger and heard a loud explosion. What a rush. I was later told I hit him right in the heart. He jumped straight into the air and bolted off into a raspberry bush. Suddenly, I heard a loud crash as if a car full of Illinois teenagers had hit a tree, followed by the traditional death moan, moooo, moooo.

I sat there shaking and almost in tears. I asked myself, “Did I hit him? I must have hit him. Was he a boy or a girl? Where’s Wade? I can’t put my shoes on. I can’t unload my gun. Was he big?” Within minutes Wade showed up, and my visible excitement got him excited. He said, “Did you get one?”

“I think so,” I answered.

“Is he big?”

“I don’t dare say, but his back was as high as the barrel.”

“Let’s go see.” He pulled out his 44 magnum and asked where the bear went.

With a trembling hand, I pointed in front of me, and Wade dove into the bushes, gun first. Ten yards later he yelled that he had found the bear and he looked big, about 250 lbs, Wade thought.

Leaving the bear where he landed, we drove back to the sites of the other hunters. Chris had taken one. No one else was as lucky. The six of us then returned to my stand and proceeded to drag my bear to the road. It took all five of them to get the big fellow into the truck bed. I patiently watched, with gratitude for their willingness to help.

Upon reaching the camp, the bear was hoisted up to a scale and the count began.

“He’ll be over 280 lbs. No, over 300. Let’s see, over 350.”

They continued adjusting the scale until it balanced at 408 lbs! Wade announced that it was the second biggest bear taken in the camps 50+ year history.

He was taken at 30 yards from a five-foot off-ground blind with a 30-06 rifle, using a Federal 150 grain soft point cartridge. He was almost six feet tall and was determined to be about 8 years old. His hide weighed 97 lbs, and he produced 79 lbs of meat.

Days Four through Six

The rest of the days were spent sightseeing, sleeping, fishing, and bragging. Wade's father, Tyler Kelly, showed me his hand-hewn log cabin and gave me a walking stick as a gift. The Kellys, their family, and fellow workers were more than friendly. They treated us like family.

In all, six out of ten guys took a bear, one had a miss-fire, and one passed on the opportunity to shoot in hope for a bigger bear. Jim and his buddies became my friends. I will cherish the opportunity I was given to go with them and be part of their fellowship, without regard to my restriction. Instead, they only thought of what I had the potential to do.

To those who are disabled or feel unable to enjoy life as well as you did in the past, I would encourage you to try something new. You may have limitations, but giving up should never be considered an alternative. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then use a walker or wheelchair. But I would encourage you to never give up. If you can grow where you are planted, you can grow where you are transplanted. One of our God-given traits is our ability to adapt. And adapting brings a blessing of seeing the world from a new view. New views give you an opportunity to share what you see with those who have limited experience. You, in your limited condition, can give unlimited perspective to those whose perspective is still maturing. Build a bridge. Go on a bear hunt. Treat yourself to an experience of a lifetime. Then share your story with others.