By Mason Ellis ~
Growing up in the small town of Bloomfield Indiana, the outdoors has always been a part of life. Whether fishing for bluegill and bass or hunting deer and turkey, bragging rights have always been around. It wasn’t until this past year, after surviving a car wreck and making it back out hunting, that I realized it’s not the size that matters most.
Hunting deer has always been my favorite. There’s just something about sitting up in a tree and watching the deer below that gets my adrenaline pumping. I guess some call it buck fever. But nothing compares to that perfect recoil of my well-known .44 magnum once the trigger is pulled, that gives me that one of a kind rush.
My love for hunting began at age 10 when I killed my first whitetail deer on the same ground my father hunted when he was younger. Everything I know about hunting has come from years of learning from my dad. He didn’t have the resources we have now to teach him about the tactics of hunting. He learned from reading magazines and experiencing it for himself. Learning from him has led to many great hunts together.
November 2014 was the first deer season I was able to hunt on my own. I remember driving to a property that we hunted on about five miles from our home. I sat up in a thicket that was in the middle of a picked cornfield. I didn’t see anything that night or the following night either.
The next day I went to the property where I had killed my first deer. However, this time it was a little more exciting because I was on my own. I decided to sit on the ground near an area where the deer crossed. I got set up, but didn’t see anything and darkness approached. I got up to leave, but as I exited the woods I saw a couple of deer out in the field that I needed to go through to get back to my vehicle.
I laid down and began crawling towards a tree, using it as cover. When I reached the tree, I got up on my knees to get a shot, but the deer got spooked and took off. This was the closest I had gotten to killing a deer all by myself. I was proud that I was getting closer to zeroing in on them with each hunt.
The next day, I went and sat at the same spot. I had a good feeling. Hearing several shots around me, I wondered when my shot would be.
I heard what sounded like deer wrestling around to the left of me but couldn’t see anything. Then I noticed the deer but couldn’t get a shot because there was a tree blocking my view. I pointed the barrel to the right side of the tree where I thought the deer was headed and looked through the scope. The deer was looking right at me and I knew I didn’t have time to waste. When the deer quartered toward me, I shot aiming at the front of its shoulder. It turned around and ran back across the creek from where it had come from.
My heart was pounding as everything had happened so fast. I sat there giving some time for the deer to pass. It was getting dark quickly, so I got up to track it down.
I crossed the creek and worked my way up the bank until I started finding blood. I heard movement in the leaves and decided to call my dad while I gave the deer more time to pass. When he got there, we followed the blood trail to the deer. It was a doe and I had made a really good shot on it.
My first kill on my own was quite an achievement. That was when hunting deer became really fun to me. I ended up killing three deer that season, sparking a fire in me like never before.
The new year started and I was halfway through my senior year of high school. I was on the academic honors tract and was part of the National Honors Society. Everything seemed like it was going my way until I was in a serious wreck on January 19, 2015.
That is a date I will never forget, and a day I will not remember. It was Martin Luther King Day and school had just gotten out. I told my mom I was going to pick up my friend and drive around because he didn’t have to work. As I was leaving, I past my dad and we waved to each other.
After picking up my friend, we drove down a county road that we had never been on before. As we crested this hill, we suddenly came upon an intersection with no stop signs where the blacktop ended with a deep drop off onto a gravel road. We went airborne over the drop off, landing on the gravel forcing me to lose control.
I tried correcting, but the vehicle hit a bank and rolled several times. We were ejected from the vehicle as we were not wearing our seatbelts. My SUV was flattened and I was found 96 feet from where the vehicle had landed. I fractured my shin; broke my left femur, left collarbone, both jaws, and the palate of my mouth; and lost six of my top front teeth. On top of that, I also cracked my skull bruising my brain, and fractured my C5-7 vertebrae, leaving me a quadriplegic (paralysis effecting all four limbs).
I was airlifted to Eskenazi Hospital in Indiana, a specialist trauma center, where I spent thirty days. I was then transferred to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana for another thirty days before being sent home.
It wasn’t until a few months after I got home that it hit me. I realized that I couldn’t do anything I could do before my wreck. However, that changed when deer hunting season came around.
As November approached, I began remembering the high I was left with from last year’s gun season. As much as I was looking forward to getting back out into the woods again, I had doubts it was even possible. But a spark was lit in me, and my father and I weren’t ready to give up.
First, I had to figure out how to shoot a gun again. I started off practice shooting a bolt-action .22 rifle from my electric chair. I’m right-handed, so I would hold the forestock in my left hand between my thumb and index finger. Then I would cock the gun sideways to get my right index finger inside the trigger guard. I have no finger function, but with the tone I have in my fingers I was able to pull the trigger by pulling my hand back towards my shoulder. I thought, “I got this!”
The next goal was to figure out how to get me in the woods to shoot a deer? My father had traded in a jeep for a Yamaha Viking, which is like a John Deere gator. We also bought the Sure Grip Hand Controls & Tri Pin for the Viking so I could drive it.
Trying to figure out how I would shoot the gun from sitting inside the Viking took more effort. After several trials, my father ended up building a wooden shelf for me to rest my gun on. This shelf went up from the driver’s side door, over the steering wheel, down on the passenger bar, and rested on the foldout windshield. We also added a cushion for me to sit on giving me three more inches in height.
Now that I could shoot from the Viking, I had to practice. I used the .22 rifle that my dad had a similar replica of in a .44 magnum. I shot at targets 30 yards away from the driver’s side of the Viking. It was closing in on deer season and I was getting excited.
It was November 14, 2015, first day of gun season. I woke up at five o’clock that morning to do the extra tasks I needed to do now because of being paralyzed. I got my leg stretches done and put on military-grade long johns. It was going to be in the 20’s, so I had to layer up since my body has trouble regulating its temperature because of the paralysis. I put on camo pajamas, a few shirts, a jacket, and grabbed my medication and other necessities. My dad loaded me in the passenger seat of the Viking and we headed out.
We made our way out to the same property where I killed my first deer at age 10, as well as the first deer I got by myself the season before my wreck. As we headed out, my father told me about this decent eight pointer he had seen. We got setup on top of a ridge with a valley to the left and right of us. We had the woods in front and on both sides with an open field behind us.
My father exited the Viking and helped me transfer to the driver’s seat. He set up the shelf he had built and turned on the portable Mr. Buddy Heater inside the Viking.
After a short bit, I hear something to my left. It was a deer on the next ridge, but it was headed to the field behind us. My dad said, “Try aiming at it,” but I couldn’t because my core was not strong enough to move that far. I could only shoot if a deer was directly in front of me. So my dad blew on a grunt call, and the deer turned and started heading the correct way. We were hoping it would circle around in front of us, but instead it disappeared.
While we waited, my dad set up the shooting sticks we brought in case a deer came to my left. A little while later, we heard something running through the leaves in front of us. I looked through my scope and noticed it was a doe. I tried to follow her with my scope, but she was not staying still, so I let her go. It was the time of the rut so we were hoping a buck might be chasing her.
My father started to put up the camo netting we had brought. I thought my dad made enough noise by this point that it’d be a miracle if we saw anything else. However a short while later, I saw a deer walking down the bank into the valley to the right of us. I notice antlers and point it out to my dad. He tells me, “Get your gun ready because it’ll be coming up on the ridge in front of us soon.”
I look through the scope and lined up the crosshairs. I was positioned and ready for the shot, waiting for the moment to tell my dad to flip off the safety.
Several anxious minutes pass. I’m thinking my dad must see the deer because he asked if I was ready twice now. Having to hold my air in my lungs to stay positioned correctly made it hard to speak loud enough for my dad to hear me. I was feeling the tension. Finally, I see the deer and say, “Take the safety off.”
The deer was looking at me but there was a grapevine in the bullet’s path to its shoulder. Cautiously, I repositioned my body to get a clear shot and pulled the trigger.
The gun fired and I went down! The recoil from the .44 magnum was too much for my weak core. All I could see was the top of the cab where my barrel now pointed. Not realizing I fell over, my father said, “Watch him and see where he goes,” but I couldn’t see anything. Then, looking down, my father asked, “What are you doing?” As he pushed me back up, he questioned, “Did you hit it?” I just wasn’t sure.
My father walked up to where the deer was standing and looked around as though he didn’t see anything. I hoped I didn’t miss the deer with everything that we had to do to get a shot. I said a prayer as he walked in the same path as the deer ran.
About five minutes later, I was relieved to see him dragging my deer. A nice seven-point buck! Walking up my dad said smiling, “That was a seventy-yard shot!” He got in the Viking and I drove up to where he had left it. After my dad field dressed it, he put it in the back and I drove the Viking home, showing off my buck.
A seven-point buck may not be a trophy deer, but it was a hunt I’ll never get tired of reliving. It was an iconic experience that goes beyond the size of the kill, and one so rare many hunters may only ever be able to image. It was the passing of a tradition that started on the same hunting ground my father learned to hunt on. From killing my first deer at age 10, to applying all I had learned from my dad and getting my first deer on my own, the place on that ridge held special meaning. Going back there after surviving a wreck and learning to hunt in a new way, this kill has by far left an impact that cannot be beat… but there’s always next year!