This story appeared in the Wilmington Star News on Nov. 12, 2006 and Tabor-Loris Tribune and received the first place SEOPA Excellence in Craft Award for Best Daily Newspaper Column or Feature.
It’s not often you get to treat someone from a foreign state to a coastal North Carolina deer hunt. But when that hunter hails from a foreign country, it becomes even more of a special event.
Andy Hahn is a magazine editor from Brazil, although he was born and raised in Pennsylvania. While I was working on a story for his magazine, Sport Fishing, we struck up a steadfast friendship, sort of like being pen pals, except through the electronic marvel of emails rather than letters sent by postal carrier.
Offhandedly, he asked me to host him on a deer hunt and I agreed to be his guide. While most such offers are left unaccepted, Andy was serious and so we made plans.
I watched two deer feed in a field all summer and hoped they would remain in the area. Moving a portable blind to the edge of the field to make it easy for Andy to have his hunt was all that was required, except of course having the deer cooperate and enter the field during the daylight when he was hunting.
When the day came, we awoke at 3:45 a.m. to give Andy time to ready his equipment. After the sleepy-eyed drive, he got into the blind and I went to another stand to watch the arrival of sunrise.
I had nearly given up hope for success when the sound of two shots came from the field. I gave it a few minutes before heading to Andy’s blind in the pickup to see if he had taken the two residents of the field. I could see the white of a deer’s underbelly at the end of the field, 120 yards away.
“I missed with the first shot and downed him with the second,” Andy said.
His voice was so excited it was just a raspy whisper as he told me of his hunt while I unloaded Carol’s .243-caliber rifle. I had loaned him my wife’s rifle for the hunt because of its light recoil.
“Look, there’s another one,” he hissed.
I shook as I reloaded the rifle and handed it back to him. He was shaking harder than me with the excitement of seeing the second deer and it was all he could do to settle the crosshairs on the deer’s shoulder as I coached him to make a good shot. My camera was on the ground at my feet, but I didn’t dare to reach for it or the movement could have alarmed the deer.
The shot was perfect and I unloaded the rifle again. Andy made his way to the pickup and we drove to the deer because it was much to far a journey for him to make with his camouflaged walker.
For you see, Andy, my electronic pen pal was diagnosed as having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease also know as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and it happened after we had scheduled the hunt. He made sure I understood his physical limitations before he arrived and had no way of knowing that my father-in-law was afflicted with the same disease.
Carol’s father, James Lewis Jobe, taught me the quiet dignity and determination born of physical challenge and it was his example that has driven any of my success not only as a hunter and writer, but in every facet of my life.
I knew that Andy trembled more than other hunters because his system cannot cope well with the adrenaline rush produced by the presence of game and that made his good shooting all the more remarkable. The second deer fell instantly to a 150-yard shot.
“That doubles my lifetime total of deer to two,” he said.
Standing over the deer, balanced by a walker, the grin of success on his face was enough reward. But I came away from our hunt with much more.
Never once during our three days of hunting, which included his bagging three gray squirrels and sightings of a host of other game, did he ever complain of anything - not his affliction, not the cold, not of enduring his obvious discomfort and problems with mobility.
He and his wife Ligia thanked Carol and me repeatedly when all the while we were thinking it should have been the other way around. It was a truly our joy and inspiration to have them in our home.
Never again will I complain of bad luck on any hunting or fishing trip without feeling Andy’s reassuring hug of goodbye, his body so thin and frail but ever so wonderfully warm. Just being able to go hunting without assistance is all the success any hunter should ever ask for himself. But sharing a hunt with someone less fortunate has a way of reinforcing what each of us already knows. The success of a hunt is not based on a filled bag of any game. The act of hunting, of just being out there enjoying a splendid day afield with someone who appreciates it as much - or even more - than you, is enough to fill anyone’s limit, no matter the amount of game you may or may not bring home.