By Robert Sorenson, Nekoosa, Wis.
The 2019 Wisconsin deer gun season is one Dean, above left, and his son Phil will never forget, as they both bagged trophy 10-pointers!
Upon closer examination, Phil’s buck truly meets the standards of a “dream buck” for central Wisconsin deer: a stately, long-tined rack with a very respectable 20½-inch inside spread and a green score of 176½ B&C points. However, for those who fixate solely upon the B&C score to determine “trophy status,” Dean’s buck may appear to come up short. Although it boasts a 19½-inch inside spread, it lacks the mass and tine length displayed by Phil’s prize.
Yet by my “trophy status” standards, the challenges a hunter must overcome add to the scoring column. And few of us shall ever overcome challenges that surpass those Dean conquered in the four months preceding the 2019 firearms deer season. For on July 13, 2019, Dean’s life was nearly taken and forever changed after a tragic farming accident severed both of his legs and mangled, macerated and incapacitated his dominant right hand, wrist and forearm.
True hunters savor opportunities to conquer challenges of the hunt. Those challenges come in many forms, from dealing with weather extremes and difficult terrain to overcoming ever-changing wind directions and finally, when the opportunity presents itself, making the shot. Dean is a true hunter. He always has been. Yet after surviving his life-altering accident, the hunting challenges that most of us dream about lay buried deep beneath his battle to conquer what most of us take for granted, like our ability to independently go to the refrigerator and fix something to eat, or independently go to the bathroom.
During the four months following Dean’s accident, he faced many challenges and would have to answer some hard questions before the 2019 Wisconsin deer season arrived:
Could he regain enough functional strength in his right hand and forearm to effectively handle and shoot his rifle?
Would that time frame prove sufficient for his residual limbs to heal so that he could be fitted for prosthetics?
And once fitted, would time permit him to redevelop adequate core strength and master the use of the new prosthetics?
In the weeks and months that followed, Dean faced multiple reconstructive surgical procedures on his hand, wrist and forearm. With grit and determination, he proved himself a poster-child patient with physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists and prosthetists. And through their persistence, they made progress.
When Wisconsin’s southern zone duck season arrived on Sept. 29, Dean’s physical limitations forced him to watch from the sidelines. He lived and hunted vicariously through his four oldest sons as they pursued waterfowl opportunities in Wisconsin and North Dakota.
I visited Dean in late October—only a couple of weeks away from Wisconsin’s firearms deer season. I could not ignore the elephant in the room. With a lump in my throat, I took a deep breath and empathetically asked, “Well Dean, do you have any realistic hopes of somehow getting out to hunt deer?”
Dean turned toward me and smiled. He paused, took a deep breath and stared off into space. And finally, he turned and looked me in the eyes, and with his very deliberate choice of words he replied, “Well … let me put it this way: I have not given up hope.”
Hope. I liked it … a lot, for I felt the drive and determination burning within him, yet I still harbored doubts as to whether he could regain adequate functional strength in his right hand. At that time, he could barely lift a 12-ounce beverage container.
Each week I called to check on Dean’s progress. His response and attitude remained extremely positive, yet I failed to envision the quantum leaps required for him to hunt.
On the day before the season opener, I attempted to concentrate on the details with my own hunting gear and final choice of clothing layers, but my focus continually shifted back to Dean. Would he somehow manage to get out and hunt? I felt apprehensive and afraid to call for his final status update, but I took a deep breath and called. “Well Dean, are you going to be in the starting lineup? Or will you still be on the sidelines tomorrow morning at first light?”
“I am going!” Dean proudly declared. “My boys put up a ground blind for me, and Phil plans to hand my rifle to me after I somehow crawl in and get safely situated. I’m ready!”
And the rest is history—a tale of two trophies. Dean is a true hunter and an NRA Life member.
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