By Justin Skarbeck, Renfrew, Pa.
The winter of 2013 was a slow one for my contracting business, so when I finally got a roofing job I pushed a little too hard and on Feb. 13, took a 10-foot fall off a metal roof. Despite narrowly avoiding amputation due to the severity of my injuries (I had crushed the bone and severed two of the three main arteries in my foot), seven surgeries and 11 months later I was given a 100 percent-healed rating from my doctor. I had won the “broke leg” lottery.
I was on a continued non-weight-bearing status until August of this past year, which limited the activities I could do. I managed to borrow a hand-cycle from a Vietnam vet with an amputated lower leg. With it I could take the German shorthair pointer down the road on a run or haul the family to a local rail trail. I also spent lots of time shooting my bow.
Thankfully, I had my external fixator removed just before spring gobbler season opened. I had been riding the hand-cycle down to the field to observe the local birds. It took a few tries but I eventually selected the correct ambush location and dropped the boss tom at 30 steps with my single-shot 10-gauge. Wading through the woods with crutches was similar to swimming the butterfly stroke, but I got where I needed to go nonetheless. I went on to guide a friend of mine to a jake and another friend who got within 50 yards of a true longbeard.
I had a hard time getting started in archery season as I was severely limited in how far I could walk to a treestand. My first morning out I had a doe come down a trail that would take her right past me but unfortunately just out of range. She spontaneously jumped up the bank and walked right in front of me at 5 yards. I quickly cashed in on the gift of a shot, and I had my first deer of the year.
The fall turkey opener found my 6-year-old son, Gavin, and I in a blind near the same location we hunted in the spring. We had a large 8-point buck come in and make a scrape only 20 yards away. Then the gobbler gang materialized at 40 steps. They had been roosting only 80 yards away and were now staring down our blind. I told Gavin that they were not coming any closer, so I took the shot but missed clean. Later in the week I went to a known roost for an evening hunt. The birds skirted around me, but I was still able to shoot one as it flew up to the tree. Imagine my surprise when I walked up on the 20-plus-pound super-jake with an 8-inch beard. What luck!
Traditionally our family has gathered at our cabin near Punxsutawney, Pa., during the final days of whitetail archery season. I was pumped to finally get a few hunts in with Dad, and there were already two bucks hanging when I got to camp. Dad had shot a buck on the opener out of a stand that was very close to the road, and we figured that stand would be my best option considering my limited mobility. On the second morning a perfect 8-point buck came running down the path only 6 yards from my tree. My autopilot kicked in as I drew, stopped the buck and made a perfect hit to the heart and lung. He ran back in the direction he came from and stopped and stared at me for about a minute before lying down and expiring.
Twenty-five years earlier I had shot my very first archery buck from a tree only 100 yards farther up the hill. This year, Dad and I had both shot our bucks from the same tree, his on the first day and mine on the last day of the season. It was the first time I had connected on a buck with a bow while hunting with Dad since I was 13. Now at 38, I slowly made my way to the buck savoring the time together and reminiscing about that first buck. It was great adding my buck to the meat pole back at camp and receiving the congratulations from friends and relatives. We ended the week with two does and four bucks.
I ended the season fulfilled, even with the added challenge of hunting on a broken and very dysfunctional leg.
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