Member’s Hunt: A Tale of Two Trophies

By Robert Sorenson, Nekoosa, Wisconsin.

The 2019 Wisconsin deer hunting season is a Dean, top left, and his son Phil will never forget him, as they both achieved a 10-point trophy!

Upon closer examination, Phil’s buck truly meets the standards of a “dream buck” for central Wisconsin deer: a majestic rack of long tines with a very respectable inside spread of 20½ inches and a green score of 176½ B&C points. However, for those who look solely at the B&C score to determine “trophy status”, it may seem like Dean’s investment falls short. Although it boasts a 19½-inch inner span, it lacks the mass and length of teeth that Phil’s prize exhibits.

However, by my “trophy status” standards, the challenges a hunter must complete do add to the score column. And few of us will overcome challenges greater than those Dean conquered in the four months leading up to the 2019 gun deer season. On July 13, 2019, Dean’s life was nearly taken and changed forever after he a tragic farming accident amputated both his legs and mutilated, macerated, and disabled his dominant right hand, wrist, and forearm.

True hunters enjoy opportunities to conquer the challenges of the hunt. Those challenges come in many forms, from dealing with extreme weather 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. However, after surviving his life-changing accident, the hunting challenges most of us dream of lay buried deep beneath his battle to conquer what most of us take for granted, like our ability to go to the refrigerator and prepare something to eat independently, or go to the bathroom independently.

In the four months after Dean’s accident, he faced many challenges and had to answer some tough questions before the 2019 Wisconsin deer season rolled around:

Could he regain enough functional strength in his right hand and forearm to handle and fire his rifle effectively?

Would that period of time be long enough for his residual limbs to heal and for prosthetics to be fitted?

And once in place, would time allow him to redevelop adequate core strength and master the use of the new prostheses?

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 to be a model patient with doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists and prosthetists. And through his persistence, they made progress.

When southern Wisconsin duck season arrived on September 29, Dean’s physical limitations forced him to watch from the sidelines. He lived and hunted vicariously through his four oldest sons as they searched for waterfowl opportunities in Wisconsin and North Dakota.

I visited Dean in late October, just a couple of weeks into Wisconsin gun deer season. He couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room. With a lump in my throat, I took a deep breath and asked empathetically, “Well, Dean, do you have any realistic hope of going out deer hunting somehow?”

Dean turned to me and smiled. He paused, took a deep breath, and stared into space. And finally, he turned and looked me in the eye, and with his very deliberate choice of words he replied, “Well… let me put it this way: I haven’t given up hope.”

Expect. I liked it… a lot, because I felt drive and determination burning within him, but I still harbored doubts as to whether I could regain adequate functional strength in his right hand. At the time, he could barely lift a 12-ounce beverage container.

Every week he called to check on Dean’s progress. His response and attitude remained extremely positive, but I couldn’t imagine the quantum leaps required for him to hunt.

The day before the season opener, I tried to focus on the details with my own hunting gear and the final choice of layers of clothing, but my focus kept returning to Dean. Would he manage to go 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 declared proudly. “My guys put me in a stash spot in the ground, and Phil plans to hand over my rifle to me after I somehow crawled out and safely located myself. I’m ready!”

And the rest is history, a story of two trophies. Dean is a true hunter and member of NRA Life.

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