Hunters with disabilities find new starts

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, January 15, 2009

All the world was right for Virgil Armstrong. Then a log from a pulpwood train car fell, delivering a devastating blow to the back of his head. Armstrong was knocked to the ground and his shirt was caught in the mechanics of the switching trains.

The train dragged Armstrong 50 feet along the sidetrack before he was rescued.

“That was 34 years ago and I’ve been a quadriplegic since that day,” Armstrong said. “But I know that I’m blessed to be here. The doctors told my wife, Anita, that I would be in the nursing home for the rest of my life. But she didn’t accept that.”

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Neither did Armstrong. He refused to let the devastating injury take complete control of his life. He was blessed that he didn’t suffer brain injury so he made a decision to do the best with what he had. But it seemed there was very little that he could do.

For the next “many” years, the former railroad employee could do little but stay home.

“Oh, we’d go out from time to time but there really wasn’t a lot that I could do,” Armstrong said. “Anita and I both grew up in the woods and that’s what I really missed. I wanted to get back out there. I thought a lot about hunting and how much I wanted to hunt again but I didn’t think that was possible.”

And it was not possible until Armstrong learned about hunting opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Outdoors Without Limits gives people like me the chance to get outdoors and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” he said. “I’ve hunted since I was a boy and it’s something that I enjoy whether I get a deer or not.”

All those years that Armstrong was only able to dream about harvesting a deer, he never lost hope that one day he would be back in the woods again.

Armstrong is one of 104 hunters with disabilities who have registered for the 2009 Ultimate Adventure Deer Hunt that opened Thursday at Swindall’s RV Park in Troy and will run through Sunday noon.

“We all come hoping to harvest a deer but none of us will be too disappointed if we don’t,” Armstrong said. “The fellowship of these hunts means as much as harvesting a deer. Maybe more.”

Armstrong has five deer to his credit and this hunt he will be hunting with a “sip and puff” apparatus made for him by “the Jerk.”

“We call Raymond Jerkins “the Jerk,” for fun but he’s really a genius,” Armstrong said. “He made this apparatus for me that is operated by simply ‘sipping’ on the ‘straw.’ We’d seen one similar to it that cost more than $3,000. The Jerk made this one for me out of junk.”

Until the Jerk made the very efficient and easy to operate hunting apparatus for Armstrong, he had been hunting with a device that his wife made.

“Really, it was just a camera tripod that would support Virgil’s gun but this new one will adjust up and down and from side to side and it’s easy to shoot. All Virgil has to do is sip and it shoots.”

The Armstrongs have found the Outdoors Without Limits opportunities so beneficial that they have organized a chapter in Atmore and have conducted several hunts.

“The hunts aren’t big like this one but we are growing,” Armstrong said. “OWL has given me a new start in life and I can’t begin to tell you what it means to me and to other like me.”

The 2009 Ultimate Adventure Deer Hunt will host dinner events tonight and Saturday night and a Southern breakfast on Sunday and the public is invited to participate. For ticket information, call 566-8353.