By Joe Shead
Your dream buck could stride into your shooting lane at any moment, changing your life in an instant.
Likewise, a freak accident could change your life forever.
The latter happened to Greg Traynor, 53, of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Before his life-altering injury 22 years ago, Traynor lived an active outdoor life. He started bowhunting at 16, and regularly skydived, practiced martial arts, and rode a dirt bike.
That all changed in 1999 when Traynor broke his neck while diving into shallow water, severely injuring his spinal cord.
He spent weeks in a hospital-induced coma, and was eventually sent to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, which specializes in spinal-cord injuries.
The findings weren’t good. Traynor was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the biceps down. He’d never walk again. Imagine your doctor telling you that. The many daily activities we take for granted suddenly became challenging or impossible. Traynor was devastated.
But from those dark clouds came hope. While at Shepherd Center, Traynor’s therapist let him shoot an air rifle with a BMF trigger. The device attaches to the trigger guard, and fires the gun by cranking.
Traynor recalled thinking, “If I can still do target shooting, and I’m still getting outside, maybe I can go (hunting again).”
Physical therapy and accepting his new life took time and energy. Just learning to function again was challenging. Years passed, and Traynor returned to college, earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and assistive technology from the University of Pittsburgh.
But he never forgot about shooting that air gun. By 2009 he was physically stronger and ready to get back outdoors. He decided to try hunting again. Just getting set up was challenging. He found few online resources, and accessible equipment wasn’t widely available.
“I made mounts to hold my crossbow, and designed one with my buddy Jesse,” he said.
The mounts and shooting devices Traynor found didn’t always fit his needs. He often had to adapt them or make his own equipment to help him shoot.
Because he has little arm movement, Traynor fires his crossbow with a Sip and Puff trigger. To fire it, he simply sucks on a straw.
Still, shooting has many challenges. Traynor needs a mount to hold his crossbow on his wheelchair. Aiming at the range is one thing, but shooting at a live target – within crossbow range – is a bigger challenge.
“A lot of guys with arm movement use a mount with a tripod so they have left and right movement,” Traynor said.
That doesn’t work for him. He uses the mount his friend Jesse helped him make. He can move the mount about 18 inches left or right, but only slightly up and down. He also uses his wheelchair’s seating functions to tilt the crossbow up and down.
“I set my crosshairs where I think the deer will walk so I don’t have to move a lot,” he said.
Eye relief is another problem. Whether he’s shooting a crossbow or a shotgun with bird loads, he aims with a scope. To see a bigger, fuller sight picture, he shortened his stocks to get closer to the scope.
Traynor’s power chair is one of his most critical pieces of equipment. Besides serving as a mount for his crossbow, it gets him afield.
When he resumed hunting after his injury, Traynor participated in urban deer-control hunts. Access was easy, but his new chair helped him reach more rugged terrain.
“The equipment has come so far,” he said. “I bought a tracked chair, and that opened up state game lands that everyone can hunt. That gets people outdoors so much easier.”
Another suggestion: Contact your local game warden.
“Getting a permit to hunt from a vehicle is a big resource that people don’t use enough,” Traynor said. “State agencies are taking accessibility a lot more seriously.”
Traynor began blogging about his experiences in 2010, sharing his challenges and successes. He also encouraged other hunters in his position, and helped them find equipment that helped them hunt. The blog evolved into his “Accessible Hunter” page on Facebook, connecting him with hunters worldwide.
“It’s amazing how small the archery world is when you can reach out and talk with each other,” Traynor said.
His inspiring optimism helps him share advice with those seeking to get back outdoors but unsure where to start. In fact, his advice helps anyone trying to get into hunting.
“Don’t be afraid to go out and do it,” Traynor said. “Start small. Hunt locally with friends and family. Take small steps. Go to the range as much as you can to practice with your equipment. Practice in the type of clothing you’ll wear (during hunting season). Also, enjoy the experience. It’s a journey. It’s not all about killing an animal.”
No one wants to suffer a life-changing injury, but Traynor is grateful he can still enjoy hunting. And he appreciates all the help he’s received.
“Thanks to everyone who helps me and everyone with disabilities to get out,” he said. “A lot of people give up their own hunting. The hunting community has been outstanding. It’s a lift for myself, psychologically. I can still do this. I’m still a bowhunter. I’m just hunting a different way.
If you wonder if you can hunt, Traynor offers this advice:
“As long as you can move your head, as long as you can suck on a straw, there’s equipment that helps you do this.”
Traynor compiled this list of online resources he finds valuable for disabled hunters: