I first met Eric in August of 1988. We had just reported to University of Wisconsin-River Falls for the start of our college football careers; I was there to play offensive center and he was there to play quarterback. Over the course of college we became friends, but were not what I would consider close friends.
In 1993, Eric was mountain biking when his tire kicked out from under him, sending him airborne into a tree. The outcome was devastating. Eric was med-flighted and it was later determined that his back was broken and spinal cord severed. Eric’s life, as well as the lives of those around him, changed forever that day. I heard the news but could not muster up the courage to travel to the hospital to see him. As an athlete myself, it was difficult to even think of, let alone see him in that condition at the young age of 23. When I finally decided to visit Eric, I was informed he had been released from the hospital and we lost touch. Over the next few years, I often wondered what Eric was up to and how he was doing.
My questions were answered in 1997 when, by chance, I ran into Eric at the All Canadian Show in Madison, Wisconsin. We talked for a while; it seemed he was doing well and was interested in hunting. I invited him down to turkey hunt, figuring where there is a will, there is a way. The next spring, I saw Eric at the WI Deer & Turkey Expo and asked him again. This time, he took me up on the offer and, in 1999, we turkey hunted together for the first time. It is now 15 years and 14 turkeys later, and a real friendship has formed.
Our latest adventure has been archery deer hunting. This has, by far, been our most difficult, because things need to be just right for the opportunity to happen. We’ve tweaked stands, food plots and water holes to give Eric the best possible chance for a shot with his compound. I quickly found out that using the Ameristep Quadpods topped with Carnivore blinds made things much easier. I could play the wind better on my Monster Raxx flood plots and water holes while keeping Eric concealed and getting him off the ground so he could see better. This was our third year of bowhunting deer together, and Eric was especially excited this year because he had more time to spend in the woods. The previous two years he had other commitments which limited his availability to hunt. This was going to be the year - we hoped.
On November 7, 2014, we started our usual hunting routine by meeting at the cabin at 5 am. We would try to be there 45-60 minutes earlier than normal, as the process of getting Eric into the stand takes a little more time. I drove Eric in his Polaris EV to a Quad Pod with a thick bedding area to the north and Monsterraxx Xxtreme Clover and Last Heartbeet food plot to the west. He had previously sat this stand, but did not see any deer he wanted to shoot. I knew anything could happen during the rut and, with the pictures I was getting from my Moultrie camera, he would have plenty to choose from. I pulled up next to the Quad Pod and helped him up through the trap door. Once he was in, we did our standard fist bump and I was on my way to the stand.
The sun was slowly coming up on my left, and I could see a doe feeding on clover in the valley in front of me. She became nervous and walked off to the west. I watched intently through my Vortex Optics binos, scanning the area for a buck to appear. My phone lit up at 6:56 am. It was a text from Eric, which was unusual this early in the morning. His text read “Didn’t have time to range him. I think I shot under him. 3 year old wide 8 I believe. Need to find arrow and look for blood. Happened fast. J” (The smiley face was Eric’s way of letting me know that whether he hit or missed the deer, he was excited and having fun.)
Due to the uncertain shot placement and not wanting to bust the deer out of the area when driving in to pick him up, I told Eric we would give it some time. After an hour, I drove back to the cabin to meet Michelle. I had texted her the news, so she called in to work so she could help trail the deer. When we got to Eric’s stand, he gave us directions where to look for the arrow. We were starting to get worried about not finding the arrow when we spotted blood on the edge of the field. Knowing now that he had hit the deer, and, by the looks of the blood had made a good shot, we got Eric down from his stand. After loading Eric and his gear into the EV, we followed a very easy blood trail only 70 yards to find Eric's best deer to date piled up against a tree.
I texted my neighbor letting him know what was going on since we usually keep each other well informed of what we are seeing in the deer woods. He was thrilled for Eric and both he and his friend decided to end their morning hunts early to help and join in the excitement. We took many photos, including plenty of Eric with his deer and some with all of us, and then loaded the deer into Eric's truck. Once he was packed up, we headed to town for breakfast then got him on his way home to show the deer to the boys.
The friendships between Eric and, me, my family and my friends have all developed not as a result of our football days or his accident, but because of hunting. We've become great friends and have hunted many states and provinces chasing turkey, antelope, black bear, and whitetail. This is what hunting is truly about - making friends and making memories together. Congratulations, friend.
Art, Michelle, and the AHO team have enjoyed the outdoors their entire lives. Here, they share their passion with you.
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