Classic hunt hits close to home

Published 9:46 pm Thursday, January 21, 2010

When Rusty Morrow and the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA) started nominating a disabled hunter for the annual Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt four years ago, he never imagined that participation would have a personal impact for the second time.

Then on July 5, 2008, it became tragically close to Morrow when the son of one of his best friends went to sleep on his way to work early that Saturday morning and the resulting wreck left Chris Jackson with a fractured C-6 vertebra and fighting for his life. After 68 days in intensive care at UAB Hospital, Chris was transferred to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta.

“For the last four years we’ve sponsored a hunter each year from Alabama,” said Morrow, a retired Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Conservation Enforcement Officer. “This year it happened to a very good friend of mine’s son. Ken, Chris’ daddy, and I went to high school together at Banks High School in Birmingham. Chris was injured in an automobile accident in 2008. He was an avid hunter the whole time he was growing up, hunting with me and his daddy.

“We felt like this would be a great opportunity for him to come over and be part of the BADF (Buckmasters American Deer Foundation) hunt. Coincidentally this year, he happened to be a friend. We actively search for someone who meets the BADF qualifications to hunt. Sometimes David Sullivan (BADF Director of Disabled Services) selects them and sometimes, like Chris, we know them personally. We also sponsored Audra Mickle, the daughter of my ex-partner (Keith Mickle) when I was a State Trooper in Lowndes County. She had cancer and hunted the first year we were a sponsor. So we’ve had personal contact with two of the four people we have sponsored at the life hunt. With Chris it’s also real personal.”

Chris said he doesn’t remember anything about the accident but during his recovery he was determined to return to his beloved outdoors.

“Every chance I was at the hunting club at Lowndesboro,” said Chris of his activities before the accident. “Hunting and fishing were my favorite things to do. I liked deer hunting and any kind of fishing.

“When I got home from the Shepherd Center, I started working out and getting stronger. I got to where I could get into the wheelchair by myself and I’m pretty much doing anything I want to. I just have to have a little help getting into the boat and into the deer stand.”

Ken said Chris’ quadriplegia affects him from mid-chest down.

“He has very little use of his fingers,” Ken said. “But they’ve made all sorts of adaptive equipment including spoons and forks and he eats like everybody else. The thing we’re doing now is building a single-story house on a slab. We just signed the contract. It’ll be handicapped accessible. Now we have a two-story house. We built a ramp, but he only has access to the first floor. The new house will be a big house and he’ll have the room to do whatever he needs to do. U.S. Pipe built him a gun rack that is really nice.”

The Buckmasters hunt turned out to be Chris’ triumphant return to deer hunting in more ways than one. For the first two days of the hunt he had to deal with the frustration of the numerous shooter bucks that were just out of range.

“It’s neat,” he said of the Life Classic event after the second day. “It’s a good thing. I’ve had a great time even if I don’t get a deer.”

However, his deer-hunting fortunes reversed on the final morning of the hunt and he bagged a beautiful eight-pointer. The deer would have been a nine-point but one of its brow tines had been broken off.

“You can’t imagine how excited he was,” Ken said.

“Tuesday afternoon we sat in stand and all the deer came out about 500 yards away,” Chris said. “They put up a ground blind on field where we saw the deer for the next morning. I guess we sat there about an hour when this deer came out. It felt great to get the deer and to find out that I could get back out there. The conservation officers are getting it mounted for me and it’s going on the wall in the new house.”

Chris’ positive attitude so endeared him to the Shepherd staff that they recruited his help.

“The people at the Shepherd Center would get Chris to talk to other people dealing with spinal cord injuries,” Ken said. “Chris has done excellent. We’re going to live with it.”

“I’m alive,” Chris said. “That’s all that matters.”

Sullivan said the 2010 hunt hosted 11 disabled and critically ill hunters at Sedgefield, a prime Dallas County property owned by the Hinton family.

“Over the years, we’ve dealt with people with all levels of quadriplegia,” Sullivan said. “The vertebra that is injured determines the effect of the disability. Usually, if it’s the first few vertebrae, people will have very little use of their arms. When you get down to C-4, C-5 and C-6, the individual may be able to use their arms some, push a wheelchair some and might have some finger movement. Typically, it always affects the fingers and hands.”

Sullivan said he has been particularly impressed with Jackson’s attitude in dealing with his disability.

“It’s pretty amazing considering the short time he’s been injured,” Sullivan said. “People go through a lot of different phases. If Chris hasn’t gone through depression and has adjusted well, he’s one of the rare few. He’s been very blessed.

“The last I heard, about 11,000 people in the U.S. a year are rendered quadriplegic due to accidents. Diving into shallow pools or creeks and car accidents are the most common causes. And we do see some treestand accidents.”

Montgomery’s Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters founder and CEO, said he hates to sound like a broken record but the Life Classic hunt is his favorite event.

“I say this every year – if we could only do one show, this would be it,” Bushman said. “It means more to me personally because of all the kids, parents, the Hintons and the guides who work so hard to make this happen. To see the smiles on these kids’ and adults’ faces, it makes it all worth it. It’s an honor for us to do this.”

For those physically handicapped who would like to continue their outdoors activities, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources offers Alabama’s Hunting and Fishing Trail for People with Physical Disabilities. There are 17 hunting sites scattered around the state, 11 shooting sites and 20 fishing sites, as well as three archery sites.