As I wrote last week, there are those who save lives in boating accidents or by shooting a large lion. But you might also be living next to a hero and not know of his accomplishments.
The ones I know seldom bring up the reasons for their physical problems. The ball and chain they constantly carry is invisible.
Last week, I wrote of my friend, John, who lost his leg in a hunting accident. But of all of the illnesses and accidents of which I am aware, I consider the most difficult to deal with the problems faced by another friend, Doug.
I never knew Doug when he was healthy. I met him when he blew his heart out at 31.
I spent more time with Doug in the 1970s and ’80s than any other hunter or reloader. If I needed information on loading a 218 Bee or Hornet, Doug was the man I called. If Doug needed a few Noslers, he came to me.
We would borrow each other’s rifles just to shoot something different. But on many occasions, we were spoiled when his damaged heart acted up.
I remember coming home from Ninevah once at a high rate of speed because he was having heart problems.
Most of the time when we hunted in West Virginia. I not only carried his rifle up the mountain, but also had my hand on his back, gently pushing him up the hill.
I believe it was in the 1980s that a Nosler rep gave me the first box of ballistic tips I or any of my friends had seen. Doug and I shot them on paper and found them to be very accurate.
The time came to test them in the field, but finding an animal to hunt in May was a problem. I do not hunt groundhogs in the spring. The female at that time is carrying its young or nursing.
You can ruin a future hunt by shooting the females too early.
I came up with a game plan based on my knowledge of a farm near Graysville. There were a couple of hillsides on that farm that were covered with crab apples and other cover.
Since the leaves weren’t on the bushes and the trees, we should have been able to see any groundhog living safely in heavy cover.
Sure enough, we could see well enough to have hope. We sat for a while and finally spotted a groundhog about 200 yards away. The grand experiment could begin.
We intended to leave the hog lying so as not to disturb the hillside. Unfortunately, a fox darted out of the cover, grabbed the groundhog and took off. The hard work we had put in went running across the hillside with our test.
The real story, however, came when I asked Doug’s wife if she wanted him to go. She said it was better than him sitting in front of a TV worrying about his heart.
I would guess the best story of all came right after one of his many open heart surgeries. He was home for a couple of weeks and called me to ask about going groundhog hunting.
I didn’t mind, but he wasn’t supposed to shoot rifles because of the recoil.
He told me to take the Swift and he was going to bring his Anschutz .22. The idea was for me to shoot the long ones and for Doug to take the closer ones.
It sounded like a good idea, but the close ones never showed. I hit three or four at longer distances and Doug hadn’t shot.
There was one a long distance away, and Doug asked for the Swift so that he could take a shot at it.
I reluctantly handed him the .220. Remember, he was just a couple of weeks removed from having his rib cage cut open.
Doug was an excellent shot and he hit the hog. But we now faced another problem. He couldn’t get up from his prone position.
It hurt too badly, but he was also laughing as I tried to grab him by the belt and collar and help him up.
Since that day, Doug looks better than those years. The reason is he had a heart transplant. It’s a good example of why it’s great people donate organs.
Doug still hunts and shoots rifles, despite the fact they have to be a light kicker.
As my friend the retired doctor told me, I’m a miracle. Judging by the stories I have told him, I should have died seven or eight times.
I know many others who have traveled this path. But they didn’t quit.
When I look at my own problems, those people are the inspiration that keep me going. They might have been slightly cracked, but they were never broken.
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.