Monday, June 18, 2012

Ken's Hunting Story

“Breaking Down Barriers”

The Inspirational Archery Hunting Success Story of Ken Dvorchak

By Ken Dvorchak

I adjusted my aim ever so slightly when the whitetail stepped into my field of fire. When everything felt just right, I released the arrow on a flight both straight and true. It covered the 24 yards to the target in an eye blink. The broadhead sliced through both lungs and the liver for as clean a kill as an archer can get. But in a larger sense, it had taken more than a quarter of century for that arrow to find its mark. And it cut not just through the air but through years of pain, heartbreak, hospital recovery time, a grueling rehab and personal adjustments.

In the autumn of 1983, I was paralyzed from the neck down when I fell out of a tree stand while archery hunting. More than once, I was told I’d never be able to do the things I used to love. I still can’t use my arms and legs. But with a modified crossbow mounted on my wheelchair, with a sip of breath to trigger the release mechanism and with the help of my Honey, I accomplished something that I never did before my hunting accident – I got a deer with a bow and arrow. It may have been a scrawny little doe to some, but it meant as much to me as a Boone & Crockett Club trophy.

Getting out in the woods is something that is in my DNA. As the youngest of nine children raised on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, I was taught to hunt by my dad almost as soon as I could walk. We never thought of ourselves as poor, but suffice it to say, if we didn’t hunt, we didn’t eat.

Archery hunting was a passion of mine. I’d be out in the woods after school, hunkered down in the rain and the cold, savoring every moment of woodsy smells and autumn breezes. I used to joke that I was going to get a deer with a bow if it killed me. It just about did.

On October 24, 1983, just three short months after winning my first body-building championship and being crowned “Mr. Teenage Uniontown”. 

I took a mile long hike and climbed into my tree stand.After squatting in a stooped position for about five minutes to check out my surroundings, I stood up to stretch my legs before settling in for the late afternoon hunt. As I rose, the blood rushed to my legs and everything went black for a second.  I remember reaching out for a branch and then hearing a very loud snap.  The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, unable to move and struggling to breathe as my face was turned half buried in the dirt.

I somehow knew that the loud snap was the sound of my own neck breaking and that I was now completely paralyzed.  I tried to call out for help, but could barely make a noise.  Oddly, because I was in a section of woods that was rarely hunted, my first thought was that I’d probably lay there and starve to death, only to quickly realize that I probably wouldn’t make it through the night.  So I made peace with myself and calmly awaited the inevitable.  At that very moment, my brother showed up from out of nowhere and I knew I was going to live.

My self-diagnosis was correct, however. My spinal cord was crushed at the third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. The next three weeks were spent in intensive care, and pneumonia was only one of the health complications. Then came four and a half months in a rehab facility learning to adjust and live in a body that didn’t work anymore. There was one dark day in there somewhere when I felt sorry for myself for being a quadriplegic and wondering what kind of life was in store. I decided that I had a lot of life to live.  As a former body-building champion, I already had the determination, inner drive and desire to work on regaining my strength and mobility, but the slightest chance that I could get outdoors again helped keep me going.

Being active isn’t all that easy for those who lose the ability to use their arms and legs. But if somebody tells you that you can’t do something, it makes you more determined to prove them wrong. To that end, using spare parts from the garage, I created a gadget that allowed me to go fishing again, and it won a Gold Medal at an international invention convention.

I call it Ken’s Power Caster*, which is now in production commercially. It allows me to cast out my line, hook, fight, retrieve and land fish with total independence. But fishing from a shoreline, dock, ramp, or even a pontoon boat is much easier than getting back into the woods. There aren’t that many handicapped ramps leading to deer crossings. Hunting is tougher in a number of ways, not the least of which is trying to ward off the cold without being able to stomp around.

          A couple of years ago, my hunting prospects began looking up. I got a device called the Mount-N- Shoot, which is basically a gun rest that attaches to a wheelchair and supports a modified crossbow. Cocking the bow requires help from another person because a hand crank is involved, but I can do the rest by myself. I aim it by looking through the scope and moving the stock with my chin. Then, to let the arrow fly, I sip on a tube which is positioned near my mouth. The vacuum trips a switch that activates a device used in the auto industry on the power lock in car door. Instead of opening or closing the lock, this device pushes the trigger on the crossbow and sends an arrow on its way.

I had gone out with the device a couple of times, but my real chance came on Friday, October 30, 2009. My fiancé, partner and soul mate, Donna Perry, got me dressed and then drove me in my van near to where I hunt. From the parking spot, I maneuvered my wheelchair down a dirt path to a deer crossing. Originally a city girl from Cleveland, she has taken me to the woods and stayed out there patiently, sometimes in foul weather, so that I could do something that means a lot to me.

          Every paralyzed person wants to do the things everybody else can do, and in my case, what I was able to do before I got hurt. The desire never leaves. You don’t stop liking chocolate after you’re paralyzed, but you need help getting a taste again. If you just stay at home and sit in a chair and never get outside, that’s not living life. I wanted to do something that makes life worth living. Life wasn’t easy before anyway. Rehab teaches you to make the most of what you have left and not to sit around moping about what you’ve lost. But honestly, I never thought I’d be able to hunt again. Then I got out a couple times but never got to shoot. And when I did get a chance to shoot, I noticed my arrows weren’t flying quite right. They seemed to tail off course.

With my supply of arrows running low, we went to the local Woodlands Outdoor World. Jeff Evans, an accomplished crossbow hunter, informed me that my arrow’s poor flight path was due to the four-bladed broadheads I was using.  He suggested a three-blade design. The next day was spent practicing and sighting in my new broad heads. Sure enough, the fluttering was gone and a straight, dart-like bolt was hitting the target dead center with regularity.

          Still, I wondered if I could ever get a deer again. Then all doubt evaporated on that breezy Friday afternoon when my arrow found that deer. Amazingly, after all these years, the numbness in my body was replaced by an overwhelming, and yes, even “spine-tingling” sense of fulfillment, pride and accomplishment.  I finally got a deer with a bow and arrow, and I did it from my wheelchair. After all that I’ve been through, I couldn’t wait to share the news with everyone.  I was surprisingly calm until the arrow hit its mark, but once I saw that whitetail go down, my heart started pounding and adrenaline coursed through my blood.  I hadn’t experienced sensations like that since landing my first fish with my very own invention 17 years ago.  There’s really something magical about overcoming obstacles, crashing through barriers, conquering the unknown and achieving a goal, especially when it comes to the great outdoors. It makes me feel so alive!


*for more information about Ken’s Power Caster go to,

send an e-mail to, or call Ken at Adaptive Creations, LLC - (724) 438-1336

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