A workplace accident changed everything for one South Dakota man except his love of the outdoors.
Brock Abeln grew up hunting in a small South Dakota farming town. Hunting and camping in the backcountry is a way of life for Brock, a way of life that almost ended before he was even an adult. He was only 17 when a tree he was cutting at work fell on his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
That kind of accident would have made most hunters hang up their hats for good. Not Brock. Now 28, Brock participates in deer season with the help of a custom mount for his Browning .270 Winchester short magnum rifle.
“We took the normal stock off and had a gunsmith make a stock for it that would fit into a mount that’s bolted right onto my chair,” he told reporters.
He can aim the gun on his own after his parents or a caregiver help set him up. Brock controls for wind and elevation with a joystick, attached to two windshield wiper servos that are powered by his wheelchair’s battery. He fires it by blowing into a tube that trips the firing mechanism.
“It is really stable,” he said. “It’s kind of nice because you don’t have the little bit of wobble that you have if you were normally shooting the gun. I never got to take my .270 deer hunting before my accident, but man oh man does it shoot — flat as can be.”
Brock posts pictures of his successful hunts on his website, helpme4x4.com, where he documents his experiences and expresses his need for a Sportsmobile. The handicap-equipped four-wheel drive vehicle can handle the beaten up backroads and snow that often accompany deer season, which Brock says can impact his ability to get outdoors.
His current vehicle – nicknamed “the lumber van” – has poor suspension and low ground clearance that significantly limits the places he can hunt.
“If one of those rear tires starts slipping, well, that’s it,” he said. “It would just be nice on some days to go drive around the country roads, if nothing else — anything to get out of the house.”
His hunting trips require the kinds of planning that non-handicapped hunters rarely consider, says Brock’s father Neal Abeln. From finding an accessible place to hunt, to getting Brock dressed in the morning; the Abelns face unexpected challenges every step of the way.
“I only know of one public handicap hunting area in northeastern South Dakota,” Neal said. “There’s a big one out by Pierre, but I’d like to see more of those areas available, maintained and made accessible. That would help Brock and other handicapped hunters a lot.”
Brock says he’s experimenting with archery hunting using a crossbow that mounts to his gun bracket. He hopes to one day mount a .22 and target shoot in the spring and summer.
Just because you are handicapped, etc., life does not just end. If you believe, fight for it, and want it bad enough, you can achieve it.