People of any ability can enjoy archery and bowhunting. Paralympic archers and bowhunters Jeff Fabry and Lisa Coryell, for example, don’t let life hinder their outdoor pursuits.
Fabry lost an arm and a leg in a motorcycle accident at age 15. He was already bowhunting by then, and he refused to let his injuries prevent him from arrowing animals and winning world championships with his bow. He also enjoyed one of his most memorable hunts after receiving a pig hunt as a wedding gift.
“I got set up on a trail below a bunch of barley fields,” Fabry said. “He came right down the trail at 18 yards, and I put the arrow right where it needed to go. Getting to watch the animal come in was amazing. It was like something you see on TV.”
Coryell is a U.S. Army veteran who became a quadriplegic after an anthrax vaccine settled in her brain. Her symptoms are similar to multiple sclerosis, and the ailment is progressive. She loves hunting because it’s fun.
“For me, it’s very social, and that’s probably why I never shoot anything,” she said. “It’s fun, and it’s very normalizing.”
Fabry and Coryell believe everyone can bowhunt whether they’re born with a disability or develop one later in life. “You would be amazed at what you can do,” Coryell said. “Your mind is 100 percent stronger than your body. If you look at me on paper, I should be in assisted-living. I’m not because I refuse to be defined by my disability.”
We asked these exceptional archers for some advice on overcoming disabilities to start bowhunting. Here’s what they shared:
Fabry and Coryell use standard bowhunting setups, with a few modifications. Fabry’s right arm was amputated, and so he uses a mouth tab to draw his bow and release the arrow. He made his mouth tab from a dog leash, which he sewed to the bowstring.
Coryell uses a Spot Hogg Wiseguy release because its characteristics suit her needs.
“The flat square head on the release is huge for people with limited dexterity,” she said. “I put a little grip tape on the release-aid to make it even easier to hold.”
Coryell also prefers an HHA sight, which adjusts without tools. “I have limited hand dexterity, so anything that requires an Allen wrench is very hard for me,” she said.
Equipment modifications vary by individual. Coryell suggests contacting USA Paralympic Archery on Facebook for advice on your setup. The group has a network of experts to provide hunting tips and help with your equipment.
Once you have your equipment, you need to practice while getting instruction from pros at an archery shop. Fabry also suggests trying competition to get more proficient with your equipment. “That’s the thing with being a hunter,” he said. “You can’t just go out and wing it. You have to have respect for the animal. (You have) to know you’re going to make a clean shot.”
For bowhunting, Fabry says “Hell no!” to treestands. Even though he requires a prosthetic leg to get around, he prefers spot-and-stalk bowhunting or waiting in a ground blind. When hunting from ground blinds, he ensures its windows are low enough to look through from his wheelchair.
Details matter in bowhunting, which means dressing for success. Bowhunting weather can range from 80-degree early-season hunts to temperatures well below freezing during late-season hunts.
He said Paralympians must be wary of cold weather. “Our circulation isn’t as good, so it’s easy to get frostbite,” he said. “I don’t recommend any artificial heat because we can’t feel it. I’ve been burned by (heat packs) in the past.”
After successful hunts, Fabry seeks help bringing the animal home for processing. “A good buddy system or access to an ATV is key for getting an animal out,” Fabry said.
He also thinks the hardest part of hunting is having the confidence to try it. “The only way you’re going to get the confidence is going out and doing it,” Fabry said. “It’s hunting, so if it takes a year or two to figure things out, that’s part of the path.”
Are you ready to get outdoors and start bowhunting? Visit your local archery shop to get the gear and expert advice you need to start.