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Put into perspective

1/27/2008

We got word recently that J.R. Salzman, the former logrolling champion, made his first foray into the woods for deer season.

December marked the anniversary of his nearly getting killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq; he survived, but with the loss of his right hand and maiming of his left. (For a (much) longer description of those events, check out
"The Recovery of J.R. Salzman," published on this site last September.) The three deer he shot this season were his first since the attack, and some of his first experience shooting with his reconfigured hands.

He attends the University of Wisconsin-Stout and maintains a fine weblog called
Lumberjack in a Desert but for the most part, J.R.'s injuries have made typing a real chore for him. When we received from him a long e-mail about his hunts, then, it felt like something of an honor.

Here, in the veteran's words, is his account of deer season:

I got the buck opening morning, 15 minutes after I got to my stand. There was a lot of activity in the woods, and someone inadvertently pushed him to me. It was nice shooting him right away in the morning; it took the pressure off so I could take a nap and read my new fly-tying magazine.

The two does I shot were on the same drive the day after Thanksgiving. We were hunting with a friend of my father's. My father was the driver, my father's friend and I were standers.

My father kicked them up out of a deep swamp, toward his friend. He ended up missing both of them. (After some closer examination and test shots, it was determined he had a faulty EOTech scope. Since he is prior Air Force, I still had to rib him for being a bad shot. Especially since a number of us used EOTechs in Iraq without incident.)

I could see both deer running through the woods in front of me on top of a hill (I was watching a small "bowl" clearing). I ran up the hill 75 feet or so to get a better look. I couldn't see the head on the one, but I could see the body as she paused for a moment.

I took one shot, watched her drop to her knees, and then focused on the other doe. She took off like a bullet, making a giant circle all the way around me. As she ran downhill, I was leading her no less than 5 feet and still shooting behind her. I finally got her through the neck at over 100 yards as she ran straight away from me up hill. It was my last shot.

All in all, I had a pretty good season. Three deer, with clean hits and absolutely no ruined meat. Two of the three deer were shot from a standing position. Not bad for a guy who has fired less than 20 rounds left-handed.

Shooting left-handed was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I didn't know it before I joined the military, but I'm actually left-eye dominant. I was supposed to be shooting left-handed all along even though I (was) right-handed.

When I was at Walter Reed, I did a bunch of shooting in the simulation range. Shooting left-handed came very naturally. I honestly think I hold the rifle more steady now than I have in the past (right-handed).

The only thing we really had to do differently was wrap some sort of protective covering around the stock to keep my prosthetic hook from damaging the finish. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm pretty sure I could still shoot right-handed. My prosthetic hook will fit in the trigger-guard, but since I cannot feel the trigger squeeze it will take some practice.

All the experience and weapons handling from the deployment and train up to Iraq is paying off as I transition to shooting left-handed. I no longer get overly excited when I'm shooting. It's just kind of a "oh, there's another target" attitude. Hunting is a lot more fun when the hunted don't shoot back.

I have a much greater appreciation for the sport now. I hunted when I was younger but never took it very seriously. I always had a million other things to do. Eventually I quit hunting altogether as work took over (fall is a very busy time getting houses finished before winter).

Almost getting killed in Iraq has put everything in perspective for me. I actually passed up being part of the coin toss for the Vikings/Giants game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis in favor of going deer hunting with my father. I was lucky enough to get a second chance to do things in life I had been putting off. I'm not going to blow it a second time.

The two photos you see with this entry are courtesy of J.R., who looks much more at home in his blaze-orange than the bulletproof khaki the Army issued him.

— Sam Eifling