In August 2016, Cody Gardner of Vermont sustained traumatic injuries in a vehicle accident. He survived but lost a leg and now is in a wheelchair. That has not stopped his drive and determination to continue pursing life to the fullest, including hunting.
This is Gardner’s story submitted to DDH:
Two months after my near fateful car accident I was certainly starting to get out and about much more and that was very uplifting for me. One of the coolest experiences that I got to endure was being able to go out hunting during bow season. I had to get a special handicap permit and was able to use a crossbow. For much of the month of October I would wheel my way to a vehicle that my dad would use to take me hunting. We then would drive out to a field and my dad would roll me from the vehicle to a blind set up for me to hunt out of.
It wasn’t easy getting pushed in an alfalfa field but at least I was hunting. This was a very therapeutic time for me due to the fact that I was back doing something familiar to me again. Watching the deer was a great way for me to pass the time and it provided me with time to just relax and enjoy myself. The fresh air hitting my face and the soothing sounds of the outdoors offered me the opportunity to escape the circumstances that had been weighing me down for the past few months.
The situation was not ideal but at least I was as close to my old self as I could be at the time. There were sometimes that my dad was unable to take me hunting and I got to spend some evenings with family members and friends instead. Those days were pretty cool also, and I was glad to share some of my time with people that I truly cared about. A lot of memories were made in that hunting blind and I will forever be thankful for those evenings.
The thing is I never had gotten a deer with a bow before. I like to think of myself as a fairly accomplished hunter but I just never got into bowhunting like some other forms of hunting. This was the most bowhunting that I had ever done before and although I was confined to my chair I was enjoying every minute of it. Let’s be honest; just being able to hunt was a privilege and I was fortunate just to be out there.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined how much that hunting season would mean to me. It was October 24th and the wounds and scars on my body were still relatively fresh. I was gaining confidence in myself but there was still a long bridge to build in order to reach my future destination.
What happened on this particular evening would lay the foundation for the path that would lead to me discovering what I was capable of.
It was a gorgeous Vermont evening and I was sitting in my blind with my dad. I heard the familiar rustle of a buck coming through the forest and I peeked to my right. Out of the trail came a small four point buck. It certainly was not a smasher but it was feeding in the field and headed right for me! If you could have seen me shaking like a leaf on a tree you would have thought that I was watching Bambi’s father. My poor dad had to keep me calm as the buck kept feeding closer and closer. The ten minutes that I spent waiting for the buck to close the gap between us felt like an eternity.
As the buck worked towards us I had to focus on controlling my breathing. For a few minutes I was ten years old again with my dad calming me down and talked me into getting into position to make the shot. As I laid my left arm out the window of my blind I placed my crossbow onto my cast for a solid rest. The buck was thirty yards away as I placed my crosshairs right onto the sweet spot behind his left front shoulder.
I took a breath, held it halfway, and squeezed the trigger, releasing my arrow towards the intended target. You could hear the arrow smack the buck and right then I knew I had hit him well. We called my grandfather and uncle to come help us track the deer and my dad wheeled me across the field where we had found the blood trail of my deer.
When my grandfather and uncle arrived we had a good idea as to what direction the buck went. My father and grandfather took the blood trail as I anxiously waited in our family’s RTV with my uncle. I’m sure I have been that nervous before but I cannot recall a time. When my father called for my uncle I knew they had recovered my buck!
I can remember watching my uncle dragging the deer towards me and the satisfaction that filled my mind as the deer appeared to me. When they got the buck to me I crawled down from the RTV and sat next to my buck.
I have shot much bigger deer than this but none of them had ever meant this much to me. As I looked at my trophy I realized that he had an old injury to his right front hoof. There I was two months removed from a right leg amputation next to a deer who was as special as I was. The hair on my neck stood up when I saw this. At that moment I realized this was meant to be.
Many things that happened to me that were miracles and harvesting this unique deer was no different. Not only had I gotten a deer from my wheelchair but I gained so much more from a psychological standpoint. I beamed with pride as if I had just gotten the new state record buck because on October 24th, 2016, I proved to myself that I was me again. I could do anything that I set my mind to and this was the single moment where I can look back and say that I became comfortable in my own skin. This will stay with me and mean much more to me than any big buck ever will, and for that I am truthfully thankful.