Wheelchair hunt is a challenge

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

FAIRBANKS -- When Dirk Johnson approached Alaska hunting guide Les Cobb at a trade show in Utah two years ago and inquired about a bear hunt, Cobb didn't know what to say.

Johnson was sitting in a wheelchair and Cobb had never worked with anyone in a wheelchair before, whether it was on a hunting trip or in any other facet of life.

It took two years, but Johnson finally got his bear, a 6-foot black bear he shot from his wheelchair behind the cover of a ground blind in the woods north of Fairbanks a month ago. Johnson was one of two handicapped bear hunters Cobb guided this year, and both got bears.

"At first I had a lot of doubts whether I wanted to try it," said Cobb, who operates Alaska's Lost Creek Ranch in Manley, about 150 miles northwest of Fairbanks. "It turned out to be a whale of an adventure."

Before meeting Cobb, Johnson hadn't had much luck finding guides willing to take handicapped hunters.

"There isn't much out there for people in wheelchairs," Johnson said.

Johnson is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a car accident nearly 20 years ago. He had been an avid hunter and fisherman before the accident, and worried that he would have to give up that part of his life.

"I was devastated at first," he said. "I thought that was it."

But with the help of technology such as four-wheelers, Johnson has continued to hunt and fish.

Cobb was impressed with the fortitude displayed by Johnson and the other wheelchair hunter.

"They tackled the hunt as if they didn't have a handicap," Cobb said.

"It's a different level of satisfaction when you see a guy in a wheelchair take his game."

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