Twice on that October morning, the 10-point buck Randy Benear hoped to kill had come toward him, but had stayed outside of his bow’s range.
The third time turned out to be a charm. When the buck came within 18 yards, Benear adjusted the dial that controlled the bow-holding apparatus bolted to his wheelchair, took aim and fired.
Hunting hasn’t been easy for Benear, who broke his neck in a motorcycle accident in 1980 and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Even so, the 56-year-old has managed to take his share of whitetails despite having only limited movement in his arms and shoulders.
In 1994, with the help of Teays Valley gunsmith Steve Cale, Benear designed a mechanism that, when attached to his wheelchair, would allow him to aim and fire a rifle. He took several deer with that setup and, in 2000, started working on a similar apparatus for a compound bow. It worked, too, and Benear began taking deer with it, as well.
As he gained experience with the equipment, he realized it could be improved.
“I’ve been working on improvements for the past 20 years,” said Benear, a computer programmer for TC Energy. “I get the changes made, go out and hunt, and see other things that can be modified. It’s an ongoing process.”
The refinements allow him to mount attachments to the wheelchair much more easily, and to quietly and effectively take aim at his target.
“One of the biggest differences is how versatile the base mount has become,” he said. “Now it takes only a few seconds to change to a different attachment — from a gun to a bow, from a spotting scope to a video camera, or any combination like that.”
The secret turned out to be startlingly simple.
“I started using a ball head, like the ones photographers use on their tripods,” Benear explained. “Certain models of ball heads have quick-release plates on them. With plates mounted on all the attachments, it’s easy to switch the attachments out and have them mounted rock-solid to the ball head.”
An electric motor allows Benear to raise or lower each attachment.
“I’ve made some adjustments to the motor, too,” he said. “It used to be super-quick, and noisy.
“To keep it from spooking deer, I had a potentiometer attached to the motor that allows me to regulate the voltage going to it. Now I can make it creep up and down and not make noise. A deer can be standing 10 yards in front of me and not hear it go up and down.”
When he first began hunting, Benear used a heavy-duty motorized wheelchair similar to the ones used by many quadriplegics.
“The model I used at the time was really solid,” he said. “You probably could have done damage to it with a cutting torch, but that was about all you could do to it.
“I took it places I couldn’t believe it would go. I switched chairs every five years or so, but eventually they stopped making the model I liked.”
Fortunately for Benear, an even better alternative had become available — a wheelchair that uses caterpillar tracks similar to a bulldozer’s.
“I got my track chair in 2014, for my 50th birthday,” he said. “It was like opening a whole new world.
“There’s no place I’ve wanted to go that I couldn’t get to with that track chair — up power-line rights-of-way, through small creeks — you name it. When I get a deer, I just have my helper tie it to the chair’s wheelie bar and I drag it out of the woods myself.”
Benear said he always hunts with a friend who helps him set up the equipment and stays within cell-phone or 2-way radio range for safety’s sake.
“They usually go to their own stands and hunt, and if I shoot a deer or need help with something, they can be there within a few minutes,” he explained.
He was hunting in Jackson County last October with a friend, Drew Harpold, when he bagged that 10-pointer, the biggest buck he’s taken to date.
“We had seen two 8-pointer and that 10-pointer on game-camera pictures,” Benear recalled. “The first weekend I went up there, one of the 8-pointers came in, but it had a small body. I decided to pass on it and wait for the 10-pointer.”
On a subsequent trip a couple of weeks later, Benear sat at the same spot through most of the day without seeing a single deer. Along about 5 p.m., his luck changed.
“A movement caught my attention,” he said. “It was the big buck. It came in, made a scrape and rubbed a tree with its antlers.
“It stayed out of range, though. It kept wandering away and coming back. The third time around, it came back in and stood right in front of me.”
Benear said the buck is the largest he’s taken with a gun or a bow.
“The antlers grossed 111 inches, and net-scored 105 inches,” he added. “I thought it looked larger than that, but the tape doesn’t lie. Now my goal is to get a buck that qualifies for the Pope and Young Club record book.
“The minimum for that is 125 inches. With the equipment I have, and the experience I have using it, I think that’s a very achievable goal.”