The chance to hunt inspires man to conquer obstacles
Even in the weak glow of a small flashlight, the strength of the buck's antlers was easy to see.
The 10-point rack had points pushing one foot in length. Thick beams spread 20 inches apart.
But the story behind the hunt was much larger than the deer.
"I almost can't believe I did it," Ed Martinez softly said. "I worked so long and so hard and things kept going so wrong."
A year ago Martinez, 76, was teaching himself to walk again after a stroke.
A month ago he awoke to find himself in a pool of blood from a ruptured ulcer.
"When I realized I was going to survive, I knew I'd have to do a lot of work to come back, but I'd do it," Martinez said of both events. "I'm not someone who wants to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair or bed. I really wanted to go hunting again."
We met about eight years ago through a mutual friend.
A quiet man by nature, with every question I was more amazed about his knowledge of Mother Nature.
A state entomologist by profession, his dedication to assorted game and non-game animals can best be described as obsessions.
Living in Great Bend, he was a master waterfowl hunter at Cheyenne Bottoms.
For about 30 years, he trapped and banded an estimated 100,000 birds for research. He did the banding in addition to his regular job and for free.
"I was being paid by being able to get outside and be with (the birds)," he said. "Experiences like that go far beyond any kind of financial gain."
Though afield for Kansas' first firearms deer season in 1965, he quickly switched to archery gear for the challenge, closeness to nature and availability of permits every year.
He was good at it, too, always killing enough deer to fill his freezer.
But Martinez has seen more than his share of adversity and sorrow.
He talks softly and slowly of losing his wife and granddaughter. His body's been in decline for many years.
"I'm just kind of the bionic man because about everything's been replaced or repaired," he said of his shoulders, knees and biceps.
Through the years, he basically had to give up guns because of the recoil. Weakness meant he had to hang up his regular bow in favor of a hand-cranked crossbow.
But his biggest blow came in June 2009, when the stroke left him mostly paralyzed.
He set a goal of hunting that fall. Martinez maxed out what insurance would pay for physical therapy but eventually was on his own. He rode a stationary bike hundreds of miles with his left foot attached to the pedal.
Still, he didn't have the strength or balance to hunt last fall. He was disappointed but set his sights on hunting this year.
By springtime he was riding a real bike about 10 miles per day.
"That let me feel free and somewhat healthy again as I traveled around," he said. "The main thing was that I was outside, enjoying the outdoors."
By early fall he was scouting his old hunting grounds, taking a day or two off after each trip to rest. His left leg dragged and he had little strength or grasp in his left arm and hand.
He was looking for more than deer signs.
"I had to have a place I could get to with nothing to tangle my feet," he said. "That narrowed things down a lot."
October brought the major blood loss from the hemorrhaging ulcer.
Like the stroke, it, could have killed him or caused most to give up.
He again came back and decided he could hunt days that I was around to care for a downed deer.
So Nov. 10, Martinez slowly moved across an open food plot and took a seat amid weed-infested farm implements. He wore a Ghillie suit of grass-colored strips of fabric and yarn to better blend with the vegetation.
With his left arm and hand of no use, he propped his crossbow on a shooting rest and hoped a deer walked into his line of fire.
Deer came soon and often, with five bucks and 22 does eventually feeding to his front.
None, though, were within his self-imposed 20-yard shooting range or in front of his crossbow.
After an hour, the largest buck on the field inexplicably headed right to Martinez and stopped to graze five feet away.
The shot was easy.
I was there shortly after dark, admiring a bigger whitetail than either of us had ever killed with a bow. Estimates put the deer's score between 155-160 inches.
"He's really nice, but the real trophy part to me was being able to be out there and hunt again," Martinez said.
Several times, he said he would've gladly shot a little doe and said getting a brute of a buck was "just lucky."
I think it's more a case of being justly rewarded.
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