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Paralyzed former Wichita State baseball player back in the hunt

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 14, 2012, at 8:35 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Sep. 15, 2012, at 7:23 a.m.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Stacey Hall's name

Strapped in a wheelchair, Carl Hall could only watch Wednesday evening as others did the kinds of hunting chores he once relished.

Since 2010, legs that had spent as much time following bird dogs as churning base paths during a storied baseball career at Wichita State have remained immobile.

Quick hands that once led to conference and national honors, and called in turkeys for his kids, are also lifeless.

But his powers of speech were going full bore as he sat in the building darkness.

Hall, 41, laughed aloud, joked and chattered nearly nonstop. The talk was mostly focused on a dead 10-point whitetail lying by his chair.

Earlier he’d shot the animal that was his welcome back into his beloved outdoors.

“For two years all I could do was talk about (hunting) and think about it,” he said. “This feels like the first time I ever went, only maybe it’s even better.”

Some of Hall’s best childhood memories are of tagging along with his brothers on hunting and fishing trips in the Flint Hills, or wherever the bass were biting and the pheasants flushing.

He’d rather talk about trips afield with his four children than anything in his baseball career.

That intense focus on the outdoors didn’t die when the 2010 car accident left him mostly paralyzed.

Pat Hall said his younger brother was more focused on what he could still do, rather than what he couldn’t do, not long after the accident.

The prospect of shooting and fishing again brought hope.

Hard work

Staff at Colorado’s Craig Hospital, where Hall spent about four months in rehabilitation, told him of adaptive equipment that could allow most paraplegics to fire a gun or operate a rod and reel, among other things.

“About all I wanted to do was see the guns and shoot,” Hall said of working with the staff. “I finally got to in a gymnasium with a BB gun.”

The apparatus that allows him to shoot attaches to a wheelchair. Hall aims the gun by moving a joystick with his chin. A sip on a tube pulls the trigger.

He also learned to use a tube to cast and retrieve the line on an adaptive fishing outfit.

But Hall and his family knew a lot of hard work lay ahead if he was to again enjoy the outdoors.

Then again, hard work has never been a problem for the man who was a walk-on at Wichita State and achieved conference player of the year and third team All-American honors.

Physically, he had to retrain his body to swallow and breathe on its own. The very limited movement in his right arm is still being developed.

Mentally, Hall said he had to get his life in order, too. He credits his wife, Stacey, other family members and friends with helping him get to where he is today.

He’s currently researching and writing a workbook for those who’ve just endured a serious spinal injury.

“I had a great family go to work for me, but not everybody is that lucky,” he said. “I can make things a lot easier for them, from the time of the injury on.”

Hall’s also back into a place he favored before the accident – the family kitchen.

After researching a recipe online, he supervises his family on how to turn it into a great meal.

This summer he started thinking it was time to add venison to their fare.

“I thought about it last year, but I just wasn’t in a good place,” Hall said. “Now I have a lot more energy and a lot more determination.”

Deer country

About two years ago, Hall had a discussion about hunting with Mark Dugan, a member of his church.

Dugan offered to help Hall with a deer hunt, and was surprised when Hall called about three weeks ago.

Hall had definitely contacted the right family.

For about the past 10 years Dugan, of Goddard, has been buying and leasing land, largely to provide quality outdoor experiences for his family.

Dugan and his three sons have become avid, and successful, trophy deer hunters.

The family’s best hunting land is about 2,700 acres of rugged canyons and lush, rich river bottom land west of Medicine Lodge.

Already great deer country, the Dugans have steadily made it better by improving habitat and carefully limiting access and hunting pressure.

Dugan’s sons, Ryan and Brent, both in their 20s, helped get ready for last weekend’s opening of Kansas’ deer season for youth and disabled hunters.

Scores of hours were invested in scouting for deer and building a hay-bale blind bigger than most dorm rooms.

Access was a concern, as Hall had to be driven to within yards of the blind in a specially equipped van driven by Pat Hall.

Bumpy, dirt ranch trails were a hazard because the slightest bump gave Hall a serious jolt.

Heading into a hunt last Sunday, he was asked if he was OK after a solid bounce.

“Hey, we’re going hunting, aren’t we? I’m fine,” he said with a smile, “but my wife would scream if she could see where we’re taking this van.”

That first hunt Sunday evening took close to an hour of on-site preparation before Hall was ready to have his rifle loaded.

Deer came to the alfalfa field, including a dandy buck, but Hall simply wasn’t able to point his rifle in that direction.

Hall had a great time, and the Dugans learned a lot.

More room was needed so Pat Hall could tend to his brother’s medical needs every few minutes. The deer needed to be directly in front of the blind so it was within Hall’s few degrees of rifle movement.

Mark and Ryan Dugan returned to watch the field again Monday evening, and built a bigger blind in a better spot on Tuesday.

They gathered Wednesday afternoon, and all fell into place.

Clouds with rain and lightning slid by just to the north of the ranch, and troublesome winds mellowed at dusk.

It was about then that the first does and fawns, then little bucks followed by big bucks, came onto the field.

Three bucks were near a legal pile of corn about 125 yards in front of the blind when the Dugans slid a burlap curtain open, exposing Hall and his rifle.

The biggest buck dropped at Hall’s perfectly placed shot.

The Dugans celebrated as much the Halls.

“What’s amazing is we think that we’re doing something like this to bring joy to Carl,” Mark Dugan later said, “but it turns out Carl’s attitude, determination and wit brought just as much joy to us.”

For a while Hall watched closely as the Dugan brothers carefully tended to the buck that will provide the Halls with meals for months and a trophy mount to be enjoyed for years.

Eventually Hall hit a switch that laid him far back in his wheelchair, and he was looking through a hole that had just opened in the clouds.

“All of those stars are so beautiful,” he said. “I’m such a lucky man.”

Reach Michael Pearce at 316-268-6382 or mpearce@wichitaeagle.com.

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