The Challenges of Deaf Hunters

Contributed by, Aaron Prigge

Aaron's 2014 Bull

Deaf hunters are challenged, but can excel. I have been hunting since I was 10 years old. I have been deaf/hard of hearing since I was 2. I did not realize the importance of hearing while hunting until my early teen years. Once I learned the importance of hearing the sounds of the game animal I was pursuing, I learned to adapt by relying on my sight more than anything.

To me, eye sight is what leads to my success, failures and missed opportunities as a deaf hunter. Hearing is not part of my equation for success. I have learned over the years that I can be just as successful a hunter as my hearing counterparts. It’s just a little more challenging for deaf hunters than others. I have been equally successful as many of my friends who are hunters, due to the fact that I am constantly aware (visually) of my surroundings. I always keep a watchful eye on any movements around me and others that I am with.  

Most hunters that I know personally rely on their hearing more than their eye sight. If they hear something, near or far away, they can prepare themselves for the shot. Deaf hunters have only their eye sight to prepare them.

It becomes very challenging for me to stalk a game animal due to the fact that I do not know if I am making too much noise as I close in.  I usually cannot hear my own footsteps unless it’s very dry out.

I do hear very little sound in my left ear without my hearing aid. With my right ear I cannot hear anything without it. Even with them on, I can’t hear something coming through the woods. If I do hear something, I have a very hard time sensing which direction it is coming from. If I am able to hear a twig snap or two bucks sparring, I know they are really close by. I have witnessed two bucks sparring about 50 yards from me, but I could not even hear their antlers rattling.

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I am an avid whitetail hunter and the challenges that they present are greater than any other game that I pursue.  I do not have the ability to hear grunts, snorts, wheezes, doe bleats, rattling, etc. The only time I hear these sounds is on TV shows, or while practicing on the calls myself. Although, I may not use the calls correctly to make sounds that appeal to a whitetail.

Hearing hunters can use the sounds that deer and elk make to their advantage, because they can hear the calls. Deaf hunters don’t have that ability. I have been able to grunt a few bucks into range while hunting, but I only do so when I see them first. I will not grunt unless I see a buck for fear of scaring off a nearby buck that I haven’t seen.

The greatest challenge, in my opinion, for deaf hunters is being able to prepare for a shot. If there is something nearby, I usually only have a few seconds to prepare. Hearing hunters may have a few minutes to prepare, because they hear something first.

One of the dangers for deaf hunters is making “drives”. Granted, pushing deer out of the woods is dangerous for everyone involved, but it’s even more dangerous for those who can’t hear. I can’t hear the others walking. If I hear a shot, I cannot I tell which direction it is coming from. 

Hunting Partners are Invaluable

One of the reasons I have adapted so well to hunting is due to the fact that I hunt with hearing friends. I rely on them to let me know if they hear something. They point into the direction of what they hear. They are eager to share what they hear with me. They help me tremendously to prepare, if they feel something is coming.  

I archery hunt a lot and usually only rely on myself for the success and failures of my hunts. While hunting with a firearm, I rely heavily on my hearing friends to help me. They are the reason I am successful on most of my hunts.

The friends that I hunt with out in Colorado are my childhood friends. They know everything there is to know about me, as far as my disability goes. They understand how difficult and challenging it can be for me and go out of their way to make sure I have the opportunity to be successful. We share our successes and failures together. None of us is better than the other. We see each other as equals.

My disability does not interfere with the way we interact with each other in the field and at home. They see me as being “normal”. They do not think my lack of hearing makes me any less of a hunter than they are.

Keen Eyesight Develops to Compensate

They view me as being the “lucky horseshoe”. When we go elk hunting together, whoever pairs up with me tends to see the most elk because of my keen eyesight. I am able to visually pick up things quicker than they can. Because I can't hear, I have “trained” my eyes for so long that I am able see things rather quickly.

An example of this is a story that sticks in my mind to this day. It was a miss that I replay over and over again in my head. While elk hunting for the first time in Colorado in 2004, my hunting partner and I were walking along in some very dark timber during a rainy day. We had just finished eating some lunch and we started walking again.

My partner did not have a rifle with him, since he had filled his tag a few days earlier. He was being my “ears” for the hunt. As we were moving slowly along a steep ridge, I happened to see a bull roughly 50 yards straight in front of us. I ducked down behind a fallen log, motioning to my friend to do the same.

As we sat behind the log, I mouthed to him that there was a bull just 50 yards away. He didn’t believe me at first, so he peaked over the log and then sat back down next to me surprised. The bull was so camouflaged into his surroundings that he was very hard to pick out. My hunting partner did not see him until I pointed him out. 

(Once I settled down after the excitement, I slowly slid up the log and raised my rifle, fired a shot, but missed. The 7 X 7 bull stood straight up, turned, and headed straight down the mountain. I fired off one more round hitting a small tree right in front of him.)

There are many other cases where I have seen elk before my partners saw them. They rely more on their hearing than sight. When I pair up with any of my friends, we make a great team. My trained eye sight and their hearing make for a great hunting partnership. I am forever grateful for their help in my hunting adventures and would be lost without them.

Focus on the Humor in Frustrating Events

As a deaf hunter, one of the most frustrating hunts that I have ever been a part of happened in Colorado back in 2008. Whenever we go to Colorado we usually pair up for safety reasons. It also helps me to have a hearing hunter with me.

We were on day 6 of our rifle elk hunt near Pagosa Springs, CO. We hadn’t seen much all week and we were getting close to the end of our hunt. That day we decided to take an old trail up the side of an area called Black Mountain. We have used this trail many times before and have seen very few elk off the trail.

On this particular lazy afternoon, we were walking along  the trail and as we proceed to go around the corner, we spotted two 5 x 5 bulls standing right on the trail at about 80 yards away looking away from us. We both ducked down back behind the corner and looked at each other, rather surprised to find two bulls standing on a trail.

Without much thought we came back around the corner and my friend raised his rifle and was prepared to shoot. I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered to him, asking him which one he was going to shoot, so I would have the opportunity to take the other one. They bolted down a draw. My heart sank because I knew it was my fault that we missed the opportunity to take our first bull. I remember it like it happened yesterday, every detail about it.

One thing that I have learned from this mistake is to let the event play out without interfering with it. I should have let my friend shoot and then tried to shoot the other. My excitement got the best of me and my friend paid for it. We still joke about it from time to time, so I know we both understand that it’s a part of hunting. Many more opportunities and failures will come along.That is true for deaf hunters, as well as for hearing hunters, however.

There are many more frustrating hunting stories than successful hunting stories in my career as a deaf hunter. But one thing I do know is that I do not let my disability define me as a hunter. I don’t blame my hearing for my failures. I will not use that as an excuse.

Disability, or Opportunity? Your  Choice!

Deaf hunters have the same opportunities as everyone else. The only difference is that we cannot hear what others hear. My success does not depend on my hearing, but on my eye sight and the help of friends.  As I do with all other areas in my life, I do not let my disability prevent me from doing the things I want to do. If anything, I have used it to my advantage.

I take a lot of pride in knowing that I am one of the few that have been given the opportunity to hunt while deaf/hard of hearing. I owe it all to my family and friends.

I have been given a great opportunity to be able to go on an elk archery hunt in Idaho this fall (2013) with those same childhood friends I mentioned earlier. This will be my first archery elk hunt, so it will all be new to me. Hunting during the rut means hearing is going to play an important role in our chase for that majestic bull.

I will be relying heavily on my friends’ help in this endeavor. They are going to have to point me in the right direction, once they start hearing those bulls bugling. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to hear a bull bugle. Hopefully, hunting during the rut will provide that opportunity. Since a bugle is a high pitched sound, I would have to guess that I might be able to hear one within 100 yards with no wind. That may be pushing it, though.  

Whether we are able to harvest a few elk or not, the hunt will already be a success in my book. Hopefully this will be the year I finally get to hear an elk bugle! Deaf hunters don't have to be able to hear to be successful.

Update: Check out Aaron's successful elk hunting story the year after he wrote this! First Archery Bull! 

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