As an outfitter we have the privilege of meeting many special people and making many special friends from all over the world. However, In my 15 years of outfitting, nothing to date tops the privilege of hosting Luke Munn of Michigan for Black bears in the spring of 2003 and again just this past spring. Kelly Semple, also an outfitter with her husband Rene, as well as being the Executive Director of the Hunting For Tomorrow Foundation cooks in my bear camp and wrote part 1 of Luke’s Story.
By Ryk Visscher & Kelly Semple
Two years ago, I met an extraordinary individual. A young man named Luke Munn, who is an avid hunter and excellent marksman with a firearm and crossbow. This 23 year old had literally been counting the days for this hunt with his brother and Dad. The last two nights, before he came to Bear camp, sleep had totally escaped him. For most of us, a spring bear hunt 1500 miles from home would be an adventure in itself. For a paraplegic in a wheel chair, we can only imagine how much more intense this experience is.
Hunting had always been an important part of Luke’s family life. Both Luke and his brother were taught to shoot at an early age. In Luke’s words, “I’ve hunted since I was knee high to a grass hopper.” Luke and his brother Paul were also heavily involved in sports and as a child, Luke’s favorite sport was wrestling. One day at age 8, on the way to a wrestling match, driving towards Detroit, an inbound semi wheel wedge came lose and flew over the median, crashed through the windshield and hit the top of Luke’s head. The impact shattered his skull and literally tore off the top 10% of his brain, severing the main artery. His brother held napkins on his head to slow the bleeding. Luke was taken to a hospital in Jackson, Michigan and was in a coma for 6 weeks, then transferred to another hospital and was there for 6 months. In total he was in the hospital for 9 months. As a result of his injuries, Luke had to relearn everything, how to swallow, speak, read and write. The Doctors even said that there was no way he would be able to graduate with his class. But Luke, in typical Luke fashion, made up the time and graduated with his class right on schedule.
Today, Luke’s mobility is severely impacted, as he uses mainly his left arm. To complicate matters, Luke is now dealing with his second bout of cancer, this time focused in his abdomen. The tumor will be removed, but the prognosis is uncertain.
Everyday getting from the tent to the kitchen was a bit of a project. Finding a way to simplify the bathing and washroom process was just something that came naturally to his brother and Dad. Loading the 200 lb wheelchair in the quad trailer or jet boat became part of getting ready to go hunting. Everyone pitched in and helped. Luke hunted for six days and demonstrated unbelievable patience. During the entire time, Luke did not see a bear, although two did come into the bait, but not at an angle that he could see them. The evenings were cold and sometimes wet, with lots of black flies and mosquitoes. When Luke returned to camp each night he was cold and often his right hand and his neck were both swollen from bites. Not once did Luke complain.
At dinner, on the last night of the hunt, Luke said, “I want to thank everyone for taking such good care of me. I know I was a lot of extra work and hassle, but I really appreciate everything that everyone did for me. You have no idea what this week has meant to me and I’m looking forward to coming back in a couple of years.” What can you possibly say to that, but take a deep swallow, maybe more than once and simply say, “THANK YOU for letting us get to know you”.
As I watched each day unfold, I was humbled as I remembered the times when I was frustrated because I couldn’t find my release or binoculars to go hunting. And I was humbled as I remembered all the blisters and sore muscles that I had complained about on various hunting trips. I bet Luke would have given nearly anything to have sore leg muscles or blistered heels. Each night when I went to bed, I was so grateful that my feet hurt. We should all be so lucky. Luke was grateful just for the opportunity to be their.
It seemed the 2 years had passed quickly as Luke came through the Customs doors at the Edmonton airport May 7th 2005. It would be the start of the 2nd Alberta hunting adventure for Luke and all involved were excited about trying to create even just one opportunity at a bear for this driven young hunter with non stop determination. His 200# wheelchair had been traded-in for a 540# tracked “walk-about” that would give Luke more mobility in the forests of Northern Alberta. It was all 4 of us could do to lift his chair into the trailer!
Our strategy was simple enough. Luke would hunt out of a ground blind on existing baits that were accessible by his tracked motorized chair. The plan was to hunt with a crossbow or black powder, both of which Luke was a deadly marksman. Fred Monkman our chief guide would be guiding Luke and his brother Paul. It took Paul, Fred and Jimmy Robertson, my partner, some effort each day to get Luke set up in his blind. Being on the ground, potentially within yards of bears required that my partner Jimmy Robertson would sit in the blind directly behind Luke with a rifle for back-up. Luke’s first night was uneventful but his anticipation had not waned one bit as Jimmy and Luke set-up for night 2. They had elected to move back to 45 yards from 20 yards the night previous concerned about the obviousness of the blind so close to the bait. With the extra distance Luke decided to switch to the more accurate black powder weapon versus the crossbow of the previous night. It wasn’t long before the bait was visited by a Lynx, a very rare and adrenalin pumping preview to things to come.
And then, for the first time in 8 night’s sitting, 6 in 2003 and 2 in 2005, Luke saw his first bear! Luke whispered “Jimmy, can I shoot it?” Yes, was barely out of Jimmy’s mouth and Luke’s gun erupted and at 50 yards his bear dropped in its tracks as a result of a perfect shot!
The whole camp, staff and other clients alike couldn’t have been more excited! Everyone’s hunt was a success no matter what happened the rest of the week. But the hunt for Luke wasn’t over. He had a 2nd tag and he had every intention to fill it. Day 3 on stand was highlighted by a wolf sighting for Luke but even more exciting was a huge bear that Jimmy spotted that Luke couldn’t pick up in his more restricted field of vision.
Luke’s 4th night on stand was a tense one with thoughts of the brute that was spotted the evening before. For 4 hours Luke and Jimmy sat quietly, and was it ever quiet! No birds, no squirrels, no sounds and no sightings. And then, without warning, the crack of a branch and the big guy slowly ambled into view. Luke once again, bore down on the target, squeezed the trigger, and bear number 2 crumbled where it stood! Not only was Luke’s bear the biggest for the week, it was the biggest we took this season!
Without getting into the details of the logistics required to guide an incredibly physically challenged hunter like Luke, it pales in comparison to the determination and drive of such an incredible young man who could just as easily choose to live his life in front of a television or laying in a bed. Outfitting can be a rewarding, challenging, stressful, exciting way to make a living but it’s times like these that all involved really feel good about our chosen way to feed our families. Luke, on behalf of everyone in our camp, the cooks, guides, skinners and other clients, I’d like to say it was a pleasure letting us all get to know you!