WOODS ‘N’ WATER: With help from friends, Mike’s back afield

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: With help from friends, Mike’s back afield

Record-Journal

“Handicapped” is more than just a word.

Over the years, I never really paid any attention to those blue “Handicapped Parking” signs other than being glad I did not have to use them. I was superman, able to leap over tall buildings, faster than a speeding train (Not really, but you get my drift, right?)

Last year, on the opening day of the Connecticut deer hunting season, I had just reached my 81st birthday and was doing one of the things I really cherish in my outdoor world: hunting.

Generally, I hunted with Dave Wetmore, but something came up and I hunted alone that morning.

I was able to put a tag on a husky eight-point buck, but after field dressing it, I was having a hard time standing up, never mind hauling a deer out of the woods. A phone call to one of my young hunting buddies, Pete Picone, took care of that problem. Pete said he and his son, Neil, would be out to pull my deer out of the woods.

The deer was handled by Pete and Neil with ease, and before long we were on the way to Paul Cichowski’s meat cutting room in East Hampton. I started to feel a little better. The problem I had with my legs faded away and life went on. But that was only for four more days.

The Sunday night before Thanksgiving, I was just getting into bed when by entire body collapsed and I fell to the bedroom floor, a crumpled heap of bones and flesh. I could not move! Not even to roll over.

Next was a trip by Hunter Ambulance to Midstate Hospital, and then another trip to Hartford Hospital. I was unable to sit up by myself.

All kinds of tests were taken on me. I was a total mess, in plain English. I had given up on ever coming out of whatever hit me, but my Darlin’ Edna and those wonderful folks at Meriden Center where I went for rehab would not let me.

I was able to come back home the week before Christmas. Since then I have had so many tests on various things I have lost count. Since this all happened, one of the worse things I have experienced is the fact that I have to walk with a cane and, even then, I am limited to the distance I can walk without caving in to the pain in my back.

I was able to get in some fishing time at the Meriden Rod & Gun Club and at Mirror Lake in Hubbard Park and for snapper blues down on the Connecticut shoreline. Access to the Mirror Lake is really great for most handicapped sportsmen and, YES, I am now officially handicapped and park at the blue handicapped signs.

I’ve had some great times fishing, but there was still a void in my outdoor life because of the lack of hunting. My love of hunting has nothing to do with the killing of the deer and game birds, but just being out there. If records were kept, my days of coming home with no game at all would greatly outnumber the times I did fill a game tag.

For me, hunting gives me chance to find myself. It is a time that can only be recorded in the mind of the hunter. No video camera or still photograph or, for that matter, written word can really and truly compare with actually being there. It’s just the way it is!

I was in sort of a funk, hunting-wise, and then a couple of my buddies stepped in. First it was Pete Picone and his son, Anthony. Pete wanted to take me on a pheasant hunting trip over at Millstream Hunting Preserve.

I tried to explain to Pete that my walking was very limited, but I would get in touch with Millstream owner Don Favry and see what he could come up with. It was decided that I could go in the fields with a “Gator” — a working ATV that seats two passengers side by side. My cousin George Lewandowsky would be my chauffeur and his son Danny and daughter-in-law Leah would be our guides.

The date was set and Pete, Anthony and I set out for Millstream Hunting Preserve in Lebanon. We started out using Anthony’s dog. He had pointed a couple of woodcock and we really did not know what to expect from the dog, but he locked up on point on the first pheasant.

Danny went in to flush the pheasant and a nice rooster (male pheasant, also known as a cock pheasant) burst out of the thicket cackling furiously as it climbed skyward. I fired a shot and never even moved a feather on the critter as it sailed off to the safety of an adjoining field.

I attributed the miss to a lack of shooting over the previous year and the gang was kind enough to agree with me. I guess that’s what friends are for.

Pete was adamant that I would shoot the first pheasant of the hunt, so when the second pheasant flushed, I fired and missed that one also. I finally nailed the third pheasant we found and then it was Anthony and Pete’s turn.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever hunt again, but here I was hunting pheasants at Millstream Hunting Preserve with friends and family. Pete and Anthony, thanks again for a hunting trip I will never forget!

And Don Favry and the gang at Millstream, thank you. It was a blast.

If a hunt at Millstream Hunting Preserve sounds like it might be something you want to try, give Don Favry a call at 860-836-5744. You do not need a hunting license to hunt pheasants at Millstream. Millstream also features Canada goose hunts. (Federal and state stamps and permits required.)

And then another friend, Paul Cichowski, dropped another stunner on me. He wanted to take me deer hunting on his land.

I tried to explain to him that I was very limited in my walking and trying to walk to a hunting area was out of the question. Paul said he would drive me in his jeep to the hunting spot and come and pick me up if I got a deer or when the hunting hours were over. We even took a “test run” and I had to admit that it was an enjoyable way for this old codger to get to an on the ground hunting spot.

The date for my hunting trip was set and Paul took me to a spot on his land that had a small blind for concealment and plenty of deer sign. I find it hard to put into words how good it felt to be out in our great outdoors once again hunting white tailed deer. Paul left me on the stand with the words, “If you get one, just sit tight. I will come out and field dress it and load it into the jeep for you.”

Paul went off and I settled in for my deer hunt “handicap style.” I had a gray squirrel visit me at eye level and begin his nervous chattering, probably wondering what or who I was.

Now, for a perfect ending  in some reader’s minds, I would have tagged a deer. I didn’t, but for me it was a perfect hunt. I got a chance to be out in the woods deer hunting and being assisted by one of the nicest friends I have ever known. The fact that no deer showed up that day only shows that there is no guarantee in deer hunting. Paul, I had the time of my life that afternoon and I can never thank you enough.

Cichowski runs a meat cutting business from his home. If you have a deer you want to get processed, give him a call at 860-930-0215 or 860-267-0857.

For me, I now know handicapped is more than just a word, but because of friends like Pete Picone and Paul Cichowski it does not mean my days in the great outdoors are over yet.

Southington black bear

Another friend of mine, Carmen Petruzzi of Southington, got a thrill while coming out of the woods from a deer hunting excursion the other evening. Shooting time was over and Carmen was walking out to his vehicle when he saw a black bear standing in the trail up ahead of him.

He watched it for a bit and then started to walk towards it. The bear ambled off into the surrounding woods.

Carmen said, “I’ve hunted all over the Northeast and NEVER saw a bear and now I see my first one right here in Southington!”

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.


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