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smokepole
10-02-2009, 03:00 PM
The hunt of a lifetime
Pioneer Press

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Allen Buss, of Champlin, demonstrates the mouth trigger he had specially made before he and his friends, including fellow wheelchair-bound hunter George Bruhn Jr., of Ham Lake, leave for a moose hunt in northeast Minnesota. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

If a testosterone-fueled moose charges Allen Buss and George Bruhn Jr. this weekend, they better be good shots.

You can't outrun a 1,000-pound bull moose in a wheelchair.

Buss, of Champlin, and Bruhn, of Ham Lake, are among the 500 Minnesotans who were drawn this year for Minnesota's once-in-a-lifetime moose hunt. Buss is paralyzed from the chest down, the result of a 1990 car accident. Bruhn is paralyzed from the waist down from a 1989 motorcycle accident in which he was run over by a semi-truck.

Both use wheelchairs. They may be the first pair of wheelchair hunters ever drawn for the Minnesota moose hunt, though Department of Natural Resources officials were still researching the question Wednesday.

"I'm very excited and blessed to be chosen in the lottery for this hunt," Buss said.

They leave Friday for the Gunflint Trail with their two hunting buddies, Vietnam vets Lloyd Sinclair and Greg Waite, both of Blaine. Sinclair and Waite are not disabled, so they will help their two friends get through the woods in a specially designed all-terrain vehicle (ATV), set up their blinds and field-dress the moose if they're successful.

It is a selfless act of friendship for Sinclair and Waite. This is their once-in-a-lifetime hunt as well, but they've vowed to let Buss, 43, and Bruhn, 49, do the hunting.

"I love these two guys like my own sons," said Waite, 62. "There is nothing I wouldn't do for them."

How do you hunt moose from a wheelchair?

"It's a bit of a challenge," said Waite with a hint of understatement.

Bruhn is able to drive a Polaris Ranger ATV that has a special hand mechanism for the brake and accelerator. Buss will ride with him to their hunting spots outside of Grand Marais. Sinclair and Waite will use separate ATVs, on loan from the Minnesota-based Polaris company.

Once they reach their hunting spot, the four hunters will leave the ATVs, split up in pairs and sit in specially designed blinds on the edge of a clearing.

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George Bruhn Jr., left, and Allen Buss help pack for their hunting trip. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
They will each use a moose call that can alternately sound like a bull in rut for the mating season or a cow in heat.

Moose hunting can require nerves of steel.

With any luck, the hunters' calling will draw a bull moose into the clearing.

Since the hunt occurs during the mating season, bulls are unpredictable and have been known to become aggressive when confronted by other bulls or hunters sounding like bulls.

Bruhn can shoulder and shoot a conventional 30.06-caliber rifle. Shooting is more complicated for Buss. He can shoulder his .270-caliber rifle, but he will grip a device in his teeth that resembles a clothespin to fire the weapon.

When he bites down on the device, it pulls a thin cable attached to another device that pulls the trigger.

Buss is a skilled rifleman and crossbow hunter who plays wheelchair rugby.

The four men met through Capable Partners, a nonprofit group that organizes hunting trips for disabled people. Waite has taken Bruhn on several big-game hunting trips in Montana and Idaho.

Bruhn, a diabetic who fought and beat an addiction to pain medication, said his hunting trips have changed his life.

"It's all I live for now," he said.

The four men will be staying in a donated cabin along the Gunflint Trail, and several other hunters have volunteered to help the men with the hunt.

A friend who is a logger in Grand Marais has been scouting for moose for the past several weeks for them.

On Wednesday, the four men were loading coolers, cots and extra wheelchairs into pickups for their hunt.

Both disabled hunters pitch in and help with the hunt at every opportunity.

"That's never a problem," said Sinclair, 66. "They're willing to dig right and do their share."

Bruhn used a little dark humor to tease Buss, a stickler for safety, about his shooting skills.

When Buss demonstrated how his rifle worked, Bruhn leaned over and said, "Geez, Allen, don't shoot my leg off!" (Bruhn is missing his lower left leg.)

"That George is full of the devil," Sinclair said with a laugh. "You meet a guy and you know right away you'll like him. That's how it is with George."

MINNESOTA MOOSE HUNT FACTS

Season: Saturday through Oct. 18

Where: Thirty hunting zones in northeast Minnesota, including portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Who: There are 247 hunting parties, or 501 people, eligible to hunt moose this year. Each party gets only one tag. Parties range from two to four hunters. It is a resident-only, once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

What's legal: Bulls only. By targeting bulls, the hunt has no impact on the reproductive vitality of the moose population, DNR officials say. The hunt impacts less than 5 percent of the moose population.

Getting picked: Allen Buss, George Bruhn Jr., Greg Waite and Lloyd Sinclair were among 12 parties randomly drawn to hunt in Zone 72 along the Gunflint Trail. Their odds of getting drawn were about 1 in 21.