Think deer hunting’s hard for you? Well, it’s definitely a whole lot harder for 16-year-old Ben Fontenot, but that hasn’t stopped him from whacking some brutes.
The 7-point buck presented a perfect 40-yard broadside shot. Ben Fontenot had been waiting for this moment for a long time. A whitetail deer, his whitetail deer, the first he would shoot, was within his sights.
Fontenot expertly lined up his scope, and he held the crosshairs right behind the buck’s shoulder. All he had to do now was send a round from his .270 downrange and then go collect his deer, but something went wrong.
“My battery started going dead,” he said. “We had to get out of the blind and go back to get another one. I was nervous as all get out by the time we got back to my blind — didn’t know if I was going to get to kill that deer.”
But the buck did come back out. Only this time, it wasn’t in a good position. Try as he might, Fontenot couldn’t get his rifle lined up with the deer. It was too far to the side. In the commotion of repositioning his blind and his rifle, the deer left again.
Unfortunately for this particular buck, his third trip back would be his last.
After what seemed like an eternity, the buck turned and presented Fontenot with another perfect broadside shot. His crosshairs settled once again behind its shoulder. This was it, the moment Fontenot had been waiting for. He grasped at his sipping straw with his mouth, and inhaled.
“He came back, and I shot him,” Fontenot said matter of factly. “I had shot a fallow deer before this one, but this was my first whitetail.”
If you’re wondering why Fontenot sipped on a straw when he was ready to shoot, it’s because he is paralyzed from his neck down. Confined to a wheelchair and respirator since he was injured in a car accident when he was 6 years old, Fontenot had been dreaming about this moment for several years.
Now 16, Fontenot has killed more deer than most men three times his age. With the help of an awesome support group, he has killed 10 deer, three hogs and a turkey. He has also participated in competitive archery shoots, and he can pulverize any skeet that crosses the end of this shotgun barrel.
After Ben’s injury, Troy Fontenot, Ben’s dad, began doing whatever he could to help his son get back into hunting. His early attempts were met with frustration, but he eventually discovered something that could help Ben shoot a run.
“We were watching a hunting show in TV one night, and this commercial about a wheelchair gun mount came on,” said Troy Fontenot. “It was made by a company called Be Adaptive, and we found one and ordered it not long after that show.”
Ben’s Be Adaptive gun mount attaches to the front of his chair, and it has a joystick that he can maneuver with his mouth to move his gun up, down, left and right. After positioning his gun, he grabs the attached straw with his mouth and sucks in. This action activates a metal finger that pulls the trigger.
When Ben first started shooting with his Be Adaptive mount, he shot with a pistol scope that gave him the ability to see his target without having to put his eye right up on the scope. While the pistol scope served its purpose, Troy Fontenot says it wasn’t an ideal situation.
“Any time [the scope] would get out too much from his eye, it would black out, and he couldn’t see through it,” he explained. “Then I came across a story in an old issue of Louisiana Sportsman that was about a blind guy shooting with a camera mounted on top of his scope.”
After researching the camera, Troy Fontenot found out that the Trophy Shot camera was sold by a company called Wildlife Optics located in Denham Springs. The Trophy Shot shows a magnified view of what would be visible through a scope.
The camera helped Ben out a lot because he could now easily use his scope to aim at his target.
“It’s kind of like playing one of those hunting video games,” Ben said. “From the time I see a deer, I can get on him in under a minute and make a shot. Plus my dad can see what I’m aiming at on the video screen.”
Except for his first 7-point buck, which he killed in Texas, Ben has killed his deer at Blackhawk Plantation in Concordia Parish. This high-fence deer-hunting outfitter has extended its blinds and deer to the Fontenot family, and they have even constructed a special box blind for him.
“Ever since we first went to Blackhawk, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Ben insisted. “They treat us so good, and there’s no better place to hunt, in my opinion. They even took me coon and alligator hunting. I just love it there.”
As much as he loves hunting deer at Blackhawk, he knows he’s going to see something every time he hunts Blackhawk. That hasn’t taken any of the thrill out of hunting there, but he has his sights set on something more.
“I want to kill a wild deer,” he said. “I’ve never killed one in the wild, and I think that would just be so special because they present a bigger challenge because you never know what’s going to happen in the wild. A 100-pound doe in the wild would be just as special or even more special than a 12-point at Blackhawk because it would be wild.”
To help him achieve that goal, the Fontenot family bought a couple hundred acres near Mansura. They have spent much of their time fixing some roads, planting food plots and creating blinds from which Ben Fontenot can hunt. He’s already hunted his family land a couple times, but he hasn’t seen a deer yet.
“My dad and brother have both killed 8-points,” he said, “so I know the deer are out there. We’ve got some clover and oats planted and a feeder with a camera on it. We got some good pictures with the camera, but our wild deer are a lot spookier than deer on a ranch.”
Aside from all the other variables like scent, wind direction and stealth that come with successfully hunting wild deer, Ben’s challenges are even greater because of his injury and the equipment that has to stay with him at all times.
“There is noise associated with his chair and respirator,” Troy Fontenot explained. “It might not spook deer at Blackhawk, but the noise the ventilator makes inside a tent blind makes it very hard for him to get a wild deer to come out without spooking. We take precautions with scent and stuff like that, but we can’t cover up that noise.”
Ben also can’t hunt without somebody being in the blind with him. According to his mom and dad, one of them has to be there at all times in case something on his ventilator stops working.
“If it’s his goal to shoot a wild deer, then it’s our goal, too,” Troy Fontenot added. “It’s all about getting out there to hunt and being there at the right time. We’ve got plenty of room inside our tent blind. His mom and I set up some chairs and put him between us, and we all look out the same window. All we do is load his gun and take off the safety. I hope once these deer start moving around in January Ben will be able to get a shot at one here on our property.”
Whether he hunts at Blackhawk or in the wild, the very things we take for granted become an enormous challenge for Ben to contend with. Whereas you and I can just get up, throw on our clothes and head out the door, it’s a big process for him just to get out the door.
“No matter what kind of condition you’re in, there’s always somebody worse,” he said. “You just can’t give up trying. I might fail trying to shoot a wild deer, but at least I’m trying. And the more times you try, the better you get. The hardest part is getting up and getting dressed, getting in my chair and in the trailer, getting out of my trailer, getting in the blind — but I’m going to keep trying.”
Ben loves being out in the woods. He loves riding his Rhino to check the cameras and the corn. He just loves being a young man. And he also loves telling hunting stories. However, there is one story he doesn’t want told, but it was one his brother Nick couldn’t resist telling.
“What about that time you missed that broadside shot at that deer?” Nick began against his younger brother’s boisterous protest. “He had his head down eating. You shot, and that deer just looked back at you and went right back to eating.”
“Hey! Hey! Hey now!” Ben said in an effort to get his brother to shut up. “That’s the only one I ever missed — I’ll get you back for this. You just wait and see. I’ll get you back!”
Yep, Ben is all boy. Whether he’s deer hunting, duck hunting, shooting boxes in his driveway or arguing with his brother, this young hunter does it with a passion that comes from realizing just how close he came to losing it all.
Now hunting helps him rise above it all.