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Turner overcomes obstacles on the hunt

Deciding whether to stay put and wait out a reluctant gobbler or get up and chase him is a tough decision … unless the hunter is in a wheelchair, in which case there is no strategy to ponder.

Just getting into the woods and setting up often is a big ordeal for some wheelchair-users, so the only move they typically make is to go home. They have to rely on a little help from the turkeys, as well as from their friends.

Despite that potential hunting handicap, some boast success rates as high as more-mobile hunters. Former Indiana University basketball star Landon Turner — paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident — certainly does.

Turner has called in and killed an Indiana gobbler the past two years in a row.

"Sometimes I wish I could move, but a lot of times it really pays to stay put," Turner said.

Last year's outing is a good example.

On a public-land hunt, Turner and a friend got an early response from what seemed like an eager gobbler. A blind was set up to conceal Turner's wheelchair. The hunters faced a small clearing; their backs were to the woods.

Turner guessed turkeys might be roosting in the trees across the clearing, so he had his partner placed a couple of decoys in the clearing. If everything worked as planned, a gobbler would approach from across the field.

"It's always a surprise when any turkey gobbles back at you, but this one was a welcome surprise," said Turner, who was a 6-foot-10 starting forward on the 1981 national champion Hoosiers.

"He was were I suspected he would be. And if he followed the rest of the script, he would be dead within minutes."

But despite the bird's raucous opening salvo, he eventually stopped talking, never so much as peeking his head out of the trees beyond the clearing.

After 20 minutes of unreturned turkey calling, Turner wished he could move and go after the bird that seemed to have disappeared. Instead, he stopped calling and waited for the next bird to wander within range.

Turkeys are a peculiar bird, however, and though it is probably too complimentary to say they are savvy, or even smart, sometimes they do things that make them seem like geniuses.

Without making another sound, the gobbler circled around and dropped in on the ground blind from the opposite direction.

The hunters practically fell out of their seats when the bird decided to announce its presence with a full-volume gobble only five yards behind the blind.

"At that point, we just sat as quiet and motionless as possible, assuming it could see the decoys and would head for them," Turner said.

Within minutes, the 21-pound tom slipped around the side of the blind and made its way to the dekes.

In the unexpected excitement, Turner shot too low as the turkey strutted his way into the clearing. When the bird started to run away, he pulled the trigger again.

The second turkey load that exploded from his 12-gauge shotgun hammered the bird and it was down for good.

"Had I been able to move, I would have," he said." Thank goodness I didn't."

The wheelchair that others might have seen as a handicap turned out to be the reason Turner was still in position when the wily bird finally decided to show itself.

Seen challenges before

Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for Turner, as he explains in his 2005 book, "Landon Turner's Tales from the 1980-'81 Indiana Hoosiers" (Sports Publishing; $19.95).

The book notes that in 1981 the junior was able to overcome poor work and study habits, Knight's wrath and a spot riding the pine to help right his sinking team.

Turner is credited for being a major force in turning around a terrible stretch early in the season that saw the Hoosiers lose to Kentucky, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson and Pan American over a two-week period.

Four months after winning the title, Turner was paralyzed when his car skidded off an Indiana highway. He went on to graduate from Indiana three years later, then worked as co-coordinator of Minority Affairs at Indiana-Purdue University.

"If there is ever a Hall of Fame for people who, instead of thinking what might have been, have instead focused on being the best they can be with their abilities, Landon Turner would be the first person to be inducted," Knight says in the book.

Turner's book chronicles his remembrances of his teammates, their up-and-down season and his development as a person and a player under the tutelage of Knight.

A little help

Turner said that handicapped hunters often rely on the generosity and assistance of other outdoorsmen. For these hunters, finding a suitable spot that has game and is accessible can be a huge obstacle.

The National Wild Turkey Federation's Wheelin Sportsmen is one program that can help. Its goal is to provide opportunities for hunters to get into the outdoors, regardless of physical or mental challenges.

The Wheelin Sportsmen have large turkey-hunting events scheduled across the country, as well as several more-personalized outings in most states.

After spring turkey season concludes, they plan to continue their involvement with disabled outdoorsmen by sponsoring fishing events.

With 19,000 members nationwide, the Wheelin Sportsmen program expects to have some 26,000 members by year's end.

"We are growing at an unbelievable rate," said Mark Velthouse, Wheelin Sportsmen regional events coordinator.

With membership so large, there are ample hunting and fishing opportunities. But Velthouse said new volunteers and places to hunt and fish are key to the program's continued success.

He said that while the large events are very popular, the smaller, more-personal outings often can be more enjoyable and successful.

To learn more about the National Wild Turkey Federation's Wheelin Sportsmen, visit its Web site at www.wheelinsportsmen.org.

Purchase "Landon Turner's Tales from the 1980-'81 Indiana Hoosiers" by logging onto his Web site at www.landonturner.com.