Disabled Minnesota Man Still Farms, Hunts With Muzzleloader

Everyone once in a while you come across a person that makes you feel like a lazy, whiny louse despite how active or dedicated a person you may be. At the same time, this story from StarTribune.com about a wheelchair-bound man who still manages to hunt from atop his tractor says something about the human spirit and makes me grateful for every day of health I'm given. Anyone out there know people with stories like John Whalen's?

_John Whalen has had quite a hunting season: He bagged a trophy 8-point buck and arrowed his first-ever wild turkey. But that's not why the 55-year-old outdoorsman and farmer inspires residents of little Harmony in southeastern Minnesota: It's his attitude and determination after losing the use of his legs 2 1/2 years ago from a rare illness.

The loss didn't diminish his spirit. He continues to farm, hunt and enjoy the outdoors -- and maintains his bright attitude, friends say._

_"He is Mr. Cheerful," said Jim Vagts, 67, a longtime friend and neighbor who farmed with Whalen for a dozen years. "He's always smiling. He just has a very positive outlook. The whole community admires him. When he became paralyzed, I knew he would deal with it better than anyone."

Whalen, who has been hunting since he was in high school, even jokes about his situation: "I never took a step outside the house to get a deer this year," he quipped. Instead, he drove his John Deere tractor (using hand controls) to a spot on Vagts' land, climbed onto a mechanical lift that allows him to access the tractor's cab and hunted about 5 feet above ground. He has a special disability permit that allows him to shoot from a vehicle.

"I sit by my front tire, up in the air like a deer stand," he said.

Using his .50 caliber muzzleloader rifle, (which he prefers over a shotgun) he bagged the big 8-pointer. The deer's antlers have an 18 1/2-inch spread, and the rack likely will score in the 120 range.

"It's my biggest deer," he said proudly. "Thrilled? Oh, yeah."

Vagts' son, Todd, 41, of Preston, helped Whalen retrieve the downed deer and gutted it for him. Whalen hauled it away with his tractor. Two years ago, sitting in a wheelchair near where Vagts and other friends built a permanent blind for him, he shot a nice buck with his muzzleloader. He bagged his turkey this fall from the elevated blind, which he can wheel himself into._