Jason Koger of Owensboro, Kentucky, used to use his hands to make a living. He worked in the family construction business, enjoyed wrenching on cars in the garage, and hunted deer in the fall. On March 1, 2008, all of that changed. While riding an ATV on his farm, Koger struck a downed power line that sent 7,200 volts of electricity through his body. He was thrown from the vehicle, his heart stopped and started again, and the next thing he knew, he was on a helicopter headed for surgery.
When Jason woke up in the hospital, he discovered that both of his arms had been amputated below the elbow in order to save his life. The simplest tasks that most of us take for granted like putting on clothes, opening doors, and eating breakfast, were now complex problems. Things he used to love, like hunting deer, proved to be even more difficult. But, through determination and help from his family and friends, Jason rebuilt his life and hunted deer again.
In January 2019, as a bilateral amputee, Jason killed the buck of a lifetime with a crossbow on the final day of the season, five minutes before last light. This is the story of that hunt and the challenges Jason overcame to succeed.
Getting Back Home
Jason had one goal when he was in the hospital: to be able to hold his children. “I said to my doctor ‘I don’t care about anything else in life. I’ve got two daughters that I have to raise, and I still want to be a dad,’” Jason says. Although it was painful, he had his feeding tube removed and made his way out to the waiting room to hold his kids for the first time after the accident. “I knew then, when I reached that one goal, I was going to get through this.”
Jason was determined to get home and in just 12 days, with his wife’s help, he left the hospital. By April, he was back in the woods on a turkey hunt with a close friend named Sam.
“Basically, Sam took the screws out of the butt of a shotgun,” Jason says. “He took a ratchet strap and ran the screws back through to the strap and the stock; then he strapped it to my shoulder. He put a tripod on the front of the gun with a radiator hose clamp, tied a string from the trigger to my mouth, and we went turkey hunting. I harvested my first bird; it was a jake.”
He went on to kill a button buck in the fall. “I came real close to mounting that button buck.” he says. “I thought, now I’m teaching myself how to do stuff that I used to enjoy.”
After that, Jason became more selective. He worked hard and learned how to hunt like he used to, holding out for larger bucks each season. “The easiest thing I could have done was give up,” he says. “Anything in life that turns out to be good you’ve got to work for. Nothing’s ever going to be given to you.”
Instead of looking at his new life as a disability, Jason decided to approach it with purpose. He became an amputee advocate, and has been featured in commercials, movies and television shows. He has hunted multiple species in North America and serves as an example to other amputees. Through all of Jason’s adventures though, he has stayed true to his roots and continues to hunt whitetails in Kentucky.
The Big 10
The season of 2018-19 was no different than any other for Jason. He was at it again, trying to find a good buck on his 200-acre property in Butler County. “I’d been hunting there on and off all year but never really had my eyes on anything super big,” he says. It wasn’t until a friend told him about another nearby farm that his luck started to change.
“Every now and then, I get to hunt with a buddy of mine named Jeff Jacobs,” he says. “He called me one day and said, ‘This guy just bought a farm down the road from my house. He asked me to take care of it and make sure nobody trespasses, and in return we can hunt it.’”
Jason was in, but the two hunters had no time to learn about the property. “We didn’t want to scout the woods because it was already November,” Jason says. Without disturbing things, they placed a Spartan trail camera on the corner of a soybean field and put up a ladder stand. “We didn’t have any bait out or nothing, we just literally put a camera up on a corner.” That same night, Jeff received a message from the camera to his phone. It was a picture of a huge 10-point buck with split brow tines. He immediately reached out to Jason.
“Jeff called me and said, ‘man, we’ve got a stud on here,’” Jason says. “We had heard about some farmers right next to that farm who had been hunting that deer for the last several years, but they only had pictures of him in velvet. After that, he usually disappeared.”
Jeff didn’t want to waste any time. He asked Jason to join him that weekend, but Jason wasn’t able to come. Jeff decided to go for it alone. He sat the ladder stand, and shortly after he got settled, the massive buck showed up and walked within 10 yards of him, broadside. Jeff raised his rifle, leveled the crosshairs on the kill zone and pulled the trigger–click–a misfire.
Jeff heard it and so did the buck, and it bounded away, unharmed but educated. Jeff inspected the shell to find a light primer strike. He racked in another round and continued to hunt. An hour later, a different 160-inch buck came by the stand. Jeff pulled the trigger, the gun went off, and the buck dropped on the spot.
The next day, Jeff’s son Zach hunted the property. The massive buck showed up again, but he was hundreds of yards away, moving around and chasing does. Zach tried to get him to stop or slow down long enough for a shot, but it was too far. A day later Zach took a 140-inch buck on the same farm.
The new farm had produced two nice bucks, and Jeff and Zach enjoyed a great season, but the big 10 was still on the loose. It was now up to Jason to get him, and Jeff decided to focus on helping him out. The buck was still hanging around, but the hunting pressure had caused him to become even more elusive and nocturnal. “We had pictures of him every single night—three, four or five times a night,” Jason says.
Jeff and Jason decided to be as cautious as possible with everything from scent control to approaching the stand. They were limited though, as they didn’t have time to put up more stands. Their only option was to hunt the same spot on the bean field. “I can’t use a climber, and that’s what hurts me more than anything,” he says. “If I don’t get in there early and get a ladder stand up, even if I know the world’s largest deer is in there, I’m not going to be able to go after him.”
Back to The Bow
As rifle season dwindled by the minute, it was looking like late season was their only option. Jason was going to have to use his crossbow if he wanted a shot at the big 10.
While technology has helped Jason a lot, he still faces challenges. “I was the first person in the world to receive bionic hands,” he says. “They work off my muscles and are battery operated.” The electronic hands function like a human hand, but they cannot be exposed to bad weather. Jason has learned to shoot his crossbow with older-style prosthetics.
“I have the old-time type of hooks that they’ve used since the Civil War days,” he says. “I move my shoulder, and that’s what opens and closes the hooks. I wear them anytime I’m doing anything outside or working in the yard.” The hooks need to be pre-positioned to hold a crossbow and shoot.
“I don’t have the luxury to use my thumb and flick off the safety while the deer is in my scope,” he says. Instead, Jason has to put the crossbow down, turn the safety off with his trigger arm, then pull it up to his shoulder, and put a hook inside the trigger guard. That’s four extra steps before he can even shoot. While trigger control is difficult enough with just a finger, Jason needs to use his whole arm. The extra movement makes even good shot opportunities tough.
Jeff and Jason hunted for the rest of the season but couldn’t get a shot at the buck. It was January 21, the last day of the season, and they were down to their final chance. Up to this point, their low-pressure strategy had kept the buck hanging around, but it wasn’t getting them any shot opportunities. On the last evening, Jason and Jeff climbed the rungs of their Millennium ladder stand and settled in to sit until dark.
“It was very cold, probably 12 or 14 degrees,” he says. “Two weeks before, they threshed the beans, and they hadn’t gotten to that field because it was so wet. The beans were actually popping out of the pods, so the deer were hitting them pretty hard.” Jeff and Jason also put out an attractant called 4s Draw to take advantage of the buck’s desire to feed in cold weather.
Evening approached, and a doe jumped up in the bean field followed by two coyotes. The wind was blowing from the hunters toward the field, but the doe didn’t seem to mind as the coyotes chased her closer to the stand. “That coyote was coming right towards me,” Jason says. “But before he got in range, he went into where we thought that deer was coming from. I told Jeff, maybe we’ll get lucky and those coyotes will scare the deer up and get him on his feet.”
The coyotes beat the bushes, and pretty soon the hunters were surrounded by deer. “I looked down to my left and saw horns, but I couldn’t see how big because I didn’t want to move a whole lot,” Jason says. Three more does came out in front of them, and then another group walked underneath the stand. With so many eyes and ears around, all Jeff and Jason could do was be careful and wait. Jeff whispered from the side of his mouth, “You ain’t gonna believe this, but there are three more does and him coming out from the right.” The big 10-pointer was on his feet, but Jason couldn’t see him.
Jason tried to situate for the shot even though he couldn’t see the buck. They only had about five minutes left of legal light. Jeff slowly guided him to where the buck was standing, but a dead oak tree blocked half of his view.
Jason can only take advantage of one shooting lane at a time. “If a deer is too much to my right, I don’t care if he were at 2 yards, I can’t shoot him,” he says. “I can only shoot right dead in front of me or to my left.” The big 10 was going to have to stop directly in Jason’s shooting lane and stay there long enough for him to pull the trigger. All Jason could do was be ready when he did.
“You’re going to see him,” Jeff told him. Jason went through his pre-shot sequence, turning off the safety and slipping a hook into the trigger guard. In two steps, the buck was out in the field, 40 yards from the stand and moving with the does.
Jeff made a bleat call, stopped the buck, and Jason pulled the trigger. The bolt hit the buck perfectly, and the deer fell dead in sight of the stand as the sun set on the 2018-19 season.“I just couldn’t believe it,” Jason says. “Jeff stopped him perfectly broadside, and I smoked him. We watched him run 30 yards and fall.”
The wide 10-pointer grossed 177 inches—the biggest buck Jason has ever killed, before or after the accident. “With everything else that we had to deal with,” he says, “it makes it more than a buck of a lifetime.”