J. R. Owens – No Limits

J R Owens with Trophy Shot

MARK SALTZ/THE ADVOCATE

J.R. Owens demonstrates how he uses his mouth to control sighting his rifle while he hunts deer at Beechwood Grove Plantation in Clinton. At left, peering from behind the equipment, is Frank Pirie, one of two men who arranged for Owens to have special equipment to make the hunt possible.

FEATURES

Organization grants teen’s wish

  • By EMILY KERN HEBERT
  • Advocate staff writer
  • Published: Feb 3, 2009 – Page: 1E – UPDATED: 12:45 a.m.

A paralyzed teenager from Zachary hunted for the first time since his accident using special equipment designed just for him that he operates using his head.

Several people and organizations working together made the trip possible for 18-year-old J.R. Owens.

The assistance came from both former and current sheriffs, companies in Indiana and Denham Springs, and two local men who have made it their ministry to take disabled children hunting.

The hunt was successful, with Owens killing a mature doe on the first day of the trip.

“I shot the deer one time,” Owens said, the happiness evident in his eyes and smile.

“It didn’t run. It dropped right there,” he said.

Owens, a quadriplegic,  had last hunted during the 2005 season, in either November or December. He was 15 years old.

He was hurt July 23, 2006, while riding dirt bikes with friends. The accident happened 10 days before his 16th birthday.

The boys were making circles around a group of trees, Owens’ mother, Gayla Burke, said, and Owens’ bike flipped on top of him. His head was pushed up against a tree and he was not breathing.

Although a friend immediately started CPR while another went for help, doctors at the hospital that night told Owens’ mother he would not make it through the night.

“They told me definitively he would die,” Burke said.

The next morning, Owens was still alive, but the prognosis from doctors remained grim.

“I had three different doctors tell me he would never form a cognitive sentence,” Burke said. “He wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t know what planet he was on.”

Today, Owens is an honor roll student at Northeast High School and scheduled to graduate in May.

At a party celebrating Owens’ 18th birthday, former East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Greg Phares asked Owens if there was something he wanted to do that he hadn’t been able to do since the accident. Phares had kept in touch with the family after the accident since Burke works as a sheriff’s deputy.

Owens mentioned hunting.

Phares contacted Andy Bishop and Frank Pirie, who are affiliated with the United Special Sportsman Alliance.

The organization grants wishes to critically ill and disabled children. It specializes in sending them on the outdoor adventure of their dreams, according to the Web site, http://www.childswish.com.

Bishop and Pirie have taken other children on hunting trips, including those with leukemia and spina bifida. But, they had never worked with someone with  physical limitations as severe as Owens’.

Still, they were determined to make this hunt happen.

“If I was in the shape J.R. was in, I would hope someone would take the time for me,” Bishop explained.

“These families are suffering. They live in this daily. If I can take them out of that environment for one day, it’s worth it,” he said.

Owens’ mother sent the men pictures of Owens’ wheelchair and explained how he is able to control it using a toggle switch he operates with his chin.

The men arranged for a Columbia City, Ind., company, BE Adaptive Equipment, to build a rifle cradle to support Owens’ weapon along with a special triggering device that Owens activates by sucking on a straw. The company’s motto is “If you can dream it, we can build it.”

Similar to his chair, Owens uses a toggle switch to position the gun back and forth and up and down.

He sights his prey using a special video monitor, the Trophy Shot, that fits on top of the rifle scope. It was designed and built by Ricky Hope in Denham Springs under his company name; Wildlife Optics. For more information on this product you can look at their web site: www.wildlifeoptics.com

The best part, Owens said, is now he can hunt every year with assistance.

“I was with J.R. when he pulled the trigger,” Pirie said. “It was the most challenging and the most exciting hunt I’ve ever been on. It couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Burke said she wants to let others in Owens’ condition know that the possibility to hunt exists.

“If it hadn’t been for Greg (Phares), I wouldn’t have known about any of this,” she said.

Others who were instrumental in making the hunt happen included Roy Paxton, a range instructor for the Sheriff’s Office, who helped Owens practice.

Burke said Paxton spent all day letting Owens get comfortable with the gun.

Current Sheriff Sid Gautreaux gave Owens permission to practice at the range and gave Burke time off from work to spend with her son.

The hunting trip took place over two days — the first day at John Barton’s Beech Grove Plantation in Clinton, while the second day took place on property owned by Ken Phares, Greg Phares’ brother.

On the hunt, the group met a father and son taxidermy team from Eunice. The men, Julius and Ben Bischoff, offered to mount the deer for free and send it to Owens.

“It made me feel very special because they didn’t know me,” Owens said of everyone who made the hunt possible.

 

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