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Wheelchair doesn't dissuade determined hunter from getting his buck

The planets aligned, the effects of the rutting moon were starting to work its magic and whitetail bucks were beginning to seek out receptive does. Finally, last Friday night sitting in a pop-up blind in the Town of Barre, Mark Pierleoni of Greece accomplished his goal of connecting with a big buck using his Barnett Recruit Terrain crossbow. He did need a little help from his friends.

It’s been a long time coming for Pierleoni, 54, whose passion for big game hunting never waned despite a tragic accident 20 years ago that left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He was trimming some branches around his gutter at home when the ladder slid and he fell, changing his life forever.

“I honestly thought that I was never going to be able to harvest a big buck,” Pierleoni said. “Every time we went out it seemed like everything was against us.

"Earlier this fall, there was a lady out walking her dog on private land that she was not supposed to be on, and the final act of defiance was when the dog relieved himself on the ground in front of me. Our hunt was shot.”

Disregard the normal hunting concerns such as scent or tree stand placement. Pierleoni needs to be able to maneuver his wheelchair into place once he gets to the designated hunting site and rain, snow and cold play a role in what areas he can reach.

“We kept hunting the same spot over and over through the years,” said his brother, Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Newfane. “Since I had taken a nice buck the previous weekend, I was committed to try and get my brother a buck.”

Then came the sincere gift of a true friend. Jonathan Forder of Albion, a buddy of the Pierleonis through fishing, contacted Vince and asked how Mark’s hunting season was going. When Vince said they were struggling, Forder told them that he thought he could help. He had spotted some active bucks on his property and that he would be happy to set up a blind for Mark and brush it in for him. The stage was set for Nov. 8.

Mark was up before 2:30 a.m. filled with excitement that Friday. It felt like the day was going to be something special. When they arrived at Forder’s property, they drove in Vince’s Utility Task Vehicle, a Mac Daddy Mule, to the blind to get Mark set up. It was a bit of tight squeeze with Mark and his wheelchair and Vince inside of the pop-up blind, but they made it work.

It was some tight quarters for Pierleoni as he shared the pop-up blind with his brother, Vince. He sees movement in front of him ... (Photo courtesy of Vince Pierleoni)

By 2 p.m., Vince was shivering. He wasn’t used to hunting out of a ground blind. When he’s in tree stand, he can stand and stretch and move a bit to warm himself. This was not the case, and it was a cold morning and afternoon. It was 28 degrees with a breeze in their face.

After not even seeing a deer and the clock ticking, the two came up with a plan. If they didn’t see a deer by 3:30 p.m., they would call it a day. Mark spotted a small buck at 3:25 p.m., looked over a Vince and said: “We have to stay now.”

The hunt was continuing.

At around 4:15 p.m., Vince produced a doe bleat call. At 4:20 p.m., Mark saw the first signs of a big buck that appeared from out of nowhere. Mark whispered, “Don’t move.” Vince didn’t see the deer yet.

As the deer approached with his head down, he was moving just beyond the 30-yard tree that Mark was using a range marker. At one point, the buck stopped and looked right at the blind and they both froze. The buck was starting to move off when Mark told Vince to stop the deer.

Vince grunted. The deer stopped. Mark shot. The deer bolted back from where it came. They heard a crash off in the distance.

Catches and hunts of the week (Dec. 5) Thu, Dec 5, 2019

Submissions can be emailed to and should include name, hometown and particulars of the catch. One photo will be selected Catch of the Week and be published on the Thursday Outdoors page.

Scattershots (Dec. 4, 2019) Wed, Dec 4, 2019

As the light was slowly starting to fade, Vince went out to look for blood. He didn’t see any initially. He sent a text to Forder, grabbed his UTV and some flashlights. Forder joined Vince in looking for blood or the arrow. It didn’t take them long to find some blood. And the arrow. Vince was so focused on the trail he didn’t even see the brown that was down.

“What’s the brown blob over there?” said Forder. It was a big 8-point buck that was estimated at 170 pounds field dressed. It continued to get dark. Jon and Vince were busy loading up the deer and getting it cleaned.

Meanwhile, Mark was still back in the very dark blind. Vince came over and told him he harvested a nice buck and filled out the appropriate tag. There was nothing more for Mark to do for more than an hour as they transported the deer back to the truck. They came back and loaded up Mark, still ecstatic over his successful hunt and anxiously waiting to see his trophy and to take some pictures.

“I wish it could have been daylight when we took the photos of this deer,” Mark said. “I used to be opposed to crossbows until I actually shot one. Now I would like to see the season expanded so that I can hunt when the weather is more favorable.”

The archery season opened Oct. 1 in the Southern Zone. Crossbows didn’t open until Nov. 2. The cold weather is tough on physically challenged and senior hunters. That’s why changes are being proposed.

“The way it all played out, it was both exhilarating and exciting,” said the younger Pierleoni. “Thanks to my brother Vince for being committed to my deer hunting quest and to Jon for setting this all up for me.”

It was just as much of a thrill for Vince. “It was absolutely one of the greatest highlights of my years of deer hunting," he said. "We both feel grateful and blessed to have friends that share land access to get close to these awesome animals.”

“This was all absolutely was amazing,” said Forder. “I feel blessed for the opportunity to help Vince and Mark. I’m just glad it all came together.”

As luck would have it, Forder went to school for taxidermy and still dabbles with it on the side. He offered to do a mount to commemorate the occasion. Yes, everything just fell into place.

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