The Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Driving the curvy roads amid wooded areas, rural farms and intermittent fields east of Lawrence, Terrence Elliot regaled his passengers with hunting tales. Among those listening were avid hunter Harry Ummel, 14, and his mother, Neysa Horyna-Ummel, both of Topeka.
One of Elliot's fondest stories was working with a boy who was paralyzed from the neck down but with enough finger control to toggle a switch. Elliot, the boy and his father arrived at a small clearing in noisy fashion thanks to the shakes and rattles of the boy's handicap-accessible van. They assumed they had scared off all wildlife, Elliot said, but no sooner had they mounted a gun on the boy's wheelchair when a deer wandered by.
The father aimed. The boy pushed the switch. Bam! He had harvested his first buck.
It was a proud moment for Elliot, one of many since he began teaching children about his love for the outdoors almost six years ago, soon after his world fell apart.
Elliot, 51, of Lawrence, has been hunting since he was 7 and killed his first buck at 8. He guides hunting excursions as a professional hunter and is a member of the BowTech Pro Staff. He has spent 26 years on pro hunting staffs.
"To me, the outdoors is like church," Elliot said. "It's like a temple. You have to spend a lot of time to understand it. When I'm in this blind, me and the good Lord can talk."
In April 2004, a terminal cancer diagnosis shattered Elliot's life. He was given a year or less. In a time that Elliot describes as "down," friends encouraged him to take his hunting skills and do something meaningful.
Elliot realized he could train children who wanted to hunt but didn't have someone to take them or children who had physical or developmental disabilities.
"Terrence targets anybody who wants to go hunting," said Neysa Horyna-Ummel, Ummel's mother. "He sees kids for who they are, not for their disabilities."
His passion may lie in hunting, but children will bring tears to Elliot's eyes.
"It's all about being in the outdoors and learning the outdoors and taking that kid hunting," Elliot said. "That kid will always remember every time he's in the outdoors."
For Ummel, a typical teenager who likes to hang out at the mall and go to movies with his friends, hunting wouldn't have been an option if not for a chance meeting at the Country Stampede last summer. Ummel spotted the BowTech truck, nearly dragging his mom to get there, only to find they were closing shop.
As Ummel and his mom turned away, Elliot beckoned them back. He called Ummel to the front of the line and put him in touch with BowTech Pro Staff Hans Saunders, who began showing Ummel proper archery techniques.
Now, Elliot and Ummel are old buddies who share a common love.
In a camouflage blind, they hide out, waiting for wildlife to approach the sound of Elliot's deer and turkey calls. They joke around, quietly so as to not scare off animals.
"We could be sitting here talking about girls and one comes up," Elliot said. "That's what I love about hunting you never know."
Horyna-Ummel said Ummel's love for archery and hunting became obvious on a 100-degree day in Nebraska when he was 9. He grew up wanting to be like the American Indians he saw in movies.
"I could see it in his pretend play," Horyna-Ummel said. "He's always been a hunter."
Ummel didn't have anyone to teach him, but with an old bow, Ummel would practice.
"My whole backyard fence is peppered with arrow holes," Horyna-Ummel said.
In October, days after his birthday, Ummel harvested his first deer on his first hunting trip. It took one arrow. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Ummel harvested his first turkey, also on the first try.
"He is one deadly shot," Elliot said. "Harry ain't missed nothin'. He's pulled back twice and killed a deer and a turkey. I don't know anybody who can make a shot on a turkey like he did. It was perfect."
A variety of treatments had sent Elliot's cancer into remission a couple years ago. It returned six months ago. He is undergoing chemotherapy and must limit activities. The cancer has deteriorated the cartilage in his hip bones. A wrong move could keep him away from hunting and from making a difference in the lives of children.
"Basically, what I want to do before I die, is inspire parents to teach their kids something they can do," Elliot said.
Elliot, a Louisiana native, is the father of six boys ages 8 to 31. He taught each of them to hunt by passing on his father's wisdom.
"My dad always told me you pick your shots," Elliot said. "How I taught my kids, I gave them one bullet and I told them to go out and make that shot count."
Horyna-Ummel has seen the impact Elliot has made on her son. His self-esteem and pride have increased, and he's making the transition from a boy to a young man, she said. And Elliot taught her the value of making a difference.
"For me, Terrence said there's no more excuses," Horyna-Ummel said. "You need to do what you can to make the world a better place."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.