Falls man hunts his own way

Sterzen overcomes cerebral palsy to find hunting success
by Jeff Pederson
Sheboygan Falls News Editor

ANDY STERZEN of Sheboygan Falls recently bagged his first turkey in five years through the use of a tracked wheelchair. Sterzen, who has cerebral palsy, brought home a 16-pound juvenile bird for his efforts. - Submitted photo ANDY STERZEN of Sheboygan Falls recently bagged his first turkey in five years through the use of a tracked wheelchair. Sterzen, who has cerebral palsy, brought home a 16-pound juvenile bird for his efforts. - Submitted photo Don’t try to tell Andy Sterzen that he can’t do something.

The Sheboygan Falls resident is very likely to prove you wrong.

Born with cerebral palsy, which has limited his mobility and reduced his muscle strength, Sterzen has faced more than his fair share of challenges, but he has refused to let any of them hold him back.

He lives in his own apartment in Sheboygan Falls and holds down a job delivering papers each morning at Pine Haven Christian Communities.

In recent years, Sterzen’s unwavering determination has propelled him to success in the world of turkey and deer hunting.

Working in tandem with his dad, Frank, Sterzen shot his second turkey in five years, during a mentored hunt in Plymouth on April 23.

“It was early in the morning, around 7 a.m., when we got the turkey,” Andy said. “It was exciting because it was the first turkey I had shot since I started hunting back in 2011.”

While Frank has been an avid hunter for 56 years, Andy is a relative newcomer to hunting.

He started his hunting journey through the Wisconsin DNRaffiliated Learn to Hunt program through the Northern Kettles Wild Turkey Federation.

With Frank serving as his mentor and guide, Andy found success immediately bagging his first turkey on a special Learn to Hunt outing on April 7, 2011 near Elkhart Lake.

“The Learn to Hunt program was great for Andy because it gave him a chance to try it out and see if he liked it without investing time into hunter’s safety classes,” Frank said. “They do some training the weekend before the hunting outing, which stresses basic safety and teaches the mentor guides how to provide leadership.”

Frank says the Learn to Hunt program inspired Andy to pursue hunting as a hobby.

“We do team hunting, where I hold the gun and Andy fires the gun with a button on his wheelchair,” Frank said. “We put together a system for Andy to fire the gun with a 12-volt battery hookup on a bracket that fits on the gun or rifle he is using for turkey or deer hunting.

“It was fun to put that system together,” he said. “It took some thought and ingenuity. There isn’t one way to do it. I’ve seen other people do it all different ways with several innovative designs for disabled hunters. I’ve seen some that were mouth operated and really any other way you could think of. It is a neat thing when people find a way to do things that might seem impossible.”

Andy’s most recent turkey hunting excursion, which netted him a 16-pound juvenile turkey, was aided by the use of a tracked chair, also known as an action trackchair, which allowed him to negotiate rough terrain and travel across fields with relative ease.

The specially designed wheelchair features caterpillar tracks instead of wheels, which come in handy when dealing with mud, snow or other adverse weather conditions or uneven surfaces.

“A friend was nice enough to loan the chair to Andy to use for the day and it really worked great,” Frank said. “It was the first time he had used a chair like that. It operates with a joystick, which took about 15 seconds for Andy to learn how to use.

“In the previous turkey hunts that we have done, it was hard to get Andy to where the birds were because of his limited mobility,” he said. “There is no way he could go a quarter mile through a field on crutches. Having the tracked chair was really a godsend. It helped a lot.”

Frank is currently looking into getting a tracked chair, which Andy could use not only for hunting, but also to attend races at Road America, go to the beach or visit car shows held on unpaved surfaces.

He would also like to make the tracked chairs more readily available to all disabled citizens of Sheboygan County.

“There are a few organizations that make tracked chairs available to disabled people at no charge, but they are not located very close to our area,” Frank said. “My mission is to make that possible in Sheboygan County.

“It is such a great piece of equipment that allows people to do things they never thought they could do,” he said. “I am a baby boomer and I am starting to lose mobility. I think the tracked chair is something older people could use as well to stay active and continue hunting even when they are not able to move around as well as they used to.”

Frank’s other goal is to have a public shooting range in Sheboygan County.

“The only shooting ranges around here are private and operated by the local clubs and organizations,” Frank said. “You have to be a member to shoot at those private ranges. There are some public shooting ranges around the state. The closest ones are in Waukesha and Shiocton, but again there aren’t any in our vicinity.

“It will take a lot of time, effort and determination to make it a reality, but I would really like to see it happen,” he said.

Andy and Frank are not strictly turkey hunters, each October they take part in a special hunt for disabled people in Willard, Wis.

“The disabled hunt is really a great event in Western Wisconsin,” Frank said. “They typically get over 100 hunters for a week of deer hunting. It is an awesome group to hunt with. Landowners in the Willard area open up their land for the hunt, which I think is really cool.”

Andy and Frank have been highly successful at the disabled hunt, bagging a deer in all three years they have participated.

“I got a deer in 2012, 2014 and 2015,” Andy said. “We didn’t go in 2013, so we have a perfect 3-for-3 record. I really enjoy that hunt. I’m glad they move it up to October each year, because it can get pretty cold during the regular deer hunting season in November.”

While those that don’t hunt may not understand its allure, Frank and Andy agree that there is nothing like it.

“Hunting is not just about pulling a trigger on a gun,” Frank said. “There is so much more to it than that. Some of my best days hunting have come when I didn’t even shoot at an animal. It is about connection to the outdoors and absorbing nature for a few hours. I really enjoy learning about the animals, respecting and appreciating them.

“Another great thing is that there are no cell phones or electronic devices, which serve as a major distractions these days,” he said. “Hunting teaches you patience and allows you time to really get to know the people that you’re hunting with. The camaraderie and brotherhood bond of being outdoors together is an amazing thing. It is an experience that makes you feel alive. I also have a great hunting partner in Andy. He is patient and has put up with a lot of difficult things, including bad weather and having to deal with me.”

Andy echoes Frank’s thoughts.

“I agree that it is something that requires patience and is a great way to get to know people and really talk to them,” Andy said. “I’m glad I got to start doing it five years ago and now I can’t wait to go every year.”

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