On November 5, 2010, Aaron Heying took his girlfriend, MaeLyn, hunting for the first time. As they set up in two hang-on treestands, Heying gave his only safety harness to MaeLyn. As Heying stood to get his grunt call, the strap of his stand snapped, dropping him 23 feet to the ground on his back and shoulders. Panic set in when he regained his vision but realized he couldn’t move his legs.
Heying suffered a T12 burst fracture, compression fractures, broken ribs and a torn pancreas, which left him paralyzed. A proud member of United Auto Workers Local 838 since he began working at John Deere, Heying is now working a non-traditional assignment in the safety department to help ensure a good work environment for his union brothers and sisters.
“The union is the only reason I am still working today. My union reps fought hard for me to get back to work,” Heying said. “My family and I are lucky to have the strong backing and support that we did.”
Being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped Heying from continuing to hunt. In fact, it only increased his passion for doing what he loves and gave him a deeper appreciation for the importance of family, friends and life.
“Hunting is much harder but once I get there and setup, I feel at peace. For the time I’m out there, everything is normal in my life,” Heying said.
Always looking to experience new adventures in different places, Heying filled out an application for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Brotherhood Outdoors TV show when a co-worker dropped by his desk and encouraged him to apply.
Not only was Heying chosen for a New Mexico bear hunt, which he never dreamed possible, MaeLyn—his wife of just a week and a half—was invited to join him. On Sept. 30, 2015, the newlyweds flew from Waterloo, Iowa, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet up with Brotherhood Outdoors co-hosts Daniel Lee Martin and Julie McQueen and their guide, Richard Baca of Antler Addiction Outfitters.
The hunt began early the next day as the crew loaded into a truck before sunrise and began driving the countryside while a team of well-trained dogs scoured the air for the scent of bear.
“The first time the dogs hit the scent trail, it was overwhelming to say the least,” Heying said. “I was nervous, excited and almost in shock of what was going on. The new type of hunting, not knowing what to expect and the environment we were in was amazing. One of my favorite parts was that I got to share the experience with my wife. This was our honeymoon trip.”
Thanks to historical rains in New Mexico, the bears were staying low in the canyon, presenting both hunters and dogs with yet another challenge. But on the last day of the hunt, the dogs treed a bear 600 yards downhill from the truck. With Martin and the guide taking turns carrying Heying piggyback style, McQueen carrying his wheelchair and MaeLyn toting his bow, the group worked their way down the hill to get in range of the bear.
Suddenly, the weather took a turn for the worst, spitting rain and sleet. To avoid getting stuck in the ravine, Martin, Heying and MaeLyn stayed where they were while McQueen and Baca continued down the hill in an effort to push the bear toward Heying. For hours, they worked the bear as it jumped into five different trees, always closer to Heying’s range.
As the daylight wanes on the last day, does Heying finally get a shot at his first black bear?
Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on the Sportsman Channel. Visit www.BrotherhoodOutdoors.tv for show schedule, photos, video clips and more.