It’s been a month since Paul Howell and I decided that we weren’t prepared to sit back and watch Paul’s beloved sport be taken from him by a serious injury. During the weeks following our decision – and it really is a two-man venture – Paul has been, carefully, exploring the limits of his capabilities. The functions of his shoulder, arm, neck and back are seriously affected by his injuries and even discovering the precise range of movement, mobility and strength he’s now left with, represents a huge step in Paul’s recovery.

As a former sufferer of major spinal problems, I know how important it is to map out the extent of the challenges that have to be faced. It isn’t until this is done that the full scale of what’s been lost is realised, and believe me that’s a hell of a wake-up call. The fact is, some people would rather not know just how bad things are, and I really do understand that. These problems have to be dealt with mentally, as well as physically, and often it’s the mental approach that dictates the outcome of any major rehabilitation.

Paul knew the deal when he started his journey to recovery, and he accepted the need to quantify his condition. Making the extent of his limitations ‘real’ knocked him back a bit at first, but, showing the determination he’ll need to work this thing through, Paul took another look at his results and created a positive.

“Right, it’s pretty crap, but I’ve sorted my starting point, haven’t I?” Paul’s initial verdict showed promise of a positive attitude. “So, now I know what I’ve got to work with, and really work on, and every time I find a way to do something I couldn’t do before, that will be a step forward, won’t it?” Top man, Pauly, and just what I wanted to hear. Right, now let’s get to work.

Physio in the field

Paul has medical specialists advising him, so everything we do must not contravene what they have prescribed by way of physiotherapy. The last thing Paul needs is to do even more damage to himself, so we proceed within a strict set of medical guidelines, and we’ll be running any major ideas past his advisors well before we try them out. By now, Paul knows what hurts and what helps, pretty much as it happens, and we already knew that ‘little and often’ was to be our watchword.

Those who saw last month’s article will be aware that an Idleback shooting seat has already established itself as a key piece of equipment in this project, but this month we’ll be using it in a slightly less conventional way. The Idleback is designed to be carried in the field and comes with a shoulder strap to make shifting it around as easy as possible. Paul has just the one functional shoulder, so we decided to hook that up to the Idleback’s sling and see how well he could carry it, with a view to extending his ‘carry times’ on a gradual basis.

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The longest journey …

For any sort of training program to work, you need to stick with it, and that means building in a reward system. Paul likes his photography, and while he can’t carry a rifle and the Idleback chair, he can manage a camera. This means, when Paul needs to stop on his ‘therapy carrying’ jaunts, he can sit comfortably, quietly recovering, with the chance of photographing some wildlife.

Early reports show a measurable return on Paul’s short walkabouts with the Idleback, despite a setback or two on those days when his injuries tried to reaffirm their influence. On these days, Paul does more sitting than walking, but he knows he has to be patient and seek other positives when his route to recovery is temporarily blocked.

Here’s where the Idleback really earns its keep. When Paul can’t walk far, he props his rifle on the Idleback’s support and concentrates on his marksmanship skills.

“It’s surprising just how much you lose when you don’t put in the practice,” said Paul. “I’m just about going back to basics, with trigger control, breathing, and especially follow-through, which is just as vital when shooting off a rest as it is from any other stance. Most importantly, though, I’m really enjoying getting back into my shooting and re-discovering the challenges. The improvement in my marksmanship is a way of measuring my progress, and while I’ve got a long way to go, I’m determined to reclaim as much of my sport as is humanly possible. I won’t give up, that’s for sure.”

Now that’s what I want to hear, and I know Paul means every word.

Taking things E Z

Last month, a product was delivered to the Airgun World office that could play a major part in Paul’s recovery. It’s a prototype of a mobile rifle support system, and while not specifically intended for shooters with injuries like Paul, the potential of the product was obvious from the moment I saw it.

Basically, the E Z Mount is an adjustable webbing vest, onto which clips a monopod rifle rest. Could this be the much-needed missing link between Paul’s freestanding shooting (which is currently impossible for him), and the total support of the Idleback? As ever, only the fullness of time will decide on any long term benefits of the E Z Mount, but I’ve got some major plans for it.

When Paul has one of his ‘more restricted’ days, and doing a bit of therapy-carrying with the Idleback isn’t possible, my plan is for him to slip on the E Z Mount, carry his rifle in a ‘shoulder arms’ style, and walk slowly around his shoot, ready to flip out the E Z Mount rest and take a shot as required. We know there’s a ton of work to do before Paul reaches that level of efficiency, but this is a marathon not a sprint, and some days we have to take things, literally, a step at a time. We also have to accept that failure is an option, albeit one neither of us intends to take unless absolutely forced to, and we must remain realistic about the whole endeavour. We’ve already learned some important lessons, and you can bet we’ll apply these, and more, as our quest to reclaim Paul’s sport continues.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling in any way, or for any reason, take it from us that there are ways to carry on with your sport. Changes will usually have to be made and challenges will definitely have to be met, but the rewards of our sport are there and they’re as satisfying as ever.

We’ll see you next month, and remember – never give up!