ALBANY, Ore. — Thousands of Oregon hunters will bag a deer this fall.
But former Linn County resident Leland Ford is probably the only one to do so one-handed — with a bow and arrow.
It's an amazing feat by anyone's standards, but it's just a way of life for Ford, 58, who is now lives in Salem.
It's certainly not a lifestyle Ford dreamed about as a young man.
Ford was a captain in the Air Force ROTC program at Oregon State University with only one term left before graduation. He had completed flight school and was set on a career flying jets.
But on Dec. 8, 1974, fate intervened and his life changed forever.
"We were hunting on the Santiam River north of Lebanon when my dad's cousin's shotgun discharged and pellets struck the right side of my brain," Ford said.
Months of rehabilitation and healing followed. He has enough mobility in his left leg to walk slowly with the use of a brace, but he never regained use of his left arm. That hasn't stopped him from leading a full life.
"I have always loved being outdoors," Ford said. "I want to see what God has created and appreciate its beauty."
Ten years ago, Ford starting yearning to get back into the outdoors he loved to explore as a child with his best friend, Dan Powell. He missed hunting and fishing.
"We've been friends since 1958," Ford said with a smile.
Ford has learned to adapt and created a method of holding the bow string with his mouth while extending the 70-pound pull bow in front of his body. The process makes his dentist cringe.
Ford's wife, Susan, makes nylon patches that are attached to the bow string. Ford bites the patch, and quickly thrusts the bow forward, holding it rock-steady with his powerful right arm.
"When I want to release the string, I make a puff of air with my mouth," Ford said. "I have tried saying certain words, but eventually found that just puffing works the best in terms of accuracy."
And like any good bow hunter, Ford faithfully practices his craft.
"I will shoot up to 100 arrows per night. At 20 yards, I will hit the bull's eye. At 30 yards, I hit an area the size of a paper plate. At 40 yards, I can place them in an 18-inch pattern," Ford said. "I've gotten a deer each of the last three years."
Ford said one key to his success is that "I'm a patient man. I will sit for hours waiting for a deer to get into range. I waited for this year's deer for days off and on."
Ford said life can be hard, but "nothing's impossible."
"I figure you just have to be smarter than the problem," Ford said. "I also like to go fishing. I use my thumb to reel up the line."
He also figured out a way to tie his own fish hooks by attaching a cork to a necklace to hold the hook, while he loops the line into a knot.
The rigors of elk hunting, which is usually in rugged terrain, at first posed a problem, but as always, Ford's friend Powell came through for him.
"We went to a hardware store and tried out wheelbarrows," Ford said. "Dan hauls me up and down the trail in the wheelbarrow."
Because he has limited vision, Ford's wife, Susan, will often act as his spotter.
"She's excellent," Ford said. "Other guys have asked if she could help them out."
Ford's first wife was a school teacher and worked in Burns, where the family lived for 13 years. He says his disability was a factor in their divorce.
They reared four children of their own, including Rachael Cantrell of Albany, John Ford of Jefferson, Joe Ford of Creswell, Elizabeth Taylor of Burns and adopted daughter Sharon Gardner, who lives in Utah. They also took in 31 foster children.
"She didn't want me to work, so I was a stay-at-home dad and raised the kids," Ford said. "At one time, we had 13 kids under one roof. I loved it."
After they divorced, Ford was single for several years until he met Susan at church. She had been widowed and had no intentions of remarrying.
"When he asked me what kind of food I like to eat, I ran out of the room to my car," she said.
But as in all things, Ford was persistent and four years ago, they wed.
"He has so much enthusiasm I forget he has only one arm," Susan said. "He does things so easily, people forget."
Among his accomplishments is playing concert piano.
"I play the melody with my thumb and the harmony with the rest of my fingers," Ford said.
It took Ford three years to complete his last term at Oregon State.
"It was difficult to learn and it was difficult to get around on crutches," Ford said. "I had classes where I had to climb three flights of stairs to get to them."
He graduated in 1978 with a degree in industrial arts/secondary education from Oregon State University.
"But no one wanted to hire a one-handed shop teacher," Ford said.
He later earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education at Oregon State in 1987 and recently earned a master's degree in education from Corban University in Salem. He has been a substitute teacher in Albany schools and is now looking for a full-time teaching position in the mid-valley.
A deep faith in God has been Ford's foundation since 1966, and he considers leading hundreds of children to Christ as his greatest accomplishment.
In 2000, Ford founded One Hand For Christ Ministries, Inc., whose goal is evangelism. Ford has also authored "Bible Memorization: A Seminar in Gospel Preparedness and Sharing."
Ford's only concession to his disability is being extra careful when he walks.
"I have to watch so that I don't get myself into dangerous situations," Ford said. "I'm pretty conservative about that."