The week before Christmas 2011, then-high school senior Tanner Hunter was doing something he had done countless times before—participating in a wrestling tournament. In the blink of an eye, however, he went from making a move to not being able to move due to a serious spinal cord injury.
Roughly four years later, Tanner is now a student at Auburn University and remains partially paralyzed, relying on a wheelchair to get from place to place. But that hasn’t kept him from getting more involved in the wonderful world of shooting—a sport that has both helped him begin to heal and brought his family together like never before.
I’m an athlete, avid shooter and a member of the National Rifle Association. I’m also a C4-C5 quadriplegic.
I was injured in a high school wrestling match my senior year and spent three months recovering in the hospital. Shortly after returning home, I was contacted by the Buckmasters organization, which wanted to give me a special gun mount for my wheelchair so that I could get back outdoors. I grew up hunting, so this was really exciting for me! It was also a great opportunity to do something that my family already loved to do together.
As long as I can remember, I have loved the shooting sports. When I was young, I would ask to see one of my dad’s guns. First he would carefully check it to make sure it was unloaded. Then he would show me how to check it myself and how to safely hold the gun. He explained that a gun is to always be treated like it’s loaded, and handled with the utmost caution and respect.
Dad also taught me that if we kill something, we eat it. I found out that he really meant what he said when I barbecued my first squirrel. Another vivid memory of mine occurred during a youth weekend at our hunting camp. As we gathered for target practice, one of our friends brought out a gun that most people never get the chance to see up close—a Barrett .50-cal. As soon as he asked who wanted to shoot it, my mom said, “Me first!” How many kids can say, “Guess what my mom shot this weekend?” Dad was proud of her too; he was grinning from ear to ear as she sighted on the target about 300 yards away.
Dad was also right there with me during recovery from my injury, encouraging me to start shooting again. We were all surprised and thrilled that shooting sports would even be possible with my injuries.
In truth, shooting became like rehab for me. It’s also great that now, more than ever before, our trips to the range and hunting club are family events, with my brothers, Tyler and Thaddeus, also by my side. Family has always been important to us, and being active together is a big part of that.
Since my injury, I’ve become involved with the Birmingham, Ala., Lakeshore Foundation, and learned that the organization offers shooting sports opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities. Since joining Lakeshore, my shooting has really improved. When I started, I had to use a sip-and-puff trigger control in order to fire the gun. Now, as I work out and gain a little more strength and movement, I’m able to pull the trigger with my hand when I fire certain guns.
Shooting has opened so many doors for me. I’ve met many new friends, traveled to interesting places, learned things and set goals for myself. I really do appreciate the many opportunities I have had to be outdoors with my dad, mom and brothers. I also understand and appreciate what the NRA does to help protect my Second Amendment rights that so greatly benefit my family.