As most of you may know, I am a member of Vortex Optics’ Shooting Staff, helping promote their products in Arizona. It’s not hard; Vortex has quickly gained a reputation for quality optics at an affordable price, protected by an ironclad guarantee and awesome customer service. I have worked with Tim Austin for several years now, and know that he does a great job for Vortex. Recently, I saw a picture of Tim with a great doe – and he was sitting on his modified scooter. I’ve always thought Tim would make a great interview regardless ; the fact that he could help educate my readers about hunters with disabilities makes it that much better! A sincere “Thank You” to Tim for taking the time to answer some questions. ~DesertRat

1) I’ve really enjoyed working with you at Vortex – how long have you worked with them? Could you tell my readers a little about what you do?
“I’ve worked with Vortex since March 1998. I started out in the shipping department. Now I work with the Shooting Staff, I service accounts – about 300 across the US. We’re a small company, about 40 fulltime employees, so we all do a little bit of everything to fill in where needed. It’s a very flexible job.”

2) If I have readers who aren’t very familiar with Vortex products, what would you want them to know?
“We’re one of the few US-owned and operated optics companies left in the US. We do all of our design, testing and prototype work here in-house. We do outsource some marketing functions. All of our repair and warranty work is done in-house as well. Vortex works very closely with our overseas manufacturers especially in regards to Quality Control and Manufacturing specifications.”

3) To many, working with a company like Vortex seems like a “dream job”. What’s your favorite thing about your job? What’s your least favorite?
I like everything about my job. I like the flexibility. I enjoy working with customers. We are proud to treat delaers and customers the way we would want to be treated. The Warranty is great. (Desert Rat) – I run into a lot of people who are surprised by their experience with Vortex. Your customer service really seems to go above and beyond… “The customer always comes first, no matter what.” Least favorite? (Tim laughs) “I guess the weekends never seem to be long enough!”

4) I was struck by the photo of you in the Vortex Shooting Staff Message Board; it showed you with a big doe you had just arrowed and you were in your power chair. It looked like it had been adapted for hunting. Can you tell us a bit about your “hunting chair”?
The chair started out as a Wrangler by Pride Mobility. I added several off-road enhancements. It has different tires, seat cover, seat is lowered to lower the center of gravity, and – I painted it camo. It sure does make a difference!

5) Would you mind telling my readers a bit about the nature of your disability?
I was in a motorcycle accident in July 1990. I am paralyzed from the chest down.

6) My wife has been in a chair since she was little. I know she likes to “educate” people when she has the opportunity. She likes to de-mystify disabilities and help defray some of the misperceptions out there. She finds that a little bit of discourse makes it much more comfortable for everybody. Do you share similar views? What’s your message to folks out there who may not be familiar with people who have disabilities? Talk a bit about what you would like to pass along to “Joe Hunter”.
People are curious. If you are unsure or curious, just ask. I do a lot of mentoring at a local hospital. People facing a new disability are often very apprehensive – “What’s it going to be like? What do I do? How does this all work?” When I talk to them and tell them about my job and hunting and other activities, I can see the gears turning. They think “Maybe I can do this afterall.” It’s a great feeling when you’re not scared any more.

7) I know there is at least a group or two out there that cater to hunters with disabilities. Do you belong to any of those organizations?
I’m a supporter of the Adaptive Sportsmen. I don’t participate on their hunts, but I am a supporter. I can hunt as much as I want, really – and I don’t want to take a spot away from someone who needs it. I also belong to Madison’s Spinal Cord Injury Group. There are a lot of great groups out there doing good work. I can also tell you that members are very appreciative of all the volunteers that support those groups and make it all possible.

8 ) If I have readers out there who want to hunt but have some physical challenges, what is your advice to them? Any other resources you could recommend?
I tell people to get on the internet and find the resources they need. There are so many groups, organizations and individuals that can help these days, people just need to reach out and find what fits their situation the best. People don’t realize the nature of the challenges until they face them – use your network. It’s not unusual for someone to say “Hey I met someone who did this or that, that had a disability”. Tweak their memory – they can put 2 and 2 together and help build your network. Bottom line – don’t be afraid. Figure it out, get out and do it. You can still achieve your life goals, you just need to figure it out.

9) What’s your favorite place to hunt? Species? Biggest hunting accomplishment yet?
I think at my cabin in central Wisconsin. I just love to hunt, I bow and rifle hunt. I think my biggest accomplishment was my first buck taken with a bow since my accident. I had hunted with crossbows but at some point I decided to start hunting with the compound. I’d played around with bows since I was 12, but never really hunted with them. My first buck was taken at 17 yards. I’ll never forget that experience!

10) What are some hunts on your “wish list”? What’s your dream hunt?
A turkey with a bow is on my wish list. I’d like to hunt antelope some day too. They are a pretty cool looking animal. Whatever my dream hunts – they will all be with a bow, from now on!

A big thanks again to Tim from Vortex. Maybe you have a group near you that assists sportsmen and women with challenges reach their goals – see if they need a hand! Conversely, maybe you know someone who is ill or an accident victim and thinks they can’t hunt or fish. Now you know different! Help get them involved!

One last treat – here is how Tim “celebrated” the 20th anniversary of his accident: