LA CYGNE, Kan. -- Mike Lose’s cherub face beamed brightly, a contrast to the black background of the pop-up blind he sat in.
Just 12 steps in front of him lay an Eastern wild turkey that would score high in the turkey hunting competition taking place in the countryside around him. The 43-year old retired law enforcement officer wasn’t competing in that event, not that it mattered to Lose.
For him, this turkey represented a much larger victory.
The 12 steps separating Lose (pronounced Low-se) from his turkey would never be taken by him. Instead, the distance would be covered in a wheelchair.
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Lose’s successful hunt was part of the recent World Turkey Hunting Championships in Kansas, where top turkey hunters from all over the country compete in two-day hunts to see who can call in and take the highest scoring turkeys while capturing them on video. Part of the event included a camp for Hunting for Heroes (H4H), a group similar to the well-known Wounded Warriors project, but dedicated specifically to law enforcement officers who have survived a life-changing injury in the line of duty.
“Nationally, 25 percent of law enforcement officers are assaulted every year,’’ said Chris Allen of Hunting for Heroes, “of those about 30 percent are injured in some capacity, many of them in ways they can’t recover.”
Lose was one of a half-dozen injured law enforcement officers taking part in the hunts. His guides for the day would be Outdoor Channel’s Pat and Nicole Reeve of “Driven with Pat and Nicole.” The hunt on its own was complete with battles, fighting back Murphy’s Law and changes in the weather, before Pat and Nicole called up three strutting longbeards within 12 steps of Lose and had him hold off pulling the trigger for 10 minutes.
“That was a nerve-wrecking long time,’’ Lose said. “I was nervous they would spook. They didn’t. Now I have an even better story.”
His story of getting to that hunt, though, is one every hunter, or American citizen, should hear. This unplanned journey started almost 9 years ago to the day as a jailer and a member of the SWAT team for the Des Moines, Iowa, Police Department. It was an April day, one he wished he had been turkey hunting, but instead he was home raking leaves, enjoying time with his family.
“We live by a park that is a little bit separate from our neighborhood,’’ Lose said. “It has a walking path that leads into it. It's a nice area. I noticed a car driving up the walking path and when it came out to our area, it just about hit the kids.
“In our neighborhood, the kids just play everywhere. It’s a great neighborhood. When he went by, I yelled at him, ‘Slow down,’ The normal stuff anybody would do. He went around the corner and I heard him crash into another vehicle. So I started to walk up there. He was already gone, but my brother-in-law, who lives behind us, pulled up and we get into his vehicle.”
At this point, Lose has switched from protective parent to cop mode.
“He's done some things that are going to get somebody seriously hurt or killed.”
Lose would have no idea how telling that premonition would be. He and his brother-in-law drove through the park, spotting the offender in one of the pavilions. Even though he was off duty, Lose always carried his badge.
A moment later after seeing the driver, Lose spotted a Des Moines patrolman. He waved for the officer to come over with intentions of having him handle the situation. As he waited for the officer, Lose approached the driver and showed him his badge. In a split-second, Lose’s life was changed forever.
“He had a shirt wrapped up, like around his waist area, and he already had the gun out and was firing,’’ Lose recalls. “He fired off a lot of shots at myself, my brother-in-law and at the Des Moines officer. He unloaded a 9-millimeter. One of them went through my wrist. One went into and across my chest, one in my left arm, in my bicep.
“By that time, I was getting out of Dodge. And one hit me in the back. It went into my spine. It didn't sever my spinal chord, but it crushed it all. And put it into splintered pieces. The bullet went into my aorta. And if it had gone completely through my aorta instead of just in one side, I probably never would have left the park alive. I would have bled out.
“I knew right then I couldn't move. I was still awake. Still conscious.”
Lose’s thoughts turned to his wife, feeling bad for her that she had to see him like that. The bad guy jumped into his brother-in-law’s car and sped away, narrowly missing Lose with the tires as the gun battle continued with the Des Moines officer. His brother-in-law had also been hit in the calf by the gunfire.
Eventually, the bad guy would be caught after a high-speed chase ended in a pit maneuver.
“I know I shouldn’t say it, but I wanted him killed,” Lose said.
Lose was airlifted to the nearest hospital, mostly conscious and constantly thinking of his family.
“I knew I was paralyzed. I knew they wouldn’t let my wife, my mother or sisters come see me because of the shape I was in. They thought I was dead,” he said.
Lose remembers the priest reading his the last rites.
“They didn't think that I was gonna make it through the first surgery -- they stopped counting at 48 units of plasma and blood,’’ Lose said. “They weren't gonna do very many more. They were just going to stop and be done.”
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Somehow, through all his trauma, Lose found a way to survive, and to continue fighting. Three months later he got out of the hospital, confined to a wheelchair for life but possessing a strength and resolve few people can muster. That fall he went deer hunting.
“Nothing was going to keep me down,’’ Lose said. “I wasn’t going to let the bad guy win.”
The bad guy that had filled him full of holes was caught and sentenced. He was hopped up on meth at the time. To top it off, he was wanted previously for two counts of attempted murder. After fleeing to Mexico to escape those charges, he was back in the states with no documentation or citizenship papers. In the minutes before his encounter with Lose, he had completed a drive-by shooting in another part of town.
With all that, he only received 35 years in prison. But as Lose knows, a sentence reduction or deportation could come at any time. He’s resigned to be at every parole board meeting, every hearing to ensure the sentence lasts as long as possible.
“He's not doing anything, except working behind the prison walls,’’ Lose said, a quiet satisfaction evident in his voice. “Me, I'm out here, like today turkey hunting, killing big birds. So yeah, he might have taken my ability to walk, but that's it.”
“That’s it,’’ he adds for punctuation.
And 12 steps away, Lose rolls up to his turkey, in a specially-made Action Track wheelchair that is outfitted with miniature tracks like those found on Army tanks. Flanking him are Pat and Nicole Reeve.
There is an emotional moment that has passed between the trio. It began with an outburst of joy in the black confines of the pop-up blind, melded into watery eyes as the three put hands on the bird and realized what had taken place.
This was by no means an easy hunt. It had taken more than 10 hours from start to finish. It started with breaking day several miles away and ended with a turkey hunter completing a victory 12 steps away over things most of the world can never comprehend.
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