Life is full of twists and turns — good and bad — and when you get a bad one, it’s all about perspective and frame of find. Jason Koger’s tale is one of inspiration, passion, and a man’s pursuit to take the good with the bad and come out victorious.
by Jace Bauserman
As an outdoor writer, I’ve interviewed some amazing people. Some were inspiring, others wholesome, and some, after the interview, caused me to look in the mirror and do some self-reflection. Then, there are those ultra-rare occasions when someone does all three, leaving me in total awe.
Jason Koger left me in total awe.
Koger grew up in a non-hunting family for the most part but had a great uncle who extended a deer-hunting invite to him when he was 13. Koger killed two does in a single shot on that hunt, which, with a laugh, he emphasized, “is legal in Kentucky.”
Those two does, and that single experience in the outdoors, was all it took for Koger to become obsessed with the outdoors and hunting. Soon, he sat down the rifle and picked up the bow, and with each season, the hunting fire in the pit of his stomach continued to grow.
“I think many people get it mixed up,” Koger said. “I learned early on that the joy of hunting came from time spent in the woods and hunting with others, helping them learn and enjoy being out there. It’s not about how many deer you kill or how big they are.”
Before Koger’s accident in 2008 (more to come on this), he met a man through work named Sam Smith. Smith and Koger became instant friends and made many memories in the woods together. Then, sometime during the 2005-2006 deer season, Smith fell out of a treestand and broke his back.
“Sam was responsible for my love of turkey hunting, and he was the one that inspired me to start hunting for quality bucks,” Koger said. “The year he got hurt, I wanted to get him back in the woods — back in a stand and hunting deer.”
Koger doesn’t remember the make or model, but he purchased a crossbow. He knew his friend wouldn’t be able to pull back a compound with a fractured back and figured a horizontal bow would be the next best thing.
“I got to watch Sam kill his first deer with a crossbow after breaking his back. We started spending quality hunting time together. We sat in the same stand and watched each other shoot many deer. It was a super special time in my life. It wasn’t about what he or I killed; it was about what we killed.”
Life was good. Smith was on the mend, and Koger and his wife were the proud parents of two little girls, one 21 months old and the other three months in age.
Then, on March 1, 2008, Jason Koger took a four-wheeler ride around the family farm. He’d made the loop so many times in his life he could do it in his sleep. Unfortunately, on this day, a downed powerline, which he came in contact with, was on the U-shaped gravel lane. His body was hit with 7,200 volts of electricity, and to save his life, the 29-year-old had to have both of his arms amputated.
“After I woke up after a three-day induced comma, a lot of things were racing through my mind. I wondered how I would feed myself, get dressed, and provide for my family. I knew I wouldn’t hunt again, and these thoughts were terrifying.”
However, Koger became the first person in the world to receive bionic hands. His immediate goal was to become the best prosthetic user in the world, but before he could do that, Smith was there to help.
“It was only about a month after the injury,” Koger recalled. “I didn’t have my prosthetic hands yet, and I was still bleeding, but Sam wanted to take me turkey hunting. I went. I figured I would sit next to Sam and watch him kill a turkey, but when we sat down, Sam used a ratchet strap to attach a shotgun to my shoulder and set up a tripod. He used a radiator hose clamp to hold the shotgun to the tripod and ran a string from the trigger to my mouth. It was quite the gadget.”
Koger killed a turkey on that hunt, which was excellent, but what was more impressive, it caused Koger to start dreaming bigger.
“Sam and I started deer hunting the way we used to. At that point, I had only a single prosthetic hand to hold the crossbow and get on the deer, but Sam would reach around and pull the trigger.”
Koger was hunting again, and that’s what mattered. Plus, he and his wife had a son, Axell, and Koger was excited for the day he could take his boy into the woods with him. His first buck after his accident was a button buck, and Koger told me he should have mounted it because of how much the deer meant to him. He’d killed a pile of big bucks before his accident, but harvesting the button buck confirmed that he could hunt again and, more importantly, would be doing it for a long time.
Once Koger got his second prosthetic hand, he shot crossbows a lot. Four years ago, he harvested his biggest deer to date, a 187 7/8-inch gagger, and in the years since, he has stacked up a bunch of deer in the 140 to the 150-plus range.
This season, Koger made the switch to TenPoint Crossbows.
“There’s a lot that goes into my decision-making process due to my limitations,” said Koger. “I have to think seriously about what will pull back the easiest, hold the best, be the most maneuverable… everything. I started shooting a TenPoint, and that bow changed my life, and I couldn’t be more grateful to this fine company.”
Koger took immediate notice of the ACUdraw system, which made the crossbow effortless to cock. He was thrilled with the multiple safety features and loved the De-Cock feature, which allows the shooter to un-cock the crossbow instead of having to discharge it to unload.
“The system is amazing,” Koger said. “I don’t have the best dexterity with my bionic hands, but even if I slip off the handle during the un-cocking process, the handle doesn’t spin wildly, which could hurt me and damage my bow. The handle stays put until I resume cranking. The peace of mind and confidence TenPoint crossbows provide me is amazing. I can hunt by myself with no help.”
Of course, Koger recognized a lot of controversy in the hunting world regarding crossbows. He’s had people tell him it’s okay for him because he has limitations, but not acceptable for everyone else to use in the woods.
“I don’t get it,” said Koger. “I don’t care what you use. If you can get back outdoors or want to get into the wilderness for the first time and a crossbow is the right fit, it shouldn’t matter what a person wants to use. It’s about being out there and making memories that will last a lifetime.”
Losing his hands has changed Koger’s life, of course, but he was quick to point out that he can vividly remember every deer he killed since losing his hands. He told me a fantastic story about a deer he killed by himself, which is nothing new to him, but this deer was shot from a climber stand that he hung by himself.
“Every moment means more. Hunting means more than it ever did. I don’t overlook anything, and I appreciate everything. This accident has opened so many doors for me. It has introduced me to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Through that foundation, I got a grant. With that grant, I got my first TenPoint Crossbow, which has led to an amazing relationship with TenPoint and other great outdoor companies like ArcticShield and LaCrosse Footwear. These companies have absolutely changed my life. They make gear that works for me, and when it comes to gear, I have to be extremely particular and test it because not everything works for me.”
From 2008 to thinking he could never hunt again to planting food plots, hanging treestands, and cocking and shooting his TenPoint by himself, Jason Koger’s story is nothing short of inspiring. He is a fantastic human and has accomplished so much since his injury, and when he talks about his faith, family, and friends, you can hear the pureness in his voice.
“This journey has been remarkable,” Koger added. “I have met amazing people like Travis “T-Bone” Turner and my now good friend Jeff Jacobs, who owns land near me. The year he asked me to hunt with him was the year I harvested the 187-inch deer on his farm. Jeff and I talk daily, and we help each other with food plots and management; it’s just extraordinary.
“There are no words I can say that could resemble how much being able to hunt and share time outdoors with family and friends means to me.”