PALERMO, Maine — Jeff Malloy grew up in the Maine woods hunting, fishing and doing what little boys do.
When he fell from a ladder six years ago and became paralyzed from the neck down, that didn’t stop him from returning to the things he loves.
He went deer hunting last year and plans to be out in the woods again this fall looking for a buck. “I didn’t get anything, but it was good to get back out,” the quadriplegic said of hunting last year.
With the assistance of his friend Ray Kimball of Somerville, a retired engineer, Malloy, 31, has developed an adaptive shooting system that attaches to his mobilized wheelchair.
“There are two motors that control the rifle,” he said. “The joystick I operate with my chin. When I move the joystick up, the rifle goes up. When I move the joystick down, it goes down.”
Once his target is in sight, “all I have to do is lightly puff into the straw, and that pulls the trigger,” Malloy said.
To allow him to see his target, a camera has been mounted on the rifle’s scope that transmits to a 6.5-inch color monitor.
“I line up the crosshairs and when I get it where I want it, I puff into the straw,” Malloy said.
He shoots a .270-caliber Browning semiautomatic loader while deer hunting and target-practices with a Ruger 10-22, which is a .22-caliber rifle.
“This unit can be mounted on a wheelchair or mounted on a bench, where you can drive up to it,” Kimball said.
After his injury, Malloy enrolled with an online college to learn how to do computerized drafting. He created a basic design for the adaptive shooting system using AutoCAD software. Then Kimball took the design and pictures of another device for wheelchair-bound shooters and created the system Malloy now uses.
“I took a basic concept and re-engineered it,” Kimball said. “It works pretty fantastic. This unit is really very, very accurate and user-friendly to install and [remove]. It’s not cumbersome.”
The partners worked together for about a year, creating and modifying the pieces until they worked perfectly. The first time Malloy shot using the system was last fall, when he pointed his Ruger at a black-and-white paper target.
“It was like Christmas all over again,” he said. “I puffed on the straw and it went bang. It was so exciting.”
This summer, Malloy and Kimball decided to take their tool to a Maine veterans’ retreat at Camp Wavus on Damariscotta Lake.
“They just absolutely had a ball,” Kimball said of those who target-shot using the system. “It was just really awesome.”
Two veterans in wheelchairs, eight other veterans and a few wives and children shot the adapted rifle.
“One veteran hadn’t shot in 40 years,” Malloy said. Afterward, “he didn’t want to give it up. That was the highlight of my summer. It was so exciting and was so much fun to watch them.”
The duo also shot a YouTube video that they posted online this summer to get the word out about their design.
“I said, ‘Ray, we can’t keep this to ourselves. We have to share it,’” Malloy said. “I have so much fun.”
Kimball, who spent a year working out the kinks of the device without getting paid, said the work “was well worth all the effort that went into it.
“Out of all the stuff I’ve worked on, this is probably the most productive and worthwhile stuff that I’ve done,” he said.
The partners now are talking with machine shops about building the devices for sale. Malloy hopes to earn a living selling them and thereby become more independent.
“You can focus on the negative and sit there and be a lump, or you can focus on the positive and do what you can do,” he said. “Life is just so more enjoyable.”
Being able to do something again that he did before his accident is the best part about the adaptive shooting system, said Malloy.
“I was an avid outdoorsman before my accident,” he said. “I was an Eagle Scout. I really didn’t think I’d be able to shoot again or do any of the outdoors activities I used to.”
The adaptive shooting system “has opened up doors,” Malloy said. “I can go hunting now. I can go to target ranges. Just to be able to do something I used to be able to do … was just really rewarding.”