When Josh Peterson suffered a stroke at age 14, he awoke from a coma blind and with no feeling on his left side.
Now 20 years old and a hemiplegic with partial paralysis, darkness and pain haven't stopped him from fishing and hunting.
This fall he's been on an epic harvest of whitetails — taking five deer on various outings with his dad in Minnesota and Iowa. The 10-point buck he shot in Afton with his adapted crossbow is the largest wild deer he's ever hunted.
"All three of our freezers are full to the brim,'' Josh said. "My mom's like, 'OK, that's enough. We're good on meat.'''
Brilliant and competitive, the elder of two Peterson boys grew up in Woodbury fighting a brain tumor that sat on his optic nerve. Throughout grade school, he pleaded with his parents not to tell friends and sports teammates that he was blind in one eye. He endured years of cancer treatments to keep the tumor in check, only to have it bleed and cause his stroke.
A wizard at math and an admirer of military aviation, young Josh actively planned to become a rocket scientist, nuclear physicist or aerospace engineer. His father, Chad, was in the Air National Guard. Josh picked out colleges and dreamed of an internship at NASA or joining the military's "nerd squad.''
Six years removed from his stroke, his career goals are in limbo while he continues to learn Braille and other daily coping skills at Vision Loss Resources (VLR), a nonprofit in Minneapolis. He graduated from East Ridge High School in 2019, then attended Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault.
"The whole white cane thing is not working out for me,'' he said from inside his apartment across the street from VLR. "I have cramps and spasms on my left side and I fall a lot. I need a guide dog.''
Chronic pain is another challenge for Josh. Botox injections block some of it, but the pain can be miserable enough to shut him down for weeks at a time.
While he's candid about his physical condition, Josh William Peterson would much rather talk about hunting and fishing. Family members say he out-fishes everyone they know and will cast for hours off the end of a dock if that's his only opportunity to catch something.
For hunting, he and his dad have worked out a digital display scope system that allows the father to line up shots while sitting or standing beside Josh. The crossbow or shotgun is stabilized, sometimes on Josh's lap and with the help of a tripod.
"I'm basically the trigger man,'' Josh said. "Two people, one hunter. We have that system down.''
In their pre-Halloween crossbow hunt in Afton this year, Chad whispered to Josh that a doe and some fawns were grazing on a ridgeline in front of their position inside a ground blind. A bigger deer was moving behind them — maybe a buck, Chad told Josh.
"We sat for an hour in complete silence,'' Josh said. "I could hear the fawns chewing.''
Daylight was waning when the buck stepped to the forefront of the group. "It's a big deer, Josh,'' his dad said.
Josh heard what he described as a timid grunt from the buck. "Are you sure it's a big one?'' he asked.
As Chad lined up the motion-activated scoping screen on the crossbow, Josh waited for a whisper from his dad that it was time to shoot. The bolt hit high on the deer's side and the animal ran into thick cover, including a patch of burrs. They found it with flashlights about 20 minutes later with help from Josh's mother, Leah. Josh said the buck was bigger than they thought, more than 200 pounds.
"All aspects of hunting, I love,'' Josh said.
Chad Peterson said his son never cared for cartoon shows when he was young. Instead, Josh had the TV tuned to outdoor action shows like Babe Winkelman, "River Monsters" or Steve Irwin's "The Crocodile Hunter."
A native of the Moorhead area, Chad party-hunted for deer every fall with a large group of family and friends on land near Breckenridge. Knowing that Josh was back home, waiting to hear every detail of the hunt, Chad's fellow hunters always sent their antlers back to Woodbury.
"He's always been an outdoors kid,'' Chad said. "Even if he could just get into a hunting lodge and talk stories, he would love to do that.''
The Petersons are grateful for the generosity of nonprofit groups that sponsor hunting and fishing trips for the disabled. For Josh, those adventure-granting charities have included Shot For Hope out of Hudson, Wis., Special Youth Challenge Ministries, Outdoor Adventure Foundation and United Special Sportsman Alliance.
On an unforgettable fishing trip to Kodiak, Alaska, Josh once caught halibut, salmon and yelloweye rockfish. In southern Minnesota, he bagged a tom turkey on one of two sponsored gobbler hunts. He's hunted raccoons at midnight on a Missouri ranch, tracking behind a pack of hound dogs. And about four years ago near Sugar City, Idaho, he shot a 6-by-6 elk during a high-fence hunt that included an awe-inspiring bonus.
Under the night sky in Idaho's mountains, the stars glimmered so brightly that Josh could see spots of light contrasting against the blackness. "Even I could see,'' he said. In everyday life, he likens his vision to blurs of gray and nothingness. No color. Instead, he said, a "gloomy mist.''
Jane Tandberg, Josh's grandmother from Moorhead, oozes with pride when describing his fighting spirit. He endured two months of hospitalization after his stroke and continues to recover, regaining enough strength on his left side to walk with the help of a brace.
"He's smart as a whip and a remarkable kid,'' she said. "This drive to hunt has always been with him.''
Asked if he has ever considered making a career in the outdoors, Josh said he's just now returned to thinking about where he will make his mark. Maybe something entrepreneurial in the business world, he said.
"I've always liked Shark Tank,'' he said of the reality television series. "Create and innovate.''