NATCHEZ, MS (WVUE) - It's 5 a.m. on a Friday in Natchez, Mississippi. Robbie Helffrich is ready for another hunt. A skilled marksman, Helffrich has hunted most of his life.
"My grandfather grew up hunting from his dad," he said. "I guess I started hunting around the age of five."
Like many born and bred in the Sportsman's Paradise, Helffrich loves the outdoors. But like very few, when Helffrich opens his eyes everyday, black is still what he sees.
"I went from perfect vision to lights out."
The day was, May 22, 1994, when Helffrich's life changed forever at a fishing camp in Venice.
"Some of the guys started shooting skeet," Robbie said. "One of the guys was checking the shotgun to see if it had a round in the chamber and it accidentally went off. Me and two buddies were 22 feet up on the porch and he didn't realize we were on that angle behind him. I was looking away at the time he was doing that and accidentally got shot with the shotgun."
The sudden shift from light to dark wasn't just what he saw on the outside but what he felt on the inside as well.
"It was devastating. I thought my life was over," he said. "I didn't think that being blind, there was nothing for me out there. Every day, I thought the best thing was to end my life. But I always said I would do it tomorrow."
He credits the Louisiana School for the Blind for lifting his spirits. They taught him how to cook, use computers, how to build and even how to get around the city without assistance.
Before long he was fishing where he grew up in Venetian Isles. But there was always one thing missing Robbie wanted to hunt again.
"I just happened to remember the old show the Buck Masters came on Sundays. I happened to turn it on and, out of the blue, they were talking about a blind guy on there hunting and they were describing how he was doing that. So, we got the number and called them up."
Helffrich said he's hunted ever since.
To some the thought may be frightening: a blind man shooting at something he can't see. But all Helffrich needs is a little assistance from his spotter. In most cases, it's his cousin Bubby LaBauve.
"I get him set up, get in the right position. You only got minutes," LaBauve said.
Bubby stands behind Robbie. His eyes line up the shot. The scope has to be longer than normal so the spotter can adequately see. And when the target is in sight…..it's time to pull the trigger.
"You cannot describe the feeling that I get when he shoots the animal," LaBauve said. "You just can't. Here you have a man that's blind and you sighted men. And he's shooting. When he kills it, it's like pandemonium."
Hanging in his trophy room is more tangible proof of his success where deer, bobcats and hogs are all mounted.
To those that know him best, his story is inspirational.
"He survived," LaBauve said. "He never gave up that's the main thing. He never gave up."
Not only does hunt, he's a happily married father of three and works as a massage therapist.
At 44 years old, he's completely comfortable in his own skin. I learned this first hand in our very first conversation.
"You said 'visually impaired,' I said 'no, I'm blind.' It is what it is.
"My friends call me the blind boy," Helffrich said. "So, I'm totally comfortable with it 22 years I was sighted, 23 years I was blinded. I actually have to remember what seeing was all about. But even though I'm blind, I still see everything I do. I picture it my own way in my mind."