The 10th annual physically disabled and veterans deer hunt took place on the wildlife sanctuary within the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, St. Paul District, Orwell Dam and Recreation Area, near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, from Nov. 14 to 16, 2017.
The hunt, offered to six people each year, is run by Ron Welle, Midwest Outdoors Unlimited president, in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which maintains the sanctuary. Before the first hunt took place in 2007, it was the DNR manager for the area reached out to Welle to see if he would be interested in organizing the event in the sanctuary.
“I jumped all over the opportunity,” Welle said. “My wife says it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The 2017 hunt brought together a 93-year old veteran, a wheelchair bound man, 11-year old youth and three others. The veteran bagged one of the bucks shot, and the youth – on his first hunt – took down a 200-pound, 7-pointer.
“It would have been 8-points, but it must have got into a fight with another deer,” Connor said. “It was amazing.”
“First hunt, first hour in the field, first shot,” said Bill Berry, the youth’s uncle. “With a .20 gauge even!”
The last deer to be taken during the three-day hunt was a doe, shot by Tom Undesser. Undesser was nominated for the hunt after a medical emergency left him with permanent nerve damage in his feet and hands, and very nearly killed him.
“I hunted years ago, and had thought about taking it up again, but after this happened I thought it wouldn’t be possible,” Undesser said. “I wouldn’t be able to get out of the woods, even if I were able to make it in.”
Welle and his team make the hunt possible by providing heated fishing/hunting houses, transportation to and from the field, a volunteer for each hunter and equipment modifications to accommodate any disability.
“For one gentleman, we attached a gun stand to a wheelchair and designed a system where he could fire the gun, even being paralyzed from the chest down,” said Shelly Weinzetl, on her fourth year volunteering on the hunt.
“‘I can’t hunt anymore,’ I always hear that,” Welle said. “That’s where we come in, there’s always another way of doing something.”
The hunt at the Corps’ Orwell Dam site is just one of several hunts Welle and his team put together each year.