Disabled veterans go huntingGary Venz had a buck in the crosshairs of his Remington .308 rifle Thursday morning but decided not to pull the trigger. The buck’s rack had at least four points on each side — that much was clear — but there were too many trees in Venz’s way.
By: By Brad Dokken, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
CAMP GRAFTON, N.D. — Gary Venz had a buck in the crosshairs of his Remington .308 rifle Thursday morning but decided not to pull the trigger.
The buck’s rack had at least four points on each side — that much was clear — but there were too many trees in Venz’s way.
“That was a nice buck,” he said. “I couldn’t get a clear shot at him. That’s the second buck that’s gotten away from me today.”
Venz, 61, of Pekin, N.D., was one of three hunters participating in the first day of the annual two-day deer hunt for disabled veterans at Camp Grafton near Devils Lake.
The late Col. Dean Hildebrand initiated the hunt more than 20 years ago as a way to control the National Guard camp’s deer population. The hunt also provides an opportunity for disabled veterans who might not otherwise have a chance to shoot a deer.
“This is something really nice they do for us,” Venz said. “If I get a big doe, I’m happy enough with that. I just enjoy the camaraderie.”
According to Larry Walford, chief warrant officer at Camp Grafton, the hunt most years draws seven to 10 disabled veterans who are paired with a Camp Grafton representative and, in many cases, a family member.
Venz and two other veterans, Arlo Svedberg of Devils Lake and Duane Olson of Bismarck, hunted Thursday. Four new hunters are scheduled to be in camp today.
“That’s about right,” Walford said. “I don’t think we’ve ever turned any North Dakota vets away. We’ve had a few calls from out of state, and we just haven’t gone there yet.”
Deer numbers down
Hunter success in the 1,500-plus acre camp has been high, Walford said, but there was concern Thursday morning that the streak might end. Deer populations are down this year, same as they are across North Dakota.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever gone home without a deer,” Walford said. “It might be kind of tough to keep going with the deer numbers down.”
Thursday, at least, that concern would prove to be unfounded.
Venz, who served in the Marines from January 1970 to November 1971, barely had a chance to set down his rifle when another buck came running out of the woods and down a trail away from the pickup where he waited.
Because of their disabilities, the veterans can shoot from vehicles.
The buck turned and offered a broadside shot about 150 yards away. One side of its rack was missing, most likely from a tussle with another buck, this being mating season and all.
“I’m going to shoot that deer,” Venz said.
One shot later, and the buck was down.
“It’s amazing how your infirmities don’t affect you when you see something like that,” said Venz, who has bad knees and a bum shoulder from injuries he sustained as a paratrooper.
Buck No. 9
About that same time, Olson, the Bismarck hunter, shot a similar-sized buck on the other side of the woods. A handful of Camp Grafton staffers had pushed the deer into shooting range by walking through the thick brush.
The buck also had one side of its rack missing from a mating-season scuffle.
“He stopped, looked at us, and I took a shot at him,” Olson said. “I took another shot, and I missed him.”
The first shot, though, would prove to be enough. Olson, who served in the Marines from 1965 to 1967, said this was his 10th hunt at Camp Grafton.
He’s shot a buck every year except last year, when he took a doe.
“I just love coming up here,” Olson said.
Thursday’s hunt was done before noon, but the record for shortest time afield went to Svedberg. A retired newspaperman and firefighter who served in the National Guard and later in the Marines, Svedberg, 72, shot a big doe before 8 a.m. while hunting with his Camp Grafton guide, Garry Vick.
“We always have success, thanks to Garry,” Svedberg said. “We could have finished in the first five minutes, but we don’t shoot Bambis.”
Whether today’s hunt goes as quickly remains to be seen. But as the old saying goes, that’s why they call it hunting instead of shooting.
Either way, any disabled veteran who hunts Camp Grafton will say they’re grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m as proud of the National Guard as I could possibly be — they’re a really good outfit,” Svedberg said. “They treat you so doggone good out here. It’s really fun.”
Brad Dokken is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.