CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s 4 a.m. on a Tuesday and breakfast is sizzling on the griddle. The hunters are clad in blaze-orange and preparing for a day in the woods.
But in this deer camp of sorts, hunters come in wheel chairs, braces and scooters. Their appetite is for little more than to get out into the woods.
“It’s nice to come and have people help you do the things you need to do to hunt,” said Ed Ohmann.
Vietnam cost Ohmann both of his legs and left him a double amputee. But the land mine that he stepped on while serving in the 101st Airborne near Phu Bai in October 1970 didn’t take away his desire to hunt.
“Oh yea, it’s actually very comfortable,” Ohmann said as he settled into a chair on a specially-designed deer hunting platform.
His guide, Earl Donnell, will help him get situated as they prepare to greet the crisp October morning.
“Looks like it’s going to be a clear day,” Ohmann added.
Ohmann and Donnell are among 60 pairs of disabled vets and hunting guides participating in the 23rd annual Camp Ripley disabled veteran’s deer hunt.
“In a lot of cases, this is the only opportunity that these veterans have to get out into the field and to be Minnesotans again, and to do and remember what they love to do,” said Camp Ripley post commander Col. Scott St. Sauver.
The thought was echoed by a young hunter and Iraq War veteran, Eric Lorence, who said: “You think about [war] all the time, but try to put it in the back of your head.”
Three years ago, a roadside improvised explosive device, or IED, put Lorence in a wheelchair. He lost the full use of his legs and has been in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation sessions.
Now, he’s among those veterans who sit patiently in a deer blind, receiving the emotional healing of nature.
“It’s quiet, solitude you know,” Lorence said. “You get to be yourself again.”
That’s what hunt coordinator Dennis Erie envisioned some 23 years ago when the first disabled deer hunt was held. The event has since expanded to include a spring turkey hunt for disabled veterans as well as a summer fishing event called “trolling for troops.”
“It’s a glorified deer camp, and for the veterans it’s a very safe environment,” Erie said.
A few of the hunters will have the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time – like disabled veteran Dan Orcutt. Two hours after the morning hunt began he dropped a young spike buck with a single shot.
For Bob Brown, it’s his first hunt, and his first doe. He was hunting with a black powder musket and dropped a deer with an expertly placed shot from 50 yards away.
“It’s a beautiful morning, and I can’t complain at all,” Brown said. “I feel very blessed and I’m smart enough to realize it.”
As happy and excited as the disabled hunters are, volunteer guides like Donnell make it all possible. He began devoting time with the hunt back when his father, also a disabled veteran, were hunting here. Since then, he’s found a new partner in Ohmann.
“I just do it, because of the sacrifices these guys did for us,” Donnell said.
With a shrill call of a doe bleat to hopefully attract the curiosity of a passing deer, Donnell and Ohmann sit patiently. They whisper and wait as the falling leaves signal a changing season. For this disabled veteran and his partner, they’re indeed hunting deer, but more importantly, demonstrating to the rest of us how to live life despite challenges.
“It’s very much more than getting a deer. It’s about the fellowship and being able to meet an old friend and see what’s going on,” Ohmann said, adding: “It’s a very calming effect.”