RIVERDALE It is quite an event. There's quite a reason behind it too.
Lake Sakakawea State Park hosted its 10th Annual Wheelchair Hunt Nov. 12-13. John Tunge, park manager, said a South Dakota friend of his who was wounded during the Vietnam war and confined to a wheelchair, provided him with the inspiration needed to organize a wheelchair hunt in North Dakota. Five wheelchair-bound hunters participated in this year's hunt.
"The department has been really good to let us take two days out of the year to do this," Tunge said. "This is probably the best thing I've been involved with. It gives you a lot of satisfaction for these guys."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - These hunters are enjoying a few moments before heading back to their hunting blinds during the annual wheelchair hunt held at Lake Sakakawea State Park Nov. 12. From left are Leslie Moss, Center; Bob Miller, Wilton; Charles Sorensen, Riverdale; Pat Harland, Cando, and Carl Monson, Bottineau.
Each of the five hunters were assigned blinds on the grounds of Lake Sakakawea State Park. Each of the blinds was constructed according to the needs of the individual hunter but, once they were in the blind, they were hunting on their own.
"They determined when to go and when to shoot. I give them radios to call if necessary," Tunge said. "Most of these guys hunted before they had accidents. We set them up as if we were hunting and that's where we'd want to sit."
Members of State Parks, North Dakota Game and Fish and the McLean County Sheriffs Department were on hand to assist as needed.
"They enjoy the hunt. Most of these guys, I think, look forward to it and want to participate in an event like this," said Tim Larsen, N.D. Game & Fish Department.
Deer hunters have been reporting difficulty in finding deer this season. The first morning of the wheelchair hunt was no different. None of the five downed any deer but they had a few stories to share during a lunch break and were looking forward to returning to their blinds for the remainder of the afternoon. The weather was pleasant, although the skies were beginning to turn gray.
"It's pretty nice out, nice and mild," said Leslie Moss, Center. "I like coming out here. I really do."
"Best hobby I've ever had," said Bob Miller, Wilton. "This is a bunch of good people. You can't find people much better than this."
Miller was referring to the volunteer help and to his fellow wheelchair hunters. He was also looking forward to getting back into the blind in the hopes of getting a chance at a deer. His previous best was a 5x6 that is now mounted in his home.
The hunt was another opportunity in a remarkable season for Charles Sorensen of Riverdale. Sorensen took a cow moose earlier in the fall.
"As far as I can tell, I'm the first parapalegic to harvest a moose in North Dakota," Sorensen said. "I took a cow south of Sherwood with a once-in-a-lifetime tag."
Sorensen was an avid hunter before an accident placed him in a wheelchair. In 2002 he was hauling some large boxes to a garbage pit when he fell backwards over the edge.
"He was 34 when it happened," said Sally Sorensen, his wife. ""He went to a personal trainer in Utah for six months. When it came to the fall he was sad, thinking he'd never hunt again. We forced him to put in for a tag and made arrangements with Tunge for this hunt. After a busted neck he never missed one season."
"I've been doing this since the day it started 10 years ago and I look forward to this every year," added Charles Sorensen.
Sorensen was among four hunters who bagged a deer later that day.
Also on the hunt were Pat Harland of Cando and Carl Monson of Bottineau. Harland said the event was meaningful for him.
"I really enjoy it," said Harland. "It's a lot of fun and I appreciate all the volunteers and the camaraderie of the group, the chance to get together with the guys."
The guys, all in wheelchairs, had that in common but they also shared a lot of smiles, laughs and thank you's. It was a deer hunt, a reunion and a chance to spend some quality time outdoors.
"They've got some issues to deal with, but it's just a bunch of guys sitting around deer camp," Tunge said. "They are hunters like you and I."
Monson has had worse hunts. He was paralyzed after falling from a tree stand during a bowhunt in the Turtle Mountains.
"I've been down here many times and have had good success," said Monson. "This year seems a bit slow though."
Slow or not, Monson was not about to miss the hunt. He left Bottineau at 2 a.m. for the chance to get into his hunting blind at first light and take part in a very rewarding hunt, a hunt that can never be measured by animals taken, but rather by the continuing friendship of volunteers and fellow hunters sharing a common bond. It is the best the North Dakota deer season can offer.