Hot weather usually slows down deer activity, as it did for the annual disabled war veterans deer hunt at Camp Ripley near Little Falls. My dad, Ray Hrbacek, a World War II veteran, was hoping to score for the second year in a row. After shooting the first deer of his life at last year’s hunt, he was back at it again this year.
My brother, Joe, took him up on Tuesday, then went out with him for the first of his two hunting days. Dad’s guide for the hunt, Earl, is an experienced Camp Ripley volunteer, having guided on both the camp’s deer and turkey hunts over the last 14 years. He set up two blinds in his assigned sector, taking one with Dad and letting Joe sit in the other.
They did not see a deer either in the morning or evening hunt, but that did not chill either their enjoyment or their optimism. In fact, Dad enjoyed another highlight that evening when he got to sit across the table from Bud Grant, the legendary former coach of the Minnesota Vikings who continually is sought out for photo opps and his take on this year’s Vikings team.
I came up on Wednesday night and got to share the table with Bud as well. At 84, he’s still very sharp — and funny, too. With that as my introduction to the hunting experience, I figured we couldn’t go wrong the next morning.
When the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m., I was wondering if Dad would get up. After all, he’s 90 years old, plus he had gotten up early the day before. Not only that, he’s been having trouble sleeping and has been tired during the day.
The vigil begins
Not to worry. Dad woke up promptly, and was perky as we ate breakfast before going afield. It was a tad cooler than the previous morning, and both Dad and Earl hoped this would get the deer moving.
We arrived at the blind well before legal shooting hours began, and Earl dropped Dad off right in front of the blind so he wouldn’t have to walk in the dark. I took the other blind, and so began our morning vigil.
There was a field of tall grass to the left and an opening with a deer trail crossing it that Earl hoped would be used by the deer. To my right was a small, wooded bench that I wondered if deer might use as they browsed for acorns and other food on the forest floor.
Turns out, my suspicions were correct. About an hour into shooting hours, I spotted movement about 40 yards away in the woods to my right. At first, I thought it might be a turkey, but soon I spotted the body of a small deer feeding its way across the small bench. Then, I saw two more deer doing the same thing. It was a doe and two fawns. I opened the window of the blind and told Earl, who quickly spotted them.
Lack of vision
It was still dark in the woods, but I was able to make out all three deer. In fact, had it been my hunt, I easily could have shot any one of them. Unfortunately, Dad couldn’t see them. I heard him whisper this to Earl several times.
It was very frustrating for Earl and I to both see them and watch helplessly as Dad failed to pick them up in his scope. Sadly, he never did and the deer eventually wandered off. As I suspected, they were the last deer we saw that morning.
Although Dad could have hunted in the afternoon, he chose to call it quits. His legs were getting tired and sore, which happens as you get older. Frankly, I’m impressed that he went that far. I’m also impressed by how well Earl took care of him during the hunt. He was a gentleman in every way, and I’m grateful that he volunteered to guide Dad. I’m just not sure he was fully aware of Dad’s eyesight limitations.
I have given thought to that issue and have been trying to figure out a way to help Dad see deer. Maybe I could take one of those Q-beam lights and keep it in the blind. Then, if a deer comes and Dad can’t see it, I can shine the light on it. We’ve all seen how deer often freeze when our headlights hit them. Maybe this would work. I’d sure like to avoid the frustration we experienced this year.
I also caught wind of a unique gadget that could also help solve this problem. One of the guys who helps out at this hunt, Ron Welle, was showing a device that hooks up to the scope of the gun and relays that exact picture to a screen held by the guide. Then, the guide can instruct the hunter to move the gun until the crosshairs are on the deer’s vital area.
I’m very interested in hearing more about this. Maybe it’s something Dad could try. I sure hope his health holds up enough to do this hunt again.