Posted November 30, 2012
Two wounded military veterans filled deer tags this fall thanks to the efforts of the Injured Military Wildlife Project of ND (IMWP).
The project, which was spearheaded by Dunn County Deputy Sheriff Glenn Gietzen, Killdeer Mayor Dan Dolechek and a group of local citizens, provides hunting and fishing opportunities under the guidance of volunteers to military personnel who have been injured in the line of duty. Now in its second year of operation, the group was able to offer four deer hunts this season.
For Tyler Hiltner, a 28-year-old former National Guardsman living in Bismarck, shooting his 5 x 5 mule deer was only a bonus in what he considers to be one of the best hunts of his life. Hiltner suffers from back injuries as a result of an IED blast that blew off the front end of his Humvee north of Baghdad. He said the real joy of the experience was being outdoors doing something he loves and enjoying the camaraderie of his companions, Glenn Gietzen and fellow Deputy Sheriff Matt Hegstad, who also served in Iraq.
“I invited Matt to come along because I wanted Tyler to have somebody he felt he could talk to,” said Gietzen, “Not just some old man.”
But despite being an “old man,” his time with both Gietzen and Hegstad made a lasting impression on Hiltner that goes well beyond the bonus of having a freezer full of deer meat and a rack to mount on a wall.
“I feel like I forged some friendships with really great people,” Hiltner said. “These guys are so committed to what they are doing and I felt honored by their dedication to veterans.”
The hunt took place north of Killdeer on Ted and Dawn Kupper’s ranch. They typically do not allow public hunting outside of family, but made an exception for the wounded veterans in this program. And after a long day of walking and seeing very little sign of deer, the trio had turned around to come home when one suddenly appeared. Gietzen spotted the deer in a coulee and Hiltner took the shot.
“It was if the good Lord put the deer right in front him,” said Gietzen.
Like the Kuppers, Roger Kadrmas does not allow hunting outside of his family, except when it comes to these heroes. Kadrmas, who serves on the IMWP Board of Directors, also donated the first $2,000 to the program, and considers it an honor to support it. This year, Kadrmas had the additional honor of hosting veteran Tim Wicks from Bismarck on a two-day hunt on his property just outside of Dickinson.
The hunt went well, according to Kadrmas. They spent the first day chasing a legendary buck that manages to elude him every year, but on the second day the two men managed to essentially walk right into a herd of docile deer.
“It was amazing,” Wicks said. “It was like they were just waiting for us.”
Furthermore, Wicks was able to challenge his body to do something he thought he might never be able to do again. And from the way he navigated the terrain, according to Kadrmas, one would never guess what Wicks has been through, which includes a long list of broken bones – tibias, multiple lumbar vertebrae fractures – and complicated sounding titanium replacement parts. After barely surviving an IED strike in eastern Afghanistan, Wicks spent 17 days in a coma at Walter Reed Medical Facility, followed by a five-month hospital stay and several years of painful recovery.
However, like Tyler Hiltner, Wicks downplays his injuries as “just something that happened,” and instead chooses to feel grateful that he’s once again able to hunt. He’s even more grateful when he’s able to shoot a 4 x 5 mule deer as he did that day with Kadrmas.
The third hunt is scheduled for Brandon Olson, from Hazen, ND, another wounded veteran who refuses to let his injuries deter his love of hunting. Olson, who was with the 101st Airborne unit in Iraq, lost his leg when he was injured by an IED. However, Brandon feels fortunate to have a well-fitted prosthetic that allows him to enjoy many of his former outdoor pursuits, including hunting.
The fourth hunt is still to be determined.
Thus far the project has received sweeping support throughout Dunn County and North Dakota in general, including at the legislative level where former Representative Shirley Meyer led the initiative to get the group special hunting privileges for the veterans, which passed through both parties with unanimous support.
Furthermore, the four hunting licenses were donated by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Everything else involved in the hunt – including transportation, lodging and all other miscellaneous expenses – is all provided to the veterans free of charge thanks to the generosity of local individuals and businesses.
This strong support from North Dakotans hardly surprises Glenn Gietzen, who cites the state’s long history of honoring those who have served their country in war.
Gietzen himself served in Vietnam with his twin brother who was killed in combat. When he returned home with his brother’s body, he didn’t know what to expect. Up until this point, he had read stories about protestors all around the country showing up at airports to desecrate caskets while police in riot gear attempted to hold them back. When he landed in Bismarck he expected the worst.
“But there were no protestors,” Gietzen recalled. Instead he was met by a group of color guards formulated by vets from World War II and the Korean War, who had gathered to welcome them home.
“North Dakotans respect these heroes and there’s not a person around who wouldn’t agree with me,” he said. “We work from our hearts to do what’s right and take care of our heroes.”
For more information about IMWP or to donate, please visit their website at: www.injuredmilitarywildlife.com.