No bird, but an experience to savor for Vietnam vet
CAMP RIPLEY — It was a typical hunting scenario.
Pack up camp and drive away and you’re all but certain to come across the wild game you had pursued all morning. In this case, it was hours spent sitting in a blind waiting for a tom turkey.
And sure enough, when Kermit Wink and his guide, Jeff Thielen, packed up their blind and drove off for lunch, they saw their first tom of the day strutting just off the road.
Just Wink’s luck. He was hunting on a military reservation and his guide was once a game warden.
Taking the shot wasn’t an option.
But that was OK with Wink. The Brainerd man was just happy to be here Wednesday for the seventh annual Physically Disabled Veterans Turkey Hunt.
Wink, 74, briefly tried his hand at turkey hunting for the first time last fall, “But I did everything wrong.” So Wednesday was his first organized turkey hunt. After an unsuccessful morning on the opening day of the two-day hunt, Wink was up for anything Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m wide open,” he said after lunch. “I knew it was going to be a learning experience.”
That’s not unusual at these hunts, which are open to veterans with disabilities. Some got away from hunting because of their disability; others weren’t necessarily avid hunters but have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by such guided hunts.
This year’s event drew 39 hunters from around the state. After the first day, seven had harvested turkeys. That’s down from previous years. But conditions weren’t great opening day.
“There was quite a bit of snow (Wednesday morning),” said Thielen, of rural Little Falls. “It was covering the decoys. Covered in snow, they don’t look real.
“It was a tough morning to call (tom turkeys). There were some live hens. It’s tough to compete with live hens.”
Besides the tom they spotted off the road as they drove to lunch at Camp Ripley’s mess hall at about noon Wednesday, that’s all they saw — hens. So no opportunities to take a shot.
But after lunch, Wink appeared excited to get back into the field. Besides being his first true turkey hunting experience, it was Wink’s first trip to Camp Ripley — somewhat surprising considering he served in the military and has lived in Brainerd for about 35 years.
“My son heard about it (the turkey hunt) on the radio and I called the number,” Wink said of how he came to be here for this year’s hunt. He added that he’d like to try the disabled vets’ deer hunt in the fall at Camp Ripley, too.
Wink and his wife, Carolyn, have been married since 1963 and have two boys, including one in the Navy in Virginia. He’s been retired for about 11 years, but prior to that, he was the operations manager at Westgate Mall in Brainerd/Baxter for 13 years, he said.
Wink suffered hearing damage in both ears while working on Huey helicopters. He served in the Army from 1959-1964, including in Vietnam in his last year of service.
Wink said he also has a breathing ailment, but he got around better than many Wednesday — about 20 of the vets hunted from wheelchairs. But at this hunt, the opportunity tends to overshadow any mobility issues, even if you don’t bag a bird: Wink and Thielen were unsuccessful in their attempt Wednesday afternoon, too.
“It’s good to get these guys out here,” Thielen said. “He (Wink) has never been able to see it (Camp Ripley). Not many people get to wander around out here.”