The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 1, 2012

Cross: Veterans on the hunt

— On Saturday morning, Al Chambard of New Ulm had one rooster in the bag and was looking for more 20 gauge shotgun shells.

"I started out with six and have just one left," the World War II veteran said. "One bird -- that's not very good shooting."

"My eyes just aren't what they used to be," he explained. "But neither are my legs."

Excuses notwithstanding, the 88-year-old had the distinction of being the oldest participant Saturday in the New Ulm Chapter of Disabled American Veterans second annual pheasant hunt, held at the River Ridge Gun Club near Courtland.

And halfway through the morning hunt, he also had the distinction of being the only one in his party of a half-dozen or so other orange-clad shooters -- they had been dubbed Team Red -- who could claim a bird.

Using a Springfield pump borrowed from his grandson, he dumped the rooster on a nice left-to-right crossing shot after it safely ran the firing line of other shooters.

Tom Conroy, this year's coordinator of the hunt, said Greg Peterson, Brown County Veterans Affairs Officer, pitched the idea of a pheasant hunt for disabled vets to him last year.

With the help of volunteers and donations, the inaugural hunt was held last September at the same venue. A dozen hunters participated and managed to bag the same number of birds.

"This year, we've got 15 hunters participating," Conroy said. "What's nice is that we've got vets from Iraq and Afghanistan all the way back to guys in their 80s and W.W.II. All of them have some kind of disability, though some may not be so visible."

Activities included a brief tune-up session at the trap range prior to the hunt, the hunt, and a shooting session on the club's sporting clays course, followed by lunch.

The Brown County Chapter of the DAV shouldered the cost of the event, assisted by a matching grant from the state DAV chapter.

Viet Nam veteran Steve Dunham hadn't hunted pheasants in years and after a stroke a few years ago, now uses a cane to assist in walking.

Using his grandfather's Browning A-5 and with the assistance of another veteran, Dave DeGonda of New Market, he was hoping to bag a bird or two.

As a concession to Dunham and several of the other hunters in Red Team whose disabilities precluded them from walking through the cover, several would be hunting from the back of John Deere ATV as it was backed through the cover.

Since their group was hunting behind pointing dogs, presumably shooters would have time to get into position behind the dogs to prepare for the flush.

The plan then was for DeGonda to support the forearm of the shotgun as Dunham aimed and fired. After several flushes, the duo discovered that while the technique would work for birds that flushed and flew from right to left, swinging on those that flew left to right was problematic.

And at least through mid-morning, every bird that had flushed flew left to right and they hadn't fired a shot.

Throughout the morning, shots rang out on other fields as other veterans, most of them more ambulatory than some of the Team Red members, followed flushing dogs through stands of milo and grass.

At mid-morning, after several flushes and many shots taken, Team Red hunters, volunteers, dog handlers and their dogs took a break. Chambard's rooster was the only bird tallied in their group.

As the octogenarian searched for more shells, he looked over at the hunters stretched out on the ground.

Old enough to remember the best days of pheasant hunting in the 40s and 50s, he recalled something else from days gone by.

"It used to be a lot easier to find a car with a running board or fender you could sit on," he observed.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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