DEVILS LAKE -- Hunting is about more than just harvesting game.
Nowhere is that more true than it is at the annual Disabled Veterans deer hunt at Camp Grafton.
The hunt was initiated more than 20 years ago by former Col. Dean Hildebrand. Hildebrand also served as director of North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Submitted Photo - - Among the disabled veterans who enjoyed success on a recent deer hunt hosted by the North Dakota National Guard at Camp Grafton were Kurtis Ladwig of Argusville, left, and Don Porter of Harwood, right. Helping load the deer is Sergeant First Class Charles Porter.
Submitted Photo - - Disabled veteran hunters share a few stories with members of the North Dakota National Guard during a break from deer hunting at Camp Grafton. Several participants in the annual hunt consider it to be one of the highlights of their year.
This year's hunt was conducted Nov. 15-16 under the direction of chief warrant officer Larry Walford. Walford has coordinated the hunt for the past eight seasons.
"The hunt gives us an opportunity to give something back to veterans for serving their country," Walford said. "They love to come out here and couldn't do it by themselves. Some have been returning for several years."
Retired Sergeant Major Jim Verway, the Barnes County veterans' service officer, accepts registrations for the hunt and determines who is eligible to participate. This year eight hunters took part, and all eight harvested deer.
"I receive about eight to 10 requests a year," Verway said. "I think it's great for those guys. At least it gives them a chance to get out to get their deer. Some guys come back year after year."
A big part of the hunt is that it gives veterans a chance to see old friends in uniform and meet new ones. They enjoy both the hunt and the companionship.
"I love it dearly. I look forward to it every year," said Arlo Svedberg, a disabled veteran from Devils Lake. "I'm so damn proud of those guys out there. It's just a treat. I'm 71 now and this year was my eighth or ninth season."
Svedberg, a former member of the N.D. Guard and former Marine Corps' marksmanship instructor, bagged a nice 4-by-4 white-tailed buck on the Camp Grafton Training Grounds using an old .270 Mauser.
"It's a magic rifle," Svedberg said.
Svedberg had a kidney removed due to cancer, is a heart attack survivor, has undergone three surgeries on his back, one each on a rotator cuff and knee and suffers from asthma. He also had two brothers who served in the Marine Corps. Both saw duty in the Pacific in World War II and have passed on.
Now the tough old Marine cherishes more than ever the annual opportunity presented at Camp Grafton.
"If I can make 150 yards now I have to stop and take a break," Svedberg said. "At least I've got Camp Grafton. It's a lot of fun. It's the highlight of my life."
According to Walford, disabled veteran hunters in past years have always expressed their appreciation for those willing to take the time to assist them on a deer hunt. The reaction of disabled veterans taking part in the hunt is one of the big rewards for active duty guardsmen who participate.
"It's great to see these guys get out and get their deer," Walford said. "It's an opportunity for them to hunt again. They look forward to it."
Not only does the hunt serve as a unique opportunity for disabled veterans, it is considered necessary to help reduce the deer population residing on the Camp Grafton Training Grounds. N.D. guardsmen assist the disabled veterans in locating deer, field dressing the animal and loading it up for transport to the meat processor.
"They sure treat you good over there at Camp Grafton. That's really a good thing to be involved in," said Benjamin Longie, Rolla, a second-year participant in the annual hunt. "I hate to be a disabled vet, but I'm 100 percent DAV."
Longie entered the Army in 1953. He saw duty in Germany and in the Korean conflict prior to his discharge in 1962. Longie said he enjoyed the hunt and the opportunity to spend some time with fellow soldiers, especially those who were so accommodating.
"I got a 5-by-5 buck. It's a good one. Nice and heavy, not flimsy. The Guard took care of it and loaded it in my pickup," said Longie. "Afterward we got to sit down and enjoy some chili and crackers and coffee. I liked the experience very much."
Longie said he intends to return to Camp Grafton for the 2011 deer season.
"There is a lot of friendships made between the veterans and us guys who guide them," Walford said.
Of the eight deer taken by the disabled veterans this past week, six were bucks. Harvesting a white-tailed buck was not a priority though, rather a bonus to a meaningful endeavor among active and former soldiers.
"It's a great way to get the veterans back out to Camp Grafton," Sergeant Janelle Hanson said. "It's a chance they don't get on a regular basis."