NOVEMBER 30, 2022 – It’s a place of hope and connection for hunters who gather for the annual wounded warrior hunt at Orwell Dam, located on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 15-16.
Hosted by the nonprofit Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, four wounded warriors and six volunteers don their blaze orange and gear to a designated hunting spot on the Orwell sanctuary.
“This is a huge win/win opportunity for veterans and our natural resources,” said John Fromuth Orwell Dam lockmaster. “We have a pretty big deer population in the sanctuary, mostly doe and then fawns in the spring, so hunters have a really easy chance of harvesting a deer and that really helps with over population.”
Ron Welle started Midwest Outdoors Unlimited in 2008 to help physically disabled individuals go hunting. Now, he says the organization provides outdoor activities in a wide range from hunting to boat rides and fishing and even outings to a baseball game. Every outing is with a different group of people, giving an opportunity to as many individuals as possible.
Sponsored on Corps-owned land, Orwell Dam officials have been actively involved in the program for many years, except during the pandemic. The program that was originally designed for disabled veterans close to end of life has evolved to host disabilities in general.
Fromuth works directly with Midwest Outdoors Unlimited in getting the required permissions and equipment ready for the hunters to participate.
“We stage ice houses with big windows, propane heaters and tanks for the hunters and their volunteer to sit in,” Fromuth said. “We also set up a 50-yard target for hunters to zero their shotgun the morning of the hunt.”
Upon arrival, Fromuth provides a safety brief and hunting information. Next, volunteers escort hunters to zero their shotgun and return to the indoor office for a hot meal. Then, they are taken to their hunting locations to get a deer.
Hunters are not usually local, so they are not always prepared with what they need for the day, he said.
“I’ll borrow my own weapons and hunting gear (if needed) to those gentlemen because I will likely be living in a similar veteran home one day and pray someone (like myself) will help me and other veterans just the same,” Fromuth said.
Next year, they are hoping to get more hunters from the local veteran homes with additional donations from the Boots on the Ground program.
“It’s a humbling experience watching these veterans out here,” he said. “I watched one of the hunters this year go right from the deer stand directly into a truck to the Mayo Clinic for surgery the following morning. This man literally spent what could have been his last day in a hunting blind at Orwell Dam. He didn’t shoot a deer, but he was able to take six shots. He was in pretty rough condition and had a hard time keeping a steady aim.”
The veteran said it was an amazing experience and that he hoped to live longer so he could tell his friends and family about the beautiful hunting experience he had at the dam.
“I support the event as needed while attending to day-to-day tasks,” Fromuth explained. “This year we got a bit of snow during the hunt, so I was focused on clearing the snow and salting everything down so hunters were safe with their canes and wheelchairs.”
The event is made possible by the partnerships with the Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Story by Elizabeth Stoeckmann
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District