Special turkey hunt honors disabled vets

Ryan Zimmer, at left, an Army veteran
Ryan Zimmer, at left, an Army veteran from New Lisbon, Wis., waits patiently Friday for a turkey to come to the blind he shared with Joe Luck of Rochester who was his guide for a Disabled Veterans Hunt at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch near Stewartville.

STEWARTVILLE — Ryan Zimmer was hit with shrapnel three times while serving in Iraq in 2003. He was later discharged after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury .

He is rated 100 percent disabled.

Yet on Friday, the New Lisbon, Wis., veteran felt bad that someone was helping him try to shoot a turkey during a special hunt to honor disabled veterans. He said he wanted to serve a full 20-year stint in the Army instead of only 5 1/2 years.

"It's kind of hard for me to grasp because I have always wanted to give back to my country," said Zimmer, 33. "It's hard to accept being helped, but it's so much fun."

In the blind with Zimmer was Joe Luck, of Rochester. Luck was his guide and did the calling. Zimmer loves to hunt, and he does it often in Wisconsin. But he still drove over for the 12th annual disabled veterans hunt put on by the Deer Creek Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The event lets him meet fellow injured or disabled veterans, and it is another chance to be in the woods.


Curt Mrotek, who coordinates the hunt headquartered at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch, said 10 veterans came to stay at the ranch's lodge and maybe go home with a turkey. It takes 50 to 60 guides and other volunteers to make the event work, as well as the cooperation of landowners who allow hunting, he said.

Some veterans can walk, but others require wheelchairs and need special devices to be able to shoot, said Mrotek who has coordinated the event for 11 years.

"I just love introducing someone else to the sport we love," he said.

Besides the veterans hunt, the ranch was also headquarters for a Dream Hunt Saturday for youths who have severe or terminal medical problems. The Cedar River Longbeards, the Austin federation chapter, takes care of that one, Mrotek said.

Luck was the first one in the blind when he and Zimmer returned after lunch. They heard a lot of gobbling in the morning when they were in a different blind. "Both right and left of us, there were birds around" but he couldn't get a male turkey to come to his calling, he said.

Luck said he spends time guiding because he feels it's his duty.

"Anything we can do to pay back what those guys did for us," he said.

When Luck was ready, Zimmer came into the blind and zipped it up to stop the cold wind. Then they waited, looking outside now and then, hoping. Every 10 to 15 minutes, Luck would make a yelp with his box call.


Zimmer lamented that the morning hadn't been better. "It was pretty decent, had a lot of gobbling going on, just nothing coming to us," he said.

He shot his first bird in 2010. "I'm addicted now," he said.

While he can hunt on his own, he said having a guide and having blinds set up makes it easier. "You're able to go out and be able to do things you used to do without too much hassle," he said.

"You deserve every bit of it," Luck said.

"I take that with a smile," Zimmer said.

Zimmer was back in the same blind well before sunrise Saturday with Joe Luck again calling. This time, Luck was able to coax in a big tom, and Zimmer shot his turkey.

05-08 03 veterans turkey hunt jw .jpg
The lid of Joe Luck's box call is a blur as he recreates a turkey yelp, trying to coax in a tom turkey Friday during a special hunt for veterans.

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