An acquaintance of mine by the name of Jim Zahn, a US Army and Vietnam Veteran who belongs to the Rosendale VFW Post 10195, suggested that since Veteran’s Day is November 11th, I look up a gentleman by the name of Brian Ball.
A year ago Brian formed a non-profit to help our war wounded brothers and sisters hunt on donated land, using donated weapons and donated ammo. I was curious.
“My nephew, who had done two tours in Afghanistan for the Marine Corps,” Brian said “returned home for 6 months. He wasn’t a very happy kid when he came back, hadn’t seen him smile in a long while. Then deer season rolled around, and to make a long story short…he shot a real nice 8-pointer. It just lit him up! It was like he was able to breathe again, and smile, and enjoy life, just through the simple act of harvesting a deer.”
Brian thought there may be a degree of healing for some of the soldiers through hunting.
It was time to get the City of Waupun involved, specifically Director of Public Works, Dick Flynn, a retired Navy Seabee.
“We brought it to the city council,” Brian said “and they liked the idea, and okayed it.”
They started with 77-some acres dedicated to the Heroes, until word began to spread, and within a month had expanded to 500 acres made available.
“All private land, great spots to hunt,” Brian said “and last year, our first year we took 14 vet’s out hunting, and did so for twelve weeks in a row. They bagged 19 deer, and a bunch of ducks, pheasants and geese.”
Interest continues to boom.
“This year I had 60 vet’s sign up,” Brian said “with seven on a waiting list. And now we’ve grown to 1,500 acres of deer hunting land, another 1,000 acres of goose and duck hunting land, all private property, and exclusively for the vet’s to hunt on, that’s what we really stressed to any landowners who wanted to participate. They can hunt their own land of course, but we want to leave it ‘fresh’ for when the vet’s come out on the weekends.”
In hind sight, Brian admitted he should have cut off the number of vet’s who can join the hunt at forty.
“But I just can’t say no,” Brian said “and especially to disabled vet’s, or those who were wounded. I kept saying, ‘We’ll fit you in,’ and finally I looked at the list of sixty and said, ‘Oh my Lord,’ (laugh) we better shut’er down.”
The kill ratio was also a concern.
“If we started getting to fifty percent,” he said “we had to be careful not to over-harvest, because we want good, quality hunting for the guys.”
So far this year the vet’s aim has not been as true as last.
“They’ve only gotten three nice doe’s,” Brian said “but they also missed six deer. Last year out of thirteen shots with the crossbow, they got twelve deer, so I don’t know what’s happening (laugh), but they’re having a lot of fun.”
The Board of Directors includes Jay Steinbach, a friend of Brian’s from church.
“Jay said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we need to put God first, and give Him all the glory for it.’ And we did that, and it’s just taken off.”
Other board members include Floyd Resplayje, a local contractor, Jeff Lemmens, and his son Loden, and Dave Vogel volunteers as well.
“What’s kind of neat is,” Brian said “none of us are veterans.”
The Hunt corps has 17 volunteer guides.“Typically what happens on a Friday or Saturday,” Brian said “it depends on when the vets arrive, the AmericInn in Waupun donates rooms, The Goose Shot supper club gives them a prime rib dinner Saturday night. And the Hitching Post near Manchester gives a couple guys free dinner. Pizza Ranch and Taco Bell also contribute. The city has really embraced this, and helps these guys out.”
They also have a 12×18 foot wall tent set up near Manchester, Wisconsin, what they’ve named Camp Nicholas.
“Nicholas Mueller was Special Forces,” Brian said “what they called ‘night stalkers,’ and Nick was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 when he and sixteen of his comrades were shot down in their Chinook Helicopter. His mom and dad, Sharon and Larry donated a lot of money to construct Camp Nicholas that has the tent with a wood burner, and four cots in it. It’s located on a very picturesque spot, and the guys really like it.”
There’s always some tune up before venturing out.
“We practice with the bows,” Brian said “or if they’ve brought their own bows, and then we go hunting from there.
Heroes’ Hunt isn’t only designed for those wounded.
“We decided to open this up to all veterans,” Brian said “because I think every vet deserves to be able to hunt, every vet who signed that dotted line, could have been wounded or killed.”
They set out in groups of four or five.
“And some of these ‘walking-vets’ have been severely injured,” Brian said “but you wouldn’t know it unless you asked them, and then I always save two spots for handicapped guys.”
The hunt continues through bow season, then the gun hunt both weekends this month, muzzle loaders in December, then right back to bow season in January.
“It’s around seventeen weeks we do this,” Brian said “quite a commitment and a lot of work, I won’t lie to you, but I’m blessed with a really good wife, Sharon who is very patient with me, she helps out a lot…married 27 years now.”
Part of the Heroes’ Hunt creed says that a veteran, whether active duty, discharged, retired, reserve or guard, is a person who at one point in their life wrote a blank check, made payable to the United States of America, for an amount up to, and including their own life.
Something to remember. And not only on the 11th.
The Rosendale VFW Post 10195 recently donated $5000 to help cover just some of the cost of an all-terrain track wheel chair.