PINE LAKES, Minn. A triumphant smile on a hunter’s face is the main goal of the non-profit organization called the Minnesota Broken Wing Connection, which is devoted to helping disabled hunters to get back into the field.
Hunters like Brent Thunberg of Rice Lake, Wisc., accompanied by his father, Bruce, shot his first two pheasants: a rooster and a hen from his wheelchair atop a mobile platform. Thunberg, a trap shooter, had never been bird hunting before.
With a shotgun on one side and a bird dog on the other, he proudly held up the birds in the early-fall sunlight.
Getting hunters out in the field each fall is what it’s all about, explained Doug Bermel, president and co-founder of the Broken Wing Connection.
The hunters ride atop custom-made platforms that swivel. The platforms some with seats and others open for wheelchairs are hooked onto the front of four-wheel all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and an open-top jeep. One at a time, hunters are driven out into the field.
Last weekend, the MBWC, founded by cousins Daryl Rudquist, and Bermel, gave 12 disabled hunters the opportunity to shoot pheasants; they were assisted by volunteers, who supplied the bird dogs.
Early Saturday, vehicles were loaded up, after hunters and volunteers enjoyed breakfast at a cook shack near the game fields.
The volunteer effort is a huge part of the success of the MBWC, Bermel said. In the 14-years since its inception MBWC has accommodated people with a variety of disabilities, from amputees to blindness, who want to shoot.
Rudquist and Bermel themselves suffer from a rare inherited neurological disease, adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), that affects their mobility. It was Rudquist who came up with the idea for an assisted hunt 14 years ago.
Aaron Cross, 2004 Para-Olympics bronze medalist in archery, was another who experienced bird hunting for the first time. Cross typically hunts for large game, and has been to the Para-Olympics three times and the Para-Olympics World Championships seven times.
“We’ve been designing many ways for people to hunt; that’s part of the challenge of the organization,” Rudquist said. “Every hunter that leaves, leaves with a smile.”
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