Published September 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

A Twist of Fate

Emotions run high at hunt for physically challenged
As mayor of LaMoure, N.D., for the last six years, Bruce Rasmusson can often be seen zipping up and down Main Street in his motorized wheelchair.

By: Tracy Frank, The Forum

As mayor of LaMoure, N.D., for the last six years, Bruce Rasmusson can often be seen zipping up and down Main Street in his motorized wheelchair.

He’s been confined to a chair ever since he broke his neck in a car accident 20 years ago.

Call it a twist of fate. Walking one day, in a wheel chair the next.

But it didn’t stop the 53-year-old Rasmusson from joining nine other physically challenged individuals to bowhunt for deer this weekend in the woods of northwest Richland County.

“I’m always up for a challenge,” Rasmusson said Thursday afternoon when the Ninth Annual Twist of Fate Physically Challenged Archery Hunt began.

Later that night below a full harvest moon, Rasmusson – who had never bowhunted before – shot a buck from the camouflaged blind he was sitting in.

As part of the Twist of Fate tradition, when Rasmusson and his guide, Jason Fredenburg, returned to the camp, they started honking the horn of their suburban truck.

“What? Bruce got one?” said his wife Loretta, who was waiting near the campfire. “Bruce got a deer?”

Yes, he did. And as of Friday morning, so did two other hunters confined to wheelchairs.

“That’s what we are here for,” said Brad Heinz, chairman of the Twist of Fate hunt. “It’s a great thing, especially when you hear those horns honking. Everybody in the camp drops what they are doing. There usually isn’t a dry eye in the place … it can be quite emotional.”

A volunteer effort

It was 11 years ago when Heinz and other local hunters were involved with a hunt catering to physically challenged individuals. They decided to start their own hunt.

For the first seven years, Twist of Fate was held at the former Sheyenne 4-H Camp located about 10 miles south of Leonard. Hunters stayed in cabins, had access to rest rooms and ate in a lodge.

This weekend, for the second straight year, the camp was moved to a secluded, wooded area on the 1,000-acre property of Gordon and Audrey Solhjem.

“After the first year, they thought they were imposing,” Audrey said. “We set them straight on that. We just enjoy having it here.”

The camp site has a 40-by-80-foot circus-like tent for gatherings. The kitchen, equipped with a stove, refrigerator and running water, is in a 14-by-30 foot tent.

Chief cook Dave Erdmann of West Fargo had a fish fry Thursday night, a steak fry Friday night and a hog roast Saturday night.

There is an enclosed shower and three portable restrooms for the hunters. They bunk in four 14-by-30-foot tents, equipped with beds and a wood stove – a feature Loretta Rasmusson appreciated.

“That was my biggest concern because Bruce can be so sensitive to the cold,” she said. “This is just awesome.”

All the amenities cost as much as $12,000, Heinz said. But donations from area businesses and wildlife clubs and help from as many as 60 volunteers keep the Twist of Fate nonprofit organization alive.

“It’s a lot of work, no question about it,” said Heinz, a West Fargoan who is the safety coordinator at Bethany Homes in Fargo. “But the rewards for the hunters and their families is well worth it.”

Inspiration in the woods

Because Rasmusson is limited with the use of his right hand, he was unable to squeeze the trigger of the cross bow he was going to use.

Problem solved. Fredenburg and Heinz extended the trigger by taping a piece of an arrow with some black electrician’s tape.

“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Heinz said.

Each of the 10 hunters have a guide. During the previous eight years, Twist of Fate has had three blind hunters – who had the guide sight the deer and tell them when to shoot.

“Two of them got deer,” Heinz said.

In a 10-mile radius of the camp, hunters scatter to different locations. They sit in their blinds waiting for deer to feed on piles of corn that is placed about 20 yards away. It’s all legal, according to Heinz who said 1,700 pounds of corn was donated.

“This is a real deer hunt,” said Erdmann, who was a guide for seven years. “These are wild deer – not deer penned up in enclosed areas.”

There are other physically-challenged hunts like this. The “Hell of a Hunt” in Wyoming has disabled individuals hunting antelope with rifles.

Tory Taszarek of Jamestown, N.D., bagged an antelope at that hunt. The 36-year-old Taszarek was a part of this weekend’s Twist of Fate hunt for a second time.

If hunters get a deer during the Twist of Fate hunt, they have to wait one year before they can return. Heinz said usually about half the hunters get their deer.

Taszarek was hoping to get his first deer with a bow. Taszarek became paralyzed in 1989 when he fell out of his deer-hunting tree stand near his hometown of Edgeley, N.D.

“It was Aug. 11, 1989 … I was 19 years old,” Taszarek said. “We were going scouting the week before deer season. I was climing up the steps to the stand and lost my footing.

“I must have been about 10 feet in the air. I fell and broke my back.”

This weekend, his guide was longtime friend T.J. Nogosek of Fargo. They have been hunting and fishing together for 15 years.

“You have help … that’s the nice things about these hunts,” Taszarek said. “And you get to meet people in your same situation. That’s nice.”

“And he’s a hell of a hunter,” Nogosek said.

And like the other nine hunters gathered in the woods of Richland County this weekend, he’s an inspiration according to volunteers like the Gordon and Audrey Solhjem – retired ranchers whose land becomes a paradise for disabled hunters.

In addition to Taszarek and Rasmusson, there was Ronald Langdahl of Page, N.D.; Andy Erb of Detroit Lakes, Minn.; David Shove and Josh Hausauer of Fargo; Ernie Stock, Shane Kvalevog and Jim Sinner of Moorhead and Brian Kihn of Pelican Rapids, Minn.

“It’s just amazing, they have such a great outlook on life,” Audrey said. “They get so excited … even if they don’t get a deer.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549