Published November 18, 2012, 05:10 AM

Tales from the hunt

Every hunting excursion produces a story; here are a few of them

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

There’s not an event on the outdoors calendar that produces as many stories in such a short amount of time as the hunting seasons for deer and other big game.

Trophy bucks, of course, always rank right up there among good stories. But the hunting tales also take other forms. For example:

• Hunters who go above and beyond in helping someone less fortunate enjoy the taste of success (and fresh venison).

• Once-in-a-lifetime-caliber trips.

• Oddball occurrences that can’t be explained.

The beauty of it is every hunter, whether skunked or successful, has a story to tell after it all ends. Here are a few of them:

Second time’s a charm

Jeff Welsh was hunting with his dad last Saturday morning along the Sheyenne River in North Dakota when he missed a nice buck.

Welsh hung tough and was rewarded for his patience about 8:30 a.m., when another big buck came by.

This time, good fortune was on his side. The 10-point buck weighed 200 pounds field-dressed, Welsh said.

“Fortunately, we stayed patient,” he said.

Welsh, who teaches seventh-grade life science and eighth-grade earth science at Twining Middle School at Grand Forks Air Force Base, got more than a trophy rack and a freezer full of venison from the hunt. He also was able to work the deer into his curriculum.

“We actually dissect deer hearts in my seventh-grade class during our cardiovascular unit,” said Welsh, who coaches football at Twining and wrestling at Grand Forks Central. “I was able to get the heart from my deer and also the lungs. I insert a tube into the trachea to show the kids what lungs look like during inhaling and exhaling.”

He also has the liver from an elk his dad shot in October near Cavalier, N.D.

“I’ll use that when we study the digestive system,” he said.

Asked if he uses some kind of an air pump to demonstrate how the lungs work, Welch said he takes a simpler approach.

“I just slide a rubber hose in the trachea and blow in the hose,” he said. “The key is to make sure that you take your mouth off the hose before the lungs exhale.”

History repeats

Craig Holmstrom first took Ray Ganyo deer hunting in 2008.

Holmstrom, who sells the roasted almonds at UND sporting events, met Ganyo at a UND football game the previous year.

Holmstrom, of Red Lake Falls, Minn., was wearing a deer hunting hat, and the talk turned to whitetails when Ganyo, of Grand Forks, stopped by the almond booth that day in 2007.

Ganyo had remarked that he’d like to do something “normal” like deer hunting again, Holmstrom recalled in a 2008 interview. But Ganyo had been a quadriplegic since a 1981 diving accident. Ganyo has no use of his arms or legs but can shoot a gun with specialized equipment that mounts on his wheelchair. He shot a deer in 2003 during a hunt for disabled people at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County.

Long story short, that set the stage for a trip in which Holmstrom and others in the hunting crew that calls itself the “Marshall County Swat Team” hosted Ganyo and helped him shoot a deer near Thief River Falls.

Ganyo and Holmstrom already were friends, but on that afternoon in November 2008, a tradition was born.

The crew has hosted Ganyo for an afternoon of hunting every year since, Holmstrom said, but despite some opportunities, the effort didn’t produce a deer for the next three years.

That changed about 4:45 p.m. Nov. 6, when five deer walked into the soybean field near the heated blind that concealed Ganyo and Holmstrom north of Thief River Falls.

It took some shuffling to get the wheelchair into position, Holmstrom said, but Ganyo made a good shot.

Thoughts quickly turned from eating licorice to celebrating a successful hunt with the customary swabbing of deer blood on Ganyo’s cheek.

Tuesday afternoon, Holmstrom and a few other members of the Marshall County Swat Team were cutting up deer, including Ganyo’s. Hosting Ganyo is a highlight for everyone on the Marshall County Swat Team, Holstrom said.

“He’s a fun guy to be around,” Holmstrom said. “He’s got the hearts of everybody I hunt with, I know that. We would do anything for him to get his chance, and hopefully, we’ll be doing this for many years.”

Elk hunt to remember

Sam Ternes and Blaine White have landed their share of fish as members of the youth fishing league on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, but the boys tied in to a real prize when they were selected as the two winners of a guided elk hunt through Elkhorn Outfitters in Colorado.

Darwin Sumner of Red Lake, Minn., who oversees the youth fishing league, had met Elkhorn Outfitters owner Dick Dodds last spring at an outdoor sports show in Grand Forks. Talk naturally turned to hunting, fishing and youths, Sumner recalls, and he invited Dodds to attend the league’s spring fishing awards banquet in April.

Dodds accepted, Sumner said, and announced during the banquet that he was donating two elk hunts for tribal youths.

Ternes, 14, Clearbrook, Minn., and White, 13, Redby, Minn., were the eventual winners.

The boys and Sumner drove to Colorado on Nov. 4 and spent the next day getting settled in at the camp and sighting their rifles. The guided hunt, which included the use of horses to access the rugged terrain, got under way the next day.

The hunt was limited to cow elk, and Ternes got a shot at an animal the first afternoon. The elk left a solid blood trail, Sumner said, but the hunters and their guide couldn’t find the animal. They resumed the search the next morning, but the blood trail disappeared.

Fortunes took a turn for the better the next morning, when White shot an elk they’d first spotted standing about 20 yards away. In the excitement that ensued, he missed on the first shot, but connected on the second, with the elk at about 75 yards.

It was quite the early birthday present for White, who turned 13 the next day, Sumner said.

“He’s shot an elk and he doesn’t even have a deer yet,” Sumner said. “I don’t know how he’s going to top that one.”

Elkhorn Outfitters has a policy that hunters get one opportunity to take an elk, meaning if they wound or hit an animal they can’t find, that’s it.

Dodds made an exception for Ternes, who took advantage of the opportunity Nov. 9 by shooting a cow elk late in the afternoon at a distance of about 250 yards.

“That was an awesome hunt,” Ternes said. “Our guide was really good, and I would like to be a guide. This would be really fun to do.”

The trip also made a big impression on White.

“This was the best birthday present ever,” he said. “I harvested my elk the day before my 13th birthday. Doing the horseback hunting is great. I hope to come back and do it again.”

A different twist

Matt Berg of Karlstad, Minn., shared this story of a deer opener he won’t soon forget.

“In all the years that I have hunted deer, 41 years to be exact, this one will go down as one of the most memorable and meaningful events in my life,” Berg writes. “Other than the time in 1985 that I shot a 245-pound buck, two miles from the nearest road, late afternoon, in the rain, at 300 yards. True story.”

Then came 2012. Here, in Berg’s words, is his account of this year’s hunting season:

“I hunt in an area of northwest Minnesota that was heavily damaged by the wildfires of October. So, I needed to find a new area to hunt and was invited down to the southern part of the state, where my daughter lives. She and my son-in-law had been watching the development of a nice young male over the past few months and were excited to be able to share this with me.

“So the plan was on. They were going to go out early Monday morning, go get set up, and wait and see if he would give them a chance to see what he looked like. My job was to stay home with my 3-year-old grandson and wait for the phone to ring.

“Well, we waited and we waited, thinking this was going to go fast, and soon the phone rang at 2:05 in the afternoon. It was all over.

“My newest grandson, Charlie Matthew Hourscht, was born. A new generation of deer hunters. A trophy in my eyes.

“Deer hunting is not always about the biggest deer, the longest shot or how many got away but also about family, special events and memories that will last a lifetime. I didn’t even take my gun out of the case this year but can’t wait for the years to come when I can share this yearly event with my newest member of my family.”

Finding a mystery

Arlen Wirkus says he’s not a religious man, but he found himself looking toward the sky last week while trying to find a wounded deer north of Erskine, Minn.

Wirkus, of East Grand Forks, said the deer wasn’t a trophy, but his daughter, Shayna, 18, had shot the “button buck” late the previous afternoon. It fell after she shot, Wirkus said, but it got up and ran into the buck brush.

They looked for the deer until well after dark without success, he said.

Shayna, who attends UND, couldn’t hunt the next day, but Wirkus and hunting buddy Ken “Spook” Aase of Grand Forks returned to the area in the morning trying to find the deer.

(It’s tempting to ask how a guy gets the nickname “Spook” but it’s not really relevant to this story. Aase has had the name forever, Wirkus said.)

There was no snow on the ground for following tracks or spots of blood, and they were about to give up the search, Wirkus recalls, when he spotted a white weasel running through the brush. He turned around and noticed another spot of white.

Turns out it was the splotch of white from below the deer’s chin. The deer was covered with grass, Wirkus said, as if something had taken a bale of hay and thrown it over the top of it.

“I took off all the grass, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t laying there,” he said. “Both of us, my friend and I, had walked by it twice within about 3 feet. I just happened to see the white patch.”

Wirkus said he’d heard mountain lions will stash their prey by covering it with grass or brush if they’re not hungry.

Which, of course, got him to wondering: Could it be?

“I’m glad I had somebody with me because other guys would think I’m so full of BS it’s coming out my ears,” Wirkus said. “We just stood there for a minute, and I said, ‘Spook, have you ever seen anything like this?’

“I said, ‘It’s either a bigfoot or aliens or something. Let’s get that thing gutted and get out of here.’”

John Erb, a furbearer research biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, said a cougar could have covered the dead deer with grass but more likely it was a bobcat.

He suggested that Wirkus return to the site, cover the carcass with grass after removing the meat and place a trail camera at the site.

“I had one of these last winter, and I went out and placed a trail camera on the site,” Erb said. “Right away that night (and for the next several days), I had hundreds of pictures of a bobcat coming back. But cougars absolutely can do this, as well.”

Wirkus says he’s going to follow Erb’s suggestion. But regardless of what the trail camera produces, his daughter’s first deer comes with quite a story. They were able to find the deer and field-dress it before the meat spoiled, he said, and there were no signs of claw marks or other injuries, beyond the bullet wounds.

“She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face,” Wirkus said of his daughter. “She was a pretty happy camper.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to