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Tim Sartwell can't suppress a smile as he perches over a clover field in a recliner waiting for the deer to come into the field. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)
Tim Sartwell can't suppress a smile as he perches over a clover field in a recliner waiting for the deer to come into the field. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The great enabler: UFFDA fills the stands

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

He ain't heavy.

He's my brother.

Michael Kundert would carry his best friend on his back to get him out hunting, he said.

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Thanks to the United Foundation For Disabled Archers, Kundert has help - lots of it.

Last weekend, that best friend, Aaron Wilson of West Concord, was one of 27 disabled archers out in the Hubbard County woods trying to get his deer.

The annual weekend event culminates with a benefit banquet at Camp Wilderness attended by 150 who swap hunting tales and empty their wallets.

Dozens of Hubbard County residents are involved enabling hunters like Wilson and Tim Sartwell of Big Lake to hunt from a deer stand.

But the group also has ground blinds in case a hunter needs to use a motorized wheelchair.

"Those things weigh up to several hundred pounds," said UFFDA board member and volunteer Rick Knobloch. With a hunter, volunteers aren't able to lift 600 pounds into a deer stand.

Volunteers like Knobloch allow use of their lands, escort the hunters to the stands, act as guides, cooks, bottle washers and do anything they can to be good hosts.

Their works don't go unappreciated.

"I can hunt off a four-wheeler or out of a truck but this is my only opportunity to be in the air," Wilson said. "I love it."

Knobloch has set up hunting quarters on land southeast of Park Rapids, which can currently sleep 13. He's adding on to house more.

He said the hunters used to sprawl all over his living room floor until his wife put a stop to it.

"Everything in here is scrounged," he said proudly, showing off the quarters. The dozens of racks of antlers mounted on the wall needs no explanation.

If you think the hunters are roughing it with an outhouse, think again. Last weekend the sauna was fully operable, there were flowers on the table and the group at Knobloch's dined on grouse in a gravy sauce.

Wilson instructs Knobloch and Kundert, who moved here from Arkansas to help Wilson with the hunting season, load him into a Gator and drive him out into the fields.

He hunts from a barber chair in a house-like stand. The chair can be raised or lowered for best visibility.

Although Wilson didn't get his deer, other hunters did.

"I only have a range of 30 to 35 yards," he said apologetically.

Kundert gets his friend situated in the shack and takes a moment to discuss their friendship, 17 years and counting.

Wilson, a former Navy Seal, was injured in a car accident six years ago that left his legs useless.

He'd retired from the military by the time of the accident. But Kundert said the can-do spirit the Navy Seals taught his friend was a lifesaver.

"He can do anything he sets his mind to," he said of Wilson.

"But if he ever needs me for the things he can't let anyone else do for him, I'm there. There's no shame in our game," Kundert said.

"I'll carry him on my back if I have to. He doesn't weigh much," he said.

Knobloch has convinced his neighbors to let the archers use their adjoining land, so the hunters can spread out over 300 acres.

On another quarter one field over Tim Sartwell and helper Nate Morris climb an even higher blind, where Tim perches in a recliner overlooking a lush field of clover.

Sartwell had a stroke at age 28. One side of his body remains immobile.

Morris supplies Sartwell's unusable parts.

The Big Lake friends come annually to hunt. For Wilson it was his first outing.

Morris had a moment of horror when his boss called him in and said he "wasn't going to let him take a vacation day."

Morris thought the trip had been scuttled.

Instead his boss gave him a freebie, saying such a noble purpose should be rewarded and encouraged.

Whew!

Morris will stay in the same stand alongside his friend.

Kundert leaves Wilson momentarily but will come back on a four-wheeler to check on him.

There's a look of bliss on the faces of Wilson and Sartwell.

"They are so appreciative that somebody took the time to take them," said Knobloch, a retired Park Rapids police officer who got involved in UFFDA nine years ago.

He's one of its strongest cheerleaders.

He's been in a hunting group his dad organized 50 years ago. He had a strong sense that others should share in the camaraderie of deer camp, the experience of a big buck.

Five of the weekend hunters were successful. One even bagged an 8-point buck. All say they will return if possible. It didn't matter if they didn't fill their tag. It was the experience they all want to come back for.

"These fields are the most beautiful I've ever seen," Kundert said looking over the changing leaves providing a colorful windbreak to each quarter section.

"It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life," Knobloch said, letting a tear slide down his cheek.

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