Art Stortroen’s instincts told him that he was in a good spot when he went out for his afternoon hunt at Orwell Dam.
A cool November wind was blowing from the southeast as the 92-year-old settled in behind his 20-gauge Savage slug gun. Dressed in blaze orange and hunter camo at the window of a toasty 6-by-10 Ice Castle, the old deer hunter was as comfortable as any of his friends back at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Fergus Falls.
There are roughly 2,000 acres of deer habitat at the federal facility southwest of Fergus Falls. Some 1,400 of these acres near the Otter Tail River are open to public hunting. The remaining 600 are off limits but usually packed with deer. The wiley whitetails of Orwell have come to know where they are safe.
That was not the case Wednesday.
Midwest Outdoors Unlimited had brought six deer hunters to the site. The group, headed by Ron Welle, has been taking military veterans and the disabled out on deer hunts since 2008.
Stortroen has been able to hunt with the Midwest Outdoors Unlimited people two years in a row. He was at Camp Ripley in 2018 but his good luck in joining the select group only went so far. The weather that day gave the whitetails the upper hand.
“It rained and snowed,” Stortroen recalling that day near Little Falls. “They’re smart. They stayed in the pines.”
Stortoen tasted the pleasure of deer hunting for the first time when he was 18. The next thing he knew he got a call from Uncle Sam. That call sent him to the Pacific for two years of service with the United States Army Signal Corps.
After his military service Stortroen returned to Minnesota to fill out the rest of a 45-year career with Otter Tail Power.
The Fergus Falls man has shot scores of whitetails but with his 93rd birthday coming up in December he is still dead serious about the sport. He has gone on many deer hunts with his son, Mark, over the years so on Wednesday it was fitting that the two hunting partners were teamed up again.
“I want to shoot a big buck,” the elder Stortroen announced Wednesday afternoon prior to taking the field.
The opportunity afforded to the Stortroens came down from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who own the Orwell Dam property. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources leases it from them for hunting. The DNR supports the work done by Welle and his volunteers.
There were 10 Midwest Outdoors Unlimited members at Orwell for Wednesday’s hunt. They brought Ice Castle hunting shelters, UTVs and many years of combined deer hunting experience with them.
In addition to Stortroen the men gathered for the hunt were John Tscumperlin, an 80-year-old from Richmond; Charles Mackendanz, an 80-year-old from Paynesville; Clarence Schaefer, an 85-year-old from Meire Grove; Matt Rausch, a 74-year-old from St. Michael and Lonny Kilde, who was standing in for one who could not make the trip.
Welle and his volunteers have tried to divide the six spots on the hunting team between vets and disabled hunters.
“I never expected that there was that much need for helping disabled people,” Welle said.
Welle calls the experience of helping older hunters and the disabled “rewarding.” As someone who has overcome his own share of physical handicaps, he is very proud of the work his group has done.
“I’ve become a multimillionaire in these 11 years,” he said speaking figuratively.
Welle is quick to give a big helping of the credit to the volunteers who help him run Midwest Outdoors Unlimited.
“People have asked me when I am going to retire and now I know,” Welle said. “I am going to retire when my volunteers retire because no one can do this job alone.”