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Rural Long Prairie–A glimmer of hope. Something to look forward to. Energy to fight through difficult trials.
That’s what a Dec. 17 deer hunt gave Jackie Wilwerding.
This avid outdoors girl, from rural Freeport, shot a 14-point buck at
Autumn Antlers Trophy Whitetail Lodge, a hunting preserve in rural Long Prairie, the largest deer she has ever harvested. And she didn’t let her life-threatening health issues get in her way.
She did it thanks to the organization Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, who planned the hunt, along with organizations who helped pay for it and volunteers who assisted on the hunt.
Jackie’s Dream Deer
Midwest Outdoors Unlimited helps Freeport Lady with Hunt
by Carol Moorman
Melrose Beacon Editor
“To me, it wasn’t about being successful on this hunt, rather it was the anticipation of it that gave me hope and something to look forward to through some of my toughest battles to date,” she wrote on Friday, Jan. 6, from her hospital room in Rochester.
One of the greatest parts about this hunt for her was actually getting back in the deer stand doing what she has such a passion for.
“It has been a very difficult course to wrap my head around, going from being an avid outdoors girl to a patient in a hospital bed for far too many days, weeks, well even months,” she wrote.
Four years ago this 26-year-old determined lady was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and ciliary dysfunction which prevent Jackie’s lungs from providing her body with the life-giving air it needs. She has endured multiple surgeries for issues contributing to her continued illness.
“Think of the word defeat, multiply that by a million and that’s maybe what I feel when I realize that I do have limitations that restrict me from hunting and enjoying the outdoors. Not being able to do anything that I actually enjoy makes that word defeat hang even bigger over my head on top of all my medical trials,” wrote Jackie.
Supporting her along they way have been family, friends and her faith.
Hope of a hunt
Jackie has hunted for years, mainly deer. She prefers bow hunting, which she started eight years ago. She also turkey hunts and feels lucky if she can get out and pheasant hunt.
“I hunt with a bow, shotgun and some years a muzzleloader if I haven’t had success in harvesting a deer during the earlier season,” she wrote.
Her largest deer bagged, before this past season, has been a four-pointer.
“I have seen some big deer while out bow hunting, but that’s the challenge with bow hunting, you can’t always shoot the deer that you see,” wrote Jackie, who is a strong believer that you never take a shot on an animal unless you know you can make it.
For her, it’s about the thrill of being able to watch the deer do their thing and being so close to them without them knowing.
“I tend to pass on a lot of deer because they are either too small, or I just didn’t want my season to end that soon,” wrote Jackie.
Over the last four years she has had to place hunting aside because of her health issues, which meant she hasn’t been able to spend much time in the outdoors and hasn’t shot a deer for quite a while.
Enter Midwest Outdoors Unlimited.
Jackie first heard about this organization through friends when the Prairie Partners chapter was started in the Long Prairie area. Jackie and Cory Beumer, her boyfriend of eight years, helped out with fundraising.
Her deer hunt came about when friends put her name into a drawing for a Midwest Outdoors Unlimited deer hunt at Orwell Dam near Fergus Falls.
“I was really excited that I was drawn for this hunt which was scheduled for Nov. 16 to 18. Unfortunately, on Sept. 8, I had undergone a major eight-hour surgery, which set me on a long road to recovery. I had many complications after surgery which kept me in St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester for unexpected months,” she wrote.
While recovering, she knew she had to be well in order to go on this hunt so she kept fighting hard every day.
“During the weeks leading up to this hunt I had many up and down moments. There were a few times when my entire team of doctors were unsure if I would pull through,” she wrote.
She surprised them and fought hard because she had something to look forward to.
“The unfortunate part is that I was not able to participate in the Orwell Dam hunt because I was still too sick and frail to leave the hospital,” she wrote, adding, “It was honestly crushing to me because once again my health had limited me and I had fought so hard.”
The following week, Jackie received a call from Ron Welle, Midwest Outdoors Unlimited president, asking how she was doing. He told her they could arrange another deer hunt for her at Autumn Antlers Trophy Whitetail Lodge.
“My spirits were instantly lifted and I was again ready to fight harder than I have ever fought before,” wrote Jackie.
She was stable enough to leave the hospital the week of Thanksgiving and was scheduled for the Autumn Antlers hunt on Dec. 17. Learning she needed to undergo another surgery on Dec. 14, they moved the hunt up to Dec. 10.
“My body then again proved to us that things don’t always follow the way we plan them,” Jackie wrote.
On Dec. 5 she was admitted to the hospital for a pneumonia infection. As the week progressed she ended up having her planned Dec. 14 surgery on Dec. 8, which didn’t go as planned and she underwent one more surgery on her esophagus on Dec. 9.
On the road to recovery, but still battling a “very stubborn pneumonia infection,” the following week, while feeling “pretty decent,” she asked if the hunt could be set up for Dec. 17, which Ron Welle was able to do.
“Thankfully, Autumn Antlers were very understanding of the situation, and they were once again able to accommodate at such short notice,” wrote Jackie.
The hunt took place late afternoon and evening on Dec. 17. Jackie and Cory arrived at the Autumn Antlers lodge around noon, where Jim Gerchy and Denny Niess welcomed them. They met with their guide, Keith Imholte, Cory’s good friend.
Dec. 17 was the first cold snap of the winter with temperatures dropping below zero.
“But it didn’t scare me and prevent me from hunting,” wrote Jackie.
They got into their hunting clothes and boarded the Ranger that would take them to the heated deer stand with windows to keep the wind from blowing in.
“Getting up into the stand was fairly easy despite my lungs being tired and a few coughs here and there,” wrote Jackie .
Cory carried her medical equipment, including a portable oxygen tank, into the blind where there was plenty of room to move around so Jackie could hunt in comfort.
“I was thankful that we were sitting in a heated stand because I was dealing with a pneumonia infection at the time and couldn’t control my coughing,” wrote Jackie.
“I was thankful that we were sitting in a heated stand because I was dealing with a pneumonia infection at the time and couldn’t control my coughing,” wrote Jackie.
She admits, with her limitations over the last four years, she never imagined she could enjoy hunting again because of her medical equipment (called “fancy luggage” by friends and family) that goes with her all the time.
It was while sitting in the comfortable blind that Jackie realized the hunt was real and going to happen. “I was finally back in the stand doing what I love most,” she wrote.
Keith had her do a practice run so she knew where and how she would be most comfortable shooting. Sitting there waiting for a deer, Jackie relaxed and took in the moment.
As the sun started to set, she knew it was prime time for deer. While they were making small talk, telling stories, Jackie spotted a deer walking in the woods and her heart instantly started thumping.
“The first deer came out, followed by a second. By this time, I was shaking so badly because these were some of the most beautiful and by far biggest deer I had ever seen and to be so close to them was out of this world,” Jackie wrote.
She brought her binoculars up and watched as the deer came to the field.
“I looked at Keith and said, ‘Is this really the one? He’s huge!’ I then asked when I could shoot. Thankfully, Keith was able to keep me calm and collected as we waited for the perfect moment,” wrote Jackie.
Once the deer separated from the rest it was game time. Jackie brought her gun up and placed the cross arrows on the deer. Keith told her to relax and get comfortable and once she was comfortable to take the shot.
“My heart was beating so hard I was sure Keith and Cory could hear it. I placed the deer in the cross arrows and gently placed my finger on the trigger. Keith then said, ‘Whenever you are ready shoot,’” wrote Jackie.
She was so mesmerized by this deer she didn’t pull the trigger right away.
“I waited and watched this beautiful deer in the scope of my gun and took in the moment and when the moment felt right, I pulled the trigger,” wrote Jackie.
She admits to having buck fever.
“It was an emotional experience for me, since this is the first time I had been out in years,” she wrote, adding, “Let’s just say I shed a few tears of joy!”
As she made the shot, Keith watched with his binoculars and followed the deer to the woods where he tipped over.
“I was instantly on cloud nine, shaking from head to toe from excitement. The first thing I said after I shot was, ‘I think I need more oxygen,’” wrote Jackie.
Keith congratulated her with a high five, and “I could see he was just as happy as I was,” wrote Jackie. “Cory was also jumping for joy that I finally got back out hunting in a comfortable environment and had such a successful hunt. It was funny to me because he said his heart was thumping just as hard as mine.”
They waited about 10 minutes to recover her deer.
“At first Keith was going to go recover it for me and then I said I really wanted to go see for myself, because to me one of the best parts of the hunt is the recovery. So, Keith and Cory both agreed that I could tag along,” wrote Jackie.
By now the outside temperature was well below zero. Jackie cranked the oxygen level she was receiving from her tank up a couple of liters to make walking in the snow and cold more comfortable.
“Once we got to the woods, there he lay. I ran up to the deer, still shaking from the excitement of the entire hunt and knelt down behind him and lifted his head. I was again on cloud nine. He was such a beautiful deer, that I will now cherish forever,” wrote Jackie.
Keith gutted the deer out for Jackie, even though she wanted to.
“Actually, I couldn’t because of infection reasons with my health. Also, it was 23 below zero and my hands couldn’t take that type of cold to even grip a knife,” wrote Jackie.
Once they got the deer back to the lodge, Keith and another guide cut up the deer.
The deer scored a 146 and 2/8 on Boone and Crocket scoring.
Jackie is excited to have her deer head mounted by Keith, who not only was her guide but is a taxidermist for his business Imholte Taxidermy.
“This deer is such a beautiful animal I want nothing more than to have it hanging on my wall for all to see. Heck, if I end up in the hospital for a long period of time he may even make it up to my hospital room,” wrote Jackie.
Thankful to many
Jackie is grateful to everyone who made her dream hunt possible.
“’I would like to thank everyone at Autumn Antlers for their hospitality and willingness to accommodate with my crazy scheduling conflicts. Thank you for making this hunt unforgettable!” wrote Jackie. “A big shout out to my guide Keith for being such a trooper to venture out in those sub-zero temps,” the coldest hunt she has ever been on.
“Even though it was freezing cold, I wouldn’t change anything for the world,” wrote Jackie.
She is especially grateful to Ron Welle from Midwest Outdoors Unlimited for his hard work to coordinate the hunt and also to organizations and businesses who donated to her hunt, including Prairie Partners and Wobegon Partners chapters of Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, the state chapter, New Munich and Freeport Lions clubs, Albany Sportsmen’s Club and Autumn Antlers.
Wobegon Partners annual banquet is Jan. 21 at the Melrose American Legion. For information call Ron Welle (320) 260-6032 or Chuck Uphoff (320) 250-5395.
“Midwest Outdoors Unlimited makes dreams come true by taking extra steps to accommodate people like me, which truly changes lives,” wrote Jackie. It has been such a great gift to hunt again and the Midwest Outdoors Unlimited is such a great resource for those who need those extra accommodations to do what so many others take for granted.”
Ron said when he was emailed a photo of the deer Jackie shot he thought, “Mission complete.”
“She got the deer she was dreaming of,” said Ron.
Jackie feels a person is limited only if their limitations take control. As her body has become exhausted so has she, but that hasn’t stopped her ambition and drive to get out doing what she loves most and she is forever grateful to everyone who helped make her dreams come true.
“My limitations have not stopped me this time! I may have been sick with pneumonia and fresh out of the hospital but that didn’t stop me from making what will be one of the best memories of my life,” wrote Jackie. “
Her progress from her initial surgery back in September has been huge, despite the difficult course. She continues to spend most of her days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester since being discharged from the hospital. She will be undergoing another smaller surgical procedure in the next week or two to hopefully help her gain the ability to eat real food. She is currently on tube feeds and will be for quite some time, “but at least that part is finally going okay,” she wrote.
“My lungs have proven to us that they are still weak so I continue to work with Pulmonary Rehab to hopefully restore some of my function that I have lost since September,” she wrote.
Jackie continues to remain close with her faith” to help me see the light at the end.”
“It’s hard to overcome such big mountains and just when you think it’s a nice flat valley to walk, I see more mountains ahead,” she said. “Honestly though, I have not been left stranded on any of those climbs, so I will continue to walk and follow on this path of unknowns because one thing that I do know from my journey so far is that I still continue to fight this and right alongside me is God.”
This hunt has played a vital role in her continued unknown medical journey that lies ahead.
“This experience will be cherished forever, and will be something I can look back on when I need that extra boost of encouragement to get me through, because anything you set your mind to is possible,” wrote Jackie. “Too often in the last four years I have been reminded of my limitations. This hunt helped me forget about all those and fulfilled my dreams of being able to hunt again.”
Our mission is to provide outdoor recreational activities for Disabled American Veterans, disabled individuals and disabled youth in Minnesota. Because of their disabilities, the individuals and groups that we help don’t have enough funds, volunteers or help to do these things. Often times these handicapped people, who are family, friends and neighbors, do not have the opportunity to do many of the activities that others enjoy. Our goal is to help them to enjoy these actives that people who don’t have disabilities enjoy and to improve their quality of life, to help them feel they are not forgotten. Be it lack of funds or volunteers or the handicap accessible places to enjoy the outdoor recreation that others do.
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