Curt Mrotek and Mark Hill
Curt's Hometown: Racine, Minn.
Mark's Hometown: Stewartville, Minn.
Miracle Lodge, home of several Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF hunts
NWTF Chapter Affiliation: Deer Creek Long Spurs, Stewartville, Minn.
Curt's Family: Curt says he has three wonderful women in his family— his better half, Tamra, and two daughters, Mariah, 14, and Tehya, 13. They are all active in the NWTF.
Mark's Family: Mark has been married to his wife, Barb, for 26 years. They have one son, Matt, who has won both state and local NWTF scholarships for his academic achievement.
NWTF: How was turkey season for you guys this spring?
CM: My spring turkey hunt was very rewarding. I ended up guiding 5 hunters as well as helping coordinate Wheelin' Sportsmen hunts for 19 hunters.
MH: It was a good season for me, too. It's always rewarding to help get people out in the turkey woods, especially those from our Wheelin' Sportsmen program.
NWTF: How did you get involved with the Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF program?
CM: Bob Bardwell, operator of Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch and the Miracle Lodge, contacted our Regional Director, Eric Linder, who in turn contacted our chapter. The ranch caters to people with disabilities, and we worked with them to help start the hunt in the spring of 2008.
We've now had three different hunts there. Mark and I teamed up for the 2009 hunt. Mark's dedication to contacting landowners and getting permission to hunt property surrounding the ranch was vital to the success of our hunters.
MH: It's not just us— credit goes to a long list of guides, helpers, landowners, staff at Ironwood Springs and NWTF members that made these hunts possible.
Speaking of dedication, I'd like to share the story of one of our hunt guides, Vietnam veteran and hard-core turkey hunter Gary Clancy. Gary was undergoing chemotherapy and had surgeries on the Wednesday AND Friday prior to the hunt, but was so intent on not missing out that he summoned the strength to be in the blind on Saturday morning!
NWTF: That's incredible. So how did the hunt turn out for Gary and the hunter he was guiding?
CM: This year, between two hunts, we had 7 out of 19 hunters get a bird, and we had terrible weather, so the odds were not looking too good that day for Gary and his new friend, Colt.
With the majority of people back from the hunt and milling about, we decided to get a group photo. Gary and Colt were the only ones still out in the woods. Just as we were ready to snap the photo, a boom rang out in the distance from the direction of Gary and Colt's blind.
MH: A roar went up from the crowd, as we all knew who it was, and soon Gary and Colt returned with their gobbler. I was so impressed with Gary's dedication to making his new friend's hunt a success. Colt told me it was the most incredible hunt he has ever been on. Gary also took the time to film it, so we watched it back at the lodge to experience the moment for ourselves.
NWTF: Wow, what a great story! What's it like to get to hunt with members of the Wounded Warrior program?
CM: It was an honor to be able to hunt with our servicemen and women and meet their families.
MH: It's great to be able to show them how much we appreciate their service to our country.
NWTF: Mark, since you spend a lot of time working with landowners to gain access for Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF hunts, what are some tips that you can offer to others?
MH: When I'm talking to a landowner, I really emphasize the fact that it's for Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF, and that many of the program's members are disabled veterans. I didn't have a single landowner turn me down this year.
People are very open once they find out that people with disabilities, especially veterans, will be involved with the hunt. I've even had landowners approach me about hosting a hunt. I recommend that people be upfront with landowners and tell them that the Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF program helps provide opportunities to people that probably wouldn't otherwise get the chance to hunt. In fact, the only landowners that ever turned me down only did so because they already had hunters booked on that land.
NWTF: Why should someone join the NWTF, guys? What's in it for them?
MH: This organization supports all the right things, like getting kids involved in the outdoors, improving wildlife habitat, standing up for our hunting rights, etc. The NWTF also puts so many dollars back into youth programs. In my opinion, if an organization doesn't represent youth, it's a lost organization, but the NWTF makes kids a priority.
CM: What drives me as an NWTF member and volunteer is the sense of accomplishment that I get from helping. I love seeing how I can positively affect peoples' lives. By joining the NWTF, I can't count the number of lifelong friends I have made.
I've seen firsthand how the dollars are spent. Most of it goes right back to local communities via Hunting Heritage banquets, the Turkey Hunters Care program, supporting outreach programs, etc. They supply scholarships to high school students and donate to 4-H shooting sports. Those are all great reasons to be a NWTF member!