?It?s just a lot of fun and relaxation,? added Ron Hoffman, a fellow Newtonian who missed the inaugural hunt?but has been a regular ever since.
This year?s event, sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Depart?ment of Wildlife and Parks and the Marion County Lake Associ?a?tion, is spread over three weekends with the base camp set up at French Creek Cove.
The event coincides with the muzzleloading deer season in Kansas and officially began when the hunters arrived Friday evening, Sept. 9.
Evening hunts are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each weekend, and morning hunts on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For the past seven years, Warren Kreutziger of the MCLA has led a guided catfish trip as part of the event.
The first of 10 hunts begin the initial Saturday morning. The hunters draw lots prior to each hunt for the 11 blinds that had been erected in the refuge area near the cove. The hunters are transported by all-terrain vehicles to the locations, equipped with police radios and a volunteer assistant if desired.
?If we have a health problems, or need help bringing in a deer, we can call them,? Brown said.
Hunter John Norton of Wichita poses with deer he harvested during the first weekend of the hunt. Courtesy photo
Between hunts, participants are well fed by volunteers with the MCLA.
?We eat like pigs,? Brown said with a smile. ?That?s the great part of this whole thing.?
Behind the scenes is an enormous preparation effort with some 40 people involved?most as volunteers and some lake employees.
Directing that army are Neal Whitaker with the Corps office at the reservoir, and Marvin Peterson, local KDWP officer.
?Most of the volunteers have been helping out for a long, long time,? said Whitaker, who estimates he invests about 100 hours of his time in the event. ?With?out their help, we couldn?t get it done.?
Exemplifying the level of commitment, Whitaker said, are Marcia and Garry Vogel of Marion.
?For the past five years, Marcia Vogel has been in charge of the food,? he said. ?We try to give the guys some doughnuts and coffee before they go out in the morning, and then she always has a hot breakfast waiting for them when they get back from the morning hunt?which actually suffices for a lunch as well. Then she makes sure there?s a supper for the evening hunt. She?s a big part of it.?
Husband Garry, who been a butcher during his working career, fills a similar niche with the hunt.
?He has done the field dressing of the deer that have come in,? Whitaker said. ?He?s done such a good job that everybody else is essentially embarrassed to try it.
?Really, he?s provided professional-level butchering there.?
The Vogels feel they are well rewarded for their efforts.
?It?s the people,? Marcia said about their reason for coming back each year. ?The same hunters have been a part of it year after year?it?s almost like a family reunion. We look forward to it.?
Cook and field-dresser are only two of the myriad roles filled by volunteers. The biggest contribution they make may be unofficial, but it?s certainly not unnoticed by the hunters.
?There?s such good camaraderie,? Hoffman said. ?We look forward to that as much or more than actually harvesting a deer.?
Whitaker said the harvest ranges from a low of two deer one year to as many as a half dozen.
?We?ve never been skunked,? Whitaker said.
He added that he?d like to see the event grow a little bigger, maybe to 10 hunters a year. But not more than that.
?Because it?s a black powder hunt and it?s early in the season, it?s not a sure thing these guys are going to get a deer every time they go out,? Whitaker said. ?Over the course of the season, we have 10 hunts scheduled, so it gives them more of a chance to get a deer.
?If we had so many hunters that we had to use a lottery and they only get to hunt once or twice, I think the chances of them actually getting a deer would be slim. It might be kind of discouraging.?
Brown and Hoffman say they have tried to recruit friends and acquaintances who could benefit from the experience?with mixed success.
?It?s awfully easy to sit back and feel sorry for yourself?and you can?t always pull them out of that,? Brown said about people who endure disabilities. He lost his ability to walk some four decades ago when he fell at his grain business and broke his back.
?Once you get out of that and say, ?I can do it,? then you start living life again and the handicap is no longer as big as it was,? he added. ?We just can?t get some guys to come who ought to be coming.?
In addition to the recreational pleasure that comes through hunting and fishing, the event builds strong bonds between the hunters.
?You make new friends,? Brown said. ?You?re with people who understand your problem. The other guy has his problems, and there?s kind of a camaraderie there. Everyone has a handicap and we?re working around it.?
Added Hoffman, who lost his ability to walk through a car accident: ?Sometimes you feel discouraged or frustrated at where you?re at. But it doesn?t take two minutes to look around and see someone who?s dealing with a more severe disability. You become thankful for what you have and make the best of it.?
It?s those kind of payoffs, Whitaker said, that make all the effort worthwhile.
?It?s the hunters, without a doubt,? he said about his motivation. ?We have a core group of seven hunters that have hunted for a very long time.?