CAMP RIPLEY — The memento, albeit a small one, was something Bill Wroolie could hold onto.
Four years later, without even a feather to show for his efforts, Wroolie held this day close. Much like he did here in 2008.
By 1 p.m. Wednesday in the eighth annual Physically Disabled Veteran Turkey Hunt at Camp Ripley, Wroolie was still without a bird. The last time he hunted the event, in 2008, he shot a turkey in his first-ever turkey hunt. But the nice-sized tom — minus a few feathers — got away.
It was, quite literally, a feather in Wroolie’s cap. That’s where he displayed it, pulling the single feather out from time to time and showing it off as he told the story about the one that got away.
“My expectations were that if I see a turkey, I’d be good to go,” Wroolie said over lunch at the Ripley mess hall in 2008.
So 2012 was big for the highly decorated Vietnam War vet from Brainerd.
Wednesday in the eighth annual hunt, Wroolie and his volunteer guide — Todd Fairbanks, a regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation — counted 16 turkeys near their blind in the far-reaches of Ripley and another dozen or so as the two made the 32-mile round-trip trek from the blind to the mess hall and back for lunch. But they couldn’t coax the birds within shooting range from the blind.
“They were gobbling non-stop,” said Wroolie, who was up at 3:30 a.m. and in the blind at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday.
“I don’t care if I get a bird or not,” added Wroolie, 64, a Purple Heart recipient who lost his right arm in Vietnam. “It’s just the idea of being out there. It’s a great program. I enjoyed the morning immensely.”
The event drew 38 veterans with physical disabilities from around the state, and vets from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan were represented. Legendary Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, a World War II veteran who participated in the annual Physically Disabled Veterans Deer Hunt for the first time last year, was at Ripley for his first Physically Disabled Veterans Turkey Hunt on Wednesday. He was one of a whopping 28 hunters participating for the first time.
All of the eight birds bagged as of 5 p.m. Wednesday were by newcomers. That list didn’t include Grant. But as he did at the deer hunt, he made an impression on his fellow hunters and veterans at this year’s turkey hunt.
“He thanked everyone for their service,” Wroolie said, referring to a short speech Grant made Tuesday night at the pre-hunt banquet.
An avid hunter and supporter of his fellow veterans, Grant has been outspoken on the need for a new stadium for the Vikings. The stadium issue has been the buzz around the state throughout this legislative session, and it was no different at Tuesday’s banquet.
“There were a lot of stadium questions,” said Dennis Erie, event coordinator for the hunt. “He (Grant) said that if the stadium doesn’t go through, he wouldn’t want to be the governor of the state.”
Said Fairbanks: “He (Grant) made a statement that, by Friday, it (a new stadium) would be a done deal.”
The turkey hunt continues through Thursday, and Wroolie and Fairbanks seemed intent on hunting until they got a turkey. At lunch Wednesday, Wroolie appeared anxious to get back to the blind. Or maybe it was just a matter of getting back outside to enjoy the sunny, 65-degree day.
“It’s a beautiful day. It’s just nice to be out,” he said. “I don’t even care if I get one.”