By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Splendor Ridge Elk Farm in rural Howard Lake made the dreams of a Vietnam Veteran from Grand Rapids come true when it donated a four-year-old trophy bull elk for him to harvest at Tony’s Trophy Elk Hunt Ranch near Baudette.
“We had a good year on the farm this year, and felt like it was the right time to give back in some way,” said Brenda Hartkopf, who owns Splendor Ridge Elk Farm with her husband, Lance. “We chose a disabled veteran because this was something we could do for someone who gave so much for our country.”
This was the sixth year Minnesota Elk Breeders Association (MnEBA) has sponsored a charitable elk hunt, and each year new people step up to help make it a success, Hartkopf said.
David Valtinson, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Grand Rapids, was the recipient of this year’s charitable elk hunt.
Valtinson served in the US Army in Vietnam in 1967-68, and was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he received during rocket attacks on his firebase.
“Not only did David serve his country admirably, he continues to serve by volunteering much time and effort to several veteran organizations,” Hartkopf said.
For instance, he is the past commander of the Disabled Veterans of Minnesota.
After returning home from Vietnam, Valtinson worked in Salt Lake City, UT as an ironworker, which is where his dream of hunting a giant bull elk began.
“I could buy a license when I was in Utah, but never got the chance to go,” Valtinson said. “It’s always been on my list of things to do.”
He returned to Minnesota in 1986, without fulfilling his dream of hunting a trophy elk, to work for the US Postal Service. He retired in October 2010.
Valtinson thought his chance to hunt a bull elk had passed him by because he walks with a cane due to neuropathy in his legs and feet. He also has diabetes and other health issues related to exposure to Agent Orange.
However, this charitable hunt allowed him the opportunity to do something he had dreamed about for 40 years.
“To fulfill the dream of someone so deserving is a very fulfilling experience,” Hartkopf said.
The hunt took place in a more than 900-acre, mostly wooded and lowland pen at Tony’s Trophy Elk Hunt Ranch.
Although the hunt takes place in a controlled environment with a guide, farm-raised elk typically have the same natural instincts as elk in the wild, Hartkopf said.
The elk is placed in the area he will be harvested at least one week before the hunt takes place. By their nature, elk make the hunt challenging, Hartkopf noted.
“He pretty much blended in with his surroundings, and when they found him, the guide was the one who saw him first,” Hartkopf said. “The hunter didn’t know if he would have seen him otherwise.”
The guide noticed rub marks on some trees before the hunting party spotted the bull elk. “We didn’t have much to see, just some horns sticking up out of the brush,” Valtinson said.
The group maneuvered downwind to get a little closer, at which time Valtinson wasted little time taking the bull down.
“It was exciting,” Valtinson said. “It was something; the adrenaline was really pumping there for a couple of minutes. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
The total cost of the hunting trip, including mounting and processing, guide service, lodging, and buying the elk, would have been about $7,000.
Tony Beckel of Tony’s Trophy Elk Hunt Ranch has donated his guide service and ranch for the hunt each of the six years MnEBA has sponsored it.
This is the fourth year the Lake Superior Chapter of the Safari Club International has taken an active role in the hunt, providing the mounting and processing of the harvested elk.
While it continues to offer terminal youth hunts on a yearly basis, it is expanding its projects to US Veterans, as well.
Ron Welle of Midwest Outdoors Unlimited selected and organized the hunt, and Leroy Weiner recorded the hunt.
Bob Christianson of Little Crow Marine in Spicer paid for Valtinson’s lodging for the hunt.
The Hartkopfs are chartered members of MnEBA, which will be celebrating 20 years in 2013, and Brenda has been the executive secretary for 15 years. This is the first time they have donated an elk for the charitable hunt.