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Participants in a Veterans Day Waterfowl for Warriors hunt return to the Anoka Nature Preserve picnic shelter for lunch.

A group of volunteers found a unique way to say thank you to current and former service members on Veterans Day: taking them hunting in the Anoka Nature Preserve.

For nine years the Waterfowl for Warriors program in Anoka has organized hunting excursions on the city-owned property, which includes more than 200 acres of oak savanna, meadows, grassland and wetlands protected by a conservation easement.

The Veterans Day hunt was the fourth and final outing of the year, and neither rain nor cold could deter the hunters, who started around 6:30 a.m. and returned to the picnic shelter after a few hours with a collection of mallards and Canada geese and enjoyed a free lunch hot off the grill.

“This kind of hunting is so pleasant,” said Denny Skildum, of St. Paul, who returned for his third year with the hunt. He and his brother have hunted together since they were young. They don’t have a lot of opportunities to do that nowadays, but they enjoy the convenience and camaraderie of a morning hunt in the metro.

The hunters benefited from the experience of Jake Dellwo, of Ham Lake, who owns Flight Stoppers Guide Service and has volunteered with the program for a few years.

“I thought it was just something super cool and a way to give back, to say thanks for what they did for us,” Dellwo said.

Three of the original minds behind the program were also at the hunt: Scott Wahl, George Walker and Anoka Council Member Jeff Weaver.

“We started with our own gear, providing everything,” Wahl said of the hunt’s early years.

Now the hunt uses equipment the city purchased with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to support the city’s youth hunting program, which serves children and grandchildren of veterans.

Walker, who is an Anoka police officer and former Marine, said the hunt is a way of “supporting the veteran community” and showing gratitude.

And it’s a community effort.

“Everything we run off is donations,” Walker said.

The hunt is sponsored by big names, such as Federal Ammunition and Polaris, as well as small local organizations, such as the Anoka American Legion.

In addition to equipment, the city of Anoka provides staff time to help with the administrative side of the hunt and maintenance of a permanent blind near the water.

Anoka Public Services Administrator Lisa LaCasse said each hunt typically has about 14-16 veterans participate and requires eight to 12 volunteers. In addition to providing transportation to and from the blinds, volunteers are stationed around the area to let other nature preserve users know what’s going on, because the preserve remains open to the public. Other volunteers make sure lunch is ready when the hunters return.

But finding volunteers for the hunts isn’t difficult.

“People want to be a part of it,” LaCasse said. “I think that’s one of the really cool things about this program.”

Jon Holmes, Anoka’s public services supervisor, who also helps facilitate the hunts, said the veterans also enjoy it.

“They come from all over the state, and we’ve even had some from Wisconsin,” he said.

“I just hope it continues,” Holmes added. “It’s good for the city, it’s good for the vets, and it’s just an amazing thing we do.”

Learn more about the program at tinyurl.com/a37f4nzz.

 

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