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Jeff Walters, Scott Walters, Michael Gilson and Steve Walters pose with the black bear Gilson shot while hunting with the Walters and their hounds in September in Marinette County.
Jeff Walters, Scott Walters, Michael Gilson and Steve Walters pose with the black bear Gilson shot while hunting with the Walters and their hounds in September in Marinette County. / Submitted
Brody Hellendrung and Travis Ebner of Cameron pose with a 10-point buck Hellendrung shot Jan. 12 at the Apple Creek Whitetail Ranch near Gillett. / Submitted
Michael Gilson, Casco, poses with the black bear he shot in Marinette County in September. / Submitted

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Hunters tend to view other hunters as competitors for game they pursue.

When crossing paths, their greetings range from cordial to profane, but they mostly stay neutral through guarded words and harmless deeds.

More on hunting: Hunting headlines | Browse big buck photos | Watch Deer Camp Live | More hunting photos | Registration station map

But what if a fellow hunter truly needs help? Well, that’s different. You won’t find a more caring and generous group of people than those wearing camo and orange.

Two people who know this firsthand are Brody Hellendrung, 12, of Cameron, and Michael Gilson, 51, of Casco. Thanks to help from hunting friends, family and neighbors, Hellendrung and Gilson realized their hunting dreams during the 2013-14 hunting season.

Hellendrung, who was diagnosed in September with a rare cancer called desmoplastic small round cell tumors (DSRCT), shot a trophy buck Jan. 12 at the Apple Creek Whitetail Ranch west of Gillett with help from two hometown teachers. Gilson, who has cerebral palsy, shot a black bear Sept. 17 in Marinette County with help from neighbors by his family’s cottage near Dunbar.

“I’m always amazed how far people will go to help someone else,” said Green Bay’s Earl McGregor, Gilson’s longtime friend who also owns a cottage near Dunbar. “Mike finally drew a bear tag last fall after applying for 10 years. When word got around, everyone pitched in to help him get his bear.”

Gilson and Hellendrung don’t know each other, nor do the men who helped them hunt. Their only connection is that their friends recently shared their stories with me about the same time.

I’ll share Hellendrung’s story first. Until September, Brody Hellendrung was just another seventh-grader entering Cameron Middle School. He wasn’t feeling well, however, so his mother, Jill Hellendrung, sought help. Doctors diagnosed him with DSRCT, which led to nine rounds of chemotherapy. He will soon spend about 10 weeks in Houston with a specialist to remove the tumors.

Two of his teachers, Jeff Ladd and Travis Ebner, hoped to take him deer hunting in November, but the chemo treatments left him too weak to leave home. In late December, after checking on his health, Ebner arranged a Jan. 12 hunt donated by the Apple Creek Whitetail Ranch.

Joining Hellendrung was his stepfather, Kenny Misselt, and Ladd and Ebner, who often contribute video-recorded hunts to “Campfire Stories” on cable TV’s Pursuit Channel. After making the 31/2-hour drive from Cameron to the ranch north of Shawano, the four hunted from an elevated blind with the ranch’s guide. Hellendrung used a .270 rifle with reduced-recoil ammo, and Ladd and Ebner brought video cameras to record the hunt for TV.

The ranch’s 800-acre hunting enclosure looks like most other wooded property in Oconto County, except it’s surrounded by a high game-proof fence. Deer inside the enclosure are born on the property and owned by the ranch. The landowner, not the state, determines when to allow hunting.

“It’s a pretty darned realistic hunt,” Ebner said. “The buck Brody shot kept skirting us when it came in to eat late in the day. It knew something was up.”

The 10-point buck wasn’t the boy’s first deer, however. He shot a nubbin buck in 2012.

“When I went back to school awhile back, Mr. Ebner told me they were going to take me deer hunting (at the ranch),” he said. “I was so shocked and happy that I started crying. After I got my buck, I helped them drag it because I felt so good. Earlier last fall, I didn’t have much stamina, and I lost a lot of muscle mass.”

Gilson’s hunt was much longer in planning. Because demand outstrips supply for Northwoods bear-kill licenses, Gilson knew he would need about a decade to draw a tag. When Gilson’s number finally came up last year, McGregor asked his neighbors in Dunbar — brothers Jeff and Steve (Griz) Walters, and Steve’s son Scotty — if they’d consider taking Gilson hunting. The Walters, who own bear hounds, not only invited Gilson to hunt, but they also brought him along during summer training sessions.

“One thing we like about hound hunting is that once you tree a bear, you can look it over to make sure you want it,” McGregor said. “We only shoot male bears. Unfortunately for me, I had to go home the fourth day of the hunt. That’s when Michael got his bear.”

Because Gilson can’t walk far, even with crutches, the Walters had to carry him, his rifle and his shooting chair 250 yards through the forest after treeing a bear Sept. 17. One held Gilson under his arms while another held his legs. “They carried him like a big sack of potatoes,” McGregor said. “They had to carry him across a swamp, too. They didn’t get wet, but it was a lot of work.”

Once they helped set up Gilson to shoot, he killed the bear cleanly with his .30-06. Then the Walters carried Gilson back to the truck and dragged his bear out, too.

“Mike was ecstatic,” McGregor said. “He likes to deer hunt, too, but the smile he had on his face that day, you can’t imagine it. He still bubbles when he talks about it. It’s exhilarating to be part of something like this. That’s what you’re after when you go hunting. Memories like those last a lifetime.”

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for Press-Gazette Media. Email him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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