Fifty-one years ago, Leon Reginatto was honorably serving his country in Vietnam. This past Veterans Day the Nevada Outfitters and Guides Association (NOGA) honored Leon for his service and sacrifice with a weeklong professionally guided elk hunt.
Leon was wounded on Thanksgiving Day in 1967, just three months into his tour of duty. He was medevaced to a hospital in Japan and eventually sent to Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco where he spent five months recovering from his wounds.
His unit had been on patrol when they were attacked by North Vietnamese Regulars. Intelligence had been tipped off that the well trained, well armed, and well equipped Regulars were on their way and looking for a fight. They had been storing up weapons and were preparing for the TET Offensive. Leon’s unit was told to go find them. They did, and their unit was hit hard. Several of his fellow soldiers did not survive the attack.
Leon was driving that day and their armored personal carrier was hit with an RPG from the passenger side of the vehicle. The motor absorbed some of the blow, but Leon was hit in the right shoulder, back and head. He lost his collar bone and scapula, but the doctors were able to repair the shoulder well enough so that he has good use of his arm.
He was awarded a Purple Heart in April of 1968 and received a medical discharge the following July.
Leon first came to Nevada in the ‘60s deer hunting with his father. Having grown up in the Santa Barbara area, Nevada had always appealed to him. After retiring from a career as a heavy equipment operator he made a trip through the Silver State looking for property. He traveled through Fish Lake Valley and fell in love with the area and bought property in Dyer.
He has always loved the outdoors, whether clearing trails with his backcountry horsemanship group, hunting or just enjoying wild places. He has hunted all of his life, even taking a hunting trip to Zimbabwe. However, he has never had the chance to hunt elk. He did accompany his dad in 1961 to northeastern Nevada on an elk hunt, but that was as close as he came to elk hunting. When he saw an article a few years ago about NOGA’s Wounded Hero Elk Hunt, he was quite interested.
This is the seventh year that NOGA has sponsored a Purple Heart Veteran to an all expense paid, professionally guided hunt. Several years ago, Dwight Lindquist and Rachel Buzzetti brainstormed a way to give back to our wounded veterans; so began the Wounded Hero Project. Numerous sponsors jumped on board to show their appreciation also.
The Winecup Gamble Ranch, a sprawling, million-acre working cattle ranch, generously donates a landowner tag to the hunt each year, as well as the lodging in their 4000 square foot “Big House.” Chef Eric Ettesvold cooks for the hunter and his guides. NOGA provides 2-3 guides each year. The guides rotate so that they all get the opportunity to donate their time and talents to help a veteran fulfill his dream of filling an elk tag.
GunWerks of Cody Wyoming customizes a 700mm Remington rifle, Vortex donates optics, Gun World & Archery donates various hunting items, Elko Federal Credit Union and the Elko County Commissioners donate to help with expenses, Wonrat Gear donated camo clothing, Blain Jackson donated a hunting pack, and Jon Hill donated his time and photography skills.
Leon was guided by returning guides Shane Evans and Dennis Rechel and accompanied by sub-guide and photographer Jon Hill. All three men have a lifetime of guiding in Nevada.
The week began on Saturday night with a fabulous dinner prepared by Chef Eric. After dinner Leon was officially recognized as this year’s Wounded Hero recipient and given some additional gear for the hunt. Ranch Manager James Rogers said a few words along with Elko County Commissioners Delmo Andreozzi, Cliff Eklund, and NOGA Secretary Rachel Buzzetti.
The first day of the hunt started off with sausage, biscuits and cinnamon rolls, perfect for any hunting camp. The sky was clear, and it was a brisk 16 degrees. The wind had calmed down quite a bit from the previous two days. We drove to an old burn and glassed a hilltop about 3½ miles away. Two bulls and some cows were bedded down. We hiked closer so that the guides could get a good look at the bulls. The wind was in our favor and we had a great vantage point.
We had been glassing about 10 minutes, and Shane and Dennis were making a plan to get closer, when a truck popped up over the hill right by the elk. The big bull left first, followed by 10 cows, a couple of calves and the smaller bull. Moving rapidly, they filed into a canyon. Not wanting to chase them we backed out.
It was late in the day, so we headed back to the lodge, hunting as we drove back. Chef Eric had a delicious stew prepared for dinner and a cobbler for dessert. Ranch Manager James Rogers joined everyone for dinner and we all relaxed and enjoyed good conversation over a great meal.
Day two of the hunt started out with a great stalk. We had driven about five miles from the lodge when two bulls were spotted out in the open in an old re-seeded area. They ran off a ways but we were able to get in front of them out of sight and begin a stalk. It was a crisp, clear 9-degree morning but nobody complained about the cold.
The bulls were walking directly toward Shane and Leon, topping a little rise as they came. At first only the tips of their antlers showed, then their magnificent head and neck followed. They stopped dead in their tracks, looked to their right then all around, then back to their right. They had spotted a truck at a water trough about three-quarters of a mile away. They took off and we never saw them again. They never did see us stalking in on them.
We then drove to a good vantage point where it seemed like we were on top of the world and could see forever under the clear blue skies. A perfect 360-degree view of the amazing Winecup Gamble Ranch. Shane spotted elk on an old burn a long way off. We drove up a canyon as far as we could drive, then hiked to just below the burn. Some of the elk began to move off. There was a good bull in the group and Leon tried to get on him but wasn’t able to get comfortable to make the shot, and then the bull left with the cows, not too bothered by us as they left slowly.
There had been another group of elk down the draw, so Dennis and Leon followed them. They snuck down the draw through the trees and into the burn. They spotted a big bull and a cow that were bedded down. The cow saw them and stood up, then the bull stood up. He began walking away, less that 100 yards from Dennis and Leon. The bull stopped behind a tree, not giving Leon a clean shot, then he moved forward and stopped right behind the cow. Then they both moved into the junipers and disappeared like ghosts. It’s amazing that an animal as big as an elk can disappear so quickly.
We hiked back to the trucks and ate a bite and talked about the three stalks of the day. We all agreed that if hunting were easy it wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable. We headed back to the lodge, hunting all the way, but didn’t see anything. Eric had another outstanding meal of beef fajitas waiting for us.
Days 3 and 4 didn’t produce any elk. The mornings started out at 2 and 5 degrees but warmed up quickly under clear blue skies. Shane and Dennis agreed that the warmer daytime temps had made the elk bed down quite early.
The fifth day of the hunt was the last day that Shane and Dennis could guide for Leon. They each had other guiding commitments that they had to fulfill. I had left the previous day to get back to my job. So a plan was made for Leon to go over to the Gamble side of the ranch and be guided by Walt Gardner and Henry Krenka.
Early on the morning of the fifth day Shane and Dennis spotted 10 bulls, five of which were good bulls. They were a long way off, but it was easy to drive closer to get into a good position to make a stalk. They got within 100 yards of the bulls when the wind shifted directions and blew the bulls out. So they called it a day and got Leon moved over to the Gamble side.
The sixth day of the hunt on the Gamble side didn’t produce much. They saw some bulls in the morning, but the wind prevented them from being able to get on them.
On Day 7 of the hunt Leon filled his tag. The weather had changed, bringing a light dusting of snow just before dawn. The sky was overcast, and the day was cool. Dwight Lindquist had spotted some bulls about three miles from his location. He was able to guide Leon, Walt and Henry to within 300 yards of the bedded bulls. All they could see was the head of one bull. Henry moved around trying to get a better position but he couldn’t find one, so they waited.
After what seemed like an eternity, which was actually only about and hour and a half, the bull got up. Leon took his shot, shooting off of the guides’ packs for a steady rest. The bull went up over a little hill and Leon put a second shot into him. They tagged his bull, took some pictures and then began the work of quartering him.
The day was getting late, so they secured the meat and decided to come back in the morning with the side by side to retrieve the bull. After a week of hunting Leon was both exhausted and thrilled. He had harvested a Nevada bull!
On Monday they took the meat to A & B Butchershop to be cut and wrapped, and the head to Gary Powell of North Slope Taxidermy. Gary, a world-class taxidermist, has donated his time and talents on all seven of the Wounded Hero hunts. He said it’s a nice way to give back to our veterans and he is happy to do it.
None of this could happen without the generous donations of all of the sponsors. As more and more hunting and fishing programs for veterans are being implemented throughout the United States, it’s nice to know that right here in Nevada we have one of the best.
Giving back to one of our Vietnam Veterans this year was a very rewarding experience for everyone involved. Donations are always welcome and always used to honor our Wounded Heroes.
Donations can be sent to Nevada Outfitters & Guide Association, PO Box 28-1251, Lamoille, Nevada 89828.