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Utah family who lost a son gives other vets the hunt of a lifetime

Published November 16, 2012 8:32 am

Vernal hunt • 'They've taken me and my brother in like we're their own,' says injured veteran who pursued deer, elk.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Vernal • The four hunters with Ace Redhair all agree: It's a beautiful buck.

He has heft and four points on each side of his dark-chocolate rack, which is not really wide, but a respectable 27 inches.

For nearly a minute, all are silent, holding their breath, waiting for Ace to pull the trigger on this buck 230 yards away. Ace learned in the Army how to take the perfect shot and he's using the technique now.

When he finally breaks the tension, though, it's not with a shot but a joke.

Ace has decided to wait for Shannon Karren, a sponsor of this trophy hunt, who is in another pickup truck nearby on Diamond Mountain, 30 miles northeast of Vernal.

Hours later, in the dark back at camp, Ace has no regrets that he passed up the buck; Karren thought he could do better in the five days left of this nine-day hunt.

"They want us to get a $10,000 deer," says Ace as he and his brother, Joey Redhair, talk about the monster bucks they let live this evening.

"Everybody keeps telling us, 'They're going to get bigger' and they have," says Joey. "Every day we've gone out, they've gotten bigger and bigger and bigger."

But what the dozen or so Vernal residents who are hosting these wounded veterans may not know, is that it's enough just for them to be here, in these mountains, for this week.

'It's for them' • The idea for this hunt and others like it came to David Gurr last spring, not long after he and his family returned from Okinawa, where Marines had a memorial service for his son, Sgt. Daniel Gurr. A Force Reconnaissance Marine, the 21-year-old was struck by small-arms fire and died Aug. 5, 2011, in Afghanistan.

Daniel had two passions — soccer and hunting — and his father and stepmother, Dana Gurr, figured the best way to honor him was to create a foundation with a twofold mission: sending care packages to those still fighting and taking wounded veterans on big-game hunts.

A flag that flew for Daniel in Afghanistan was auctioned off at last winter's Hunt Expo in Salt Lake City, providing seed money for the Sgt. Daniel D. Gurr Foundation.

Leland Slaughter, who provides survivor outreach for military members from all branches, says many survivors in Utah create foundations or scholarships. The Gurr foundation is the first, however, to take wounded veterans hunting, says Slaughter, a hunter himself who has come to visit.

"A common thread is they don't want their son to be forgotten," says Slaughter.

Daniel Gurr is the only Uinta Basin resident who has died to date in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Just as residents and the business community rallied around the Gurrs, his siblings and Daniel's mother, Tracy Beede, when he died — lining the streets when his body was returned home and during his funeral procession — they are supporting the foundation now.

Karren, owner of Dan's Tire Service in Vernal, bought one of the landowner tags, a special hunt that helped pushed this week's tag costs to about $10,000. Each vet had tags for a cow elk and a trophy buck.

Basin Sports donated clothing and C&S Meat in Roosevelt is butchering the two cow elk the Redhairs shot last weekend. Taxidermist Randy Massey has agreed to mount their bucks at cost and B & D RV Center donated the use of two camp trailers.

"Vernal and Roosevelt are very patriotic," says David Gurr.

It's as if the Basin-sized hug continues.

"It's not for us now, it's for them," says Gurr, gesturing to the two wounded veterans.

'Like we're their own ' • Joey, 27, lives in Eagle Mountain with his wife and two children, and is a bit overwhelmed by the gift he's been given.

He was an Army combat engineer who did six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before an improvised explosive device ended his last tour in 2010.

He had two surgeries to his right leg and spent nearly two years in rehab at Fort Drum, N.Y. For six months he was in a wheelchair, and doctors were dubious he would ever walk again. Even now, they warn he may lose his leg because of a condition that is leaving holes in his bones.

He was finally discharged last March.

Joey heard about the Gurr Foundation and its big-game hunts from a wounded warrior representative, and he and his brother applied online even though neither had ever hunted big game like this. When he and Ace arrived Oct. 26, the Gurrs had rented a camp trailer for each. They gave them hunting clothes and quilts, and Dana Gurr lined up friends and family to cook meals for the whole camp.

One walled tent holds the food; a second has a wood stove, chairs and a television connected to a satellite dish so they did not have to miss a Denver Broncos game. American flags catch the breeze outside the tents and at the entrance of the camp, flanking a foundation banner with Daniel Gurr's picture.

Every day, the veterans go out in trucks with different hunters, the Gurrs or their friends who know these mountains and the boundaries between public land and the few private ranches where they've been given permission to hunt.

"This has been amazing," says Joey Redhair, who is using the .30-06 Remington rifle his father left him when he died last January. "I almost feel guilty for getting to do this."

"They've taken me and my brother in like we're their own."

'These guys genuinely care' • Ace Redhair, 31, is more guarded about his time in the Army working in ordnance disposal. His wounds are not so obvious, though he was medically discharged, like his brother. "It's a lot of different things," he says.

Ace, who has been out of the Army for two years, is married, has three boys and lives in Salt Lake City. He is passionate about guns and builds military-style assault weapons, some of which he displays to the men who have come to help with the hunt.

He intends to auction off two of them at the Hunt Expo in February to raise money for the Gurr foundation. "I'll be shocked if it doesn't bring $10,000," he says of one of the guns.

The week in the mountains of eastern Utah, he says, has been one of the best experiences he's had since leaving the Army.

"Out of all the therapy we've gone through," Ace says, "this is the most therapeutic thing we've done."

The evening after he passed up the buck with dark horns, Ace goes back and bags the buck. He has a trophy now, but it's the people he'll remember.

"These guys genuinely care about our well-being," Ace says. "We've made friendships that will last a lifetime. That kind of stuff you can't replace."

kmoulton@sltrib.com