HELP FROM ABOVE
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
With the sound of distant gunfire jarring the morning stillness, elk hunter Tony Struck of La Grande stood waiting in a clearing in the Ladd Canyon area, rifle in hand.
A gentle, swirling breeze encircled Struck, making it difficult for him to detect elk scent. Suddenly Mother Nature stopped and took gentle aim at him. The wind began blowing right at him, carrying the unmistakable smell of an approaching elk.
Perhaps, but Struck has many reasons to believe it was not. There were too many other favorable coincidences on the morning of Oct. 29 during a hunt in which Struck took the first bull elk of his life.
Struck believes that his late father, Harland Struck, was watching over him that day.
It is both a logical and a sentimental assumption.
Struck was using his father's elk tag. The tag, which allowed him to take any elk in the Starkey Unit, was coveted by his father. Harland had put in for it for seven years. He did not draw it until June of this year, five months before he died on Oct. 5 at age 66 following a long battle with cancer.
Tony received permission from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to use the tag after his father died. The ODFW allows hunting tags to be passed on to a family member in the event of a death.
Tony understood how much his father had coveted the tag. He did many things to honor his dad during the hunt. The list starts with the vehicle he drove. Tony took his dad's 1977 Plymouth Trail Duster on the hunt. Harland Struck, known to his friends as HL, used the pickup only for hunting trips.
Tony was accompanied by his father's longtime hunting partner Ron Holtz of Rockaway Beach. They went to a hunting cabin in Ladd Canyon which Harland had used for years.
On Oct. 29, the first day of elk season, Struck and Holtz got up at daylight and went to an area where Harland had often hunted. Struck, who had a global positioning system with him, walked only .19 miles from the cabin on a trail his dad often used. A short time after the wind direction changed a six-point bull appeared.
Tony believes that the bull was seeking forest cover because it had been shot at earlier by hunters about a quarter mile away.
Tony fired once from about 30 feet but the elk did not appear to be hit. He fired a second time and the elk dropped immediately.
Tony wonders if the reason the first shot may have missed is because he was not using his father's rifle.
"I think he wanted me to use his rifle. He bragged about how good it was,'' Tony Struck said. "He said he could hit anything with it.''
Struck took his elk at about 7 a.m. By 9 a.m. he and Holtz were back at their cabin. Tony cannot believe how easy the hunt was.
"I would like to say that I really worked hard but I didn't,'' Struck said.
Holtz left for home the next day even though he had a tag he had not filled.
"He said, HL would be proud. I'm done, I don't need to hunt anymore,' '' Struck said.
Tony Struck feels indebted to Holtz for the help he received.
"Ron came out of respect for Dad and his wishes. He really wanted me to have a good trip,'' Struck said.
HL feared that he would not live until the hunt started. He checked to see if his tag could be passed on to his son Tony.
HL served in the U.S. Navy and Army and was a veteran of both the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. He was proud to show his patriotism.
"Whenever we went to the cabin the very first thing he'd do was put up his American flag outside,'' Tony Struck said.
HL's death in October surprised many people since he rarely acknowledged his illness and put on a strong front.
"He never accepted the fact that he would die. People who knew him said that they didn't know he was sick,'' Struck said.
Everyone, though, knew of HL's love of hunting. This passion is why his son is so certain that his father helped him.
"He was looking down on me. There were too many coincidences,'' Struck said. "It was like a guardian angel was helping me.''