Ranch owner opens lands to disabled veterans
By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
Rock Creek resident David Lee says he's been blessed in this life.
The Florida native made his money there in commercial fishing and real estate, enough so that he could retire a couple of years ago at age 52 and move to Montana, where he'd come during summers to fly-fish for the past 30 years.
Enough so that he could purchase a 30,000-acre ranch in eastern Montana a few weeks ago that Lee says offers some of the finest elk hunting in the state.
Now, Lee wants to give back to the men and women who have gone to war for their country.
He's offering disabled veterans the opportunity to hunt the ranch during archery season.
“My wife and I were over at the River City Grill and I was reading the newspaper about one of the guys locally who had fallen in Iraq,” Lee says. “Whether you agree with this war or not, these guys have put it all on the line for us, and you've got to feel for that. I figured somebody ought to do something for them.”
The purchase of the 73 Ranch outside Mosby gave Lee a way.
The ranch borders 10 miles of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Four miles of the Musselshell River flow through it.
“It's basically one of the best elk habitats in the state,” Lee says. “The Indians used to come here to hunt. The elk migrate to the river to breed, and they come from hundreds of miles around.”
To Lee, it seemed perfect: Disabled veterans might not be able to hike mountainous or forested terrain, but he can get them in tree stands at the ranch, in the willows along the Musselshell.
“Even for someone who's lost a leg, here's a place where they don't have to chase the elk, the elk will walk by them,” Lee says. “It's a great opportunity to get a trophy-class animal.”
He contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, but was surprised to learn it had no special programs set up for disabled hunters. Now Lee is forming what he calls the Angel Fire Foundation to run his program for disabled vets, and to guarantee it will continue in perpetuity.
“I'm not looking for donations to the foundation,” he says. “I'm taking care of that.”
There is only room for four or five hunters this year, but Lee plans to put in six small log cabins so that a dozen disabled vets can take advantage of his offer by 2008.
“They just have to get a permit and show up,” Lee says. “All their food and lodging will be taken care of.”
Lee drew a high lottery number during the Vietnam War and wasn't drafted. After getting married, he decided not to enlist, but says both his father and brother are U.S. Navy veterans.
“I've got a lot of respect for those who served,” he says.
And, he's never taken an elk, either.
While that's likely to change now that he owns the 73 Ranch, Lee says he'll wait until disabled vets get theirs.
“I'd rather see them get one,” Lee says. “I'd like to give them the first opportunity. Maybe I'll get my first one, but it will be after they do.”
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunting for hunters
Disabled veterans interested in bow-hunting elk on the 73 Ranch near Mosby this fall should contact David Lee at (406) 825-6986. He can accommodate four or five hunters this fall, and plans to add facilities to be able to house a dozen disabled veterans during archery season in future years. Lee notes the deadline this year for applying for an elk permit for archery season in Hunting District 700 is June 1.
I just talked with David on the phone this is one squared away fellow.