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Hunter took extra steps to return comrade’s equipment

An empathetic 29-year-old Oshkosh man, fueled by a personal loss, took the extra steps to reunite the owner to his treasured crossbow found in a parking lot at the White River Marsh Wildlife Area in central Wisconsin. The action earned the man the 2019 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Ethical Hunter Award.

Hank Xiong said his drive to find the owner was fueled by his own bad memories when he was younger when his own prize bow was taken from the back of his father’s truck. Xiong said it was devastating for him and he didn’t want that to happen to another.

“I saved and saved to get that bow and finally got a day off work from my sevenday job but couldn’t hunt,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 health emergency, Xiong will be presented the award at a ceremony yet to be scheduled. He will receive the honor from DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement Capt. April Dombrowski, who leads the bureau’s recreational safety and outdoor skills section, and Shamus Terry of Vortex Optics, an international manufacturer of rifle scopes, binoculars and ranger finders based in Barneveld.

Established in 1997, the Hunter Ethics Award recognizes a hunter whose action is symbolic of Wisconsin’s hunting heritage; a heritage that is not about trophy bucks or number of pheasants - but of an outdoor tradition enjoyed responsibly, respectfully, and safely by and for all.

DNR Chief Warden Casey Krueger said ethical behavior demonstrates the moral character of the hunting public and illustrates how people can assist one another while recreating together in the outdoors.

“Ethical action can be represented in many ways, examples could include helping another during a hunt, or taking steps in order to protect our natural resources,” Krueger said. “Over the years, award recipients have returned lost gear as in this year’s winner, helped others find lost game, or assisted another hunter facing a challenge of some kind.”

Xiong met Jim Bonney, the crossbow owner, early the previous morning when the two parties set out to hunt deer during the Wisconsin archery/crossbow season at the wildlife area in Green Lake and Marquette counties.

After Xiong and his uncle returned to the lot to leave, Bonney’s vehicle was gone but the crossbow was laying near where the car had been parked.

“We talked about the best way to get it back to the rightful owner, who we believed to be Jim,” Xiong said.

Leaving the crossbow there or taking it to a local sheriff’s office crossed Xiong’s mind as he talked with his hunting partners.

“We waited for an hour and no one returned that evening, so I took the crossbow, posted a note on Facebook, and then stopped by a sheriff’s office to report the incident,” Xiong said. “I agreed to try to find the owner. And, if I didn’t, I’d bring the bow back to the sheriff to keep until someone reported it missing.”

The next day Xiong returned to the parking lot, about 40 miles from his Oshkosh home.

“Jim drove in a bit later, about 2 p.m., and had a big grin on his face when I handed him the crossbow,” Xiong said. “Jim thanked me, and we exchanged contact information agreeing to keep in contact.”

Bonney said he went back to the parking lot the next morning thinking maybe the bow was still there, but nothing.

“Then, I came back that afternoon and saw Hank and he handed me my bow and took my picture,” he said. “I liked the bow, shot a few deer with it and am grateful Hank took the effort to get it back to me.”

A four-person committee studies the nominations and selects the person judged most deserving of this award. The annual honor was established by Bob Lamb, retired outdoors editor of the La Crosse Tribune, retired DNR conservation warden supervisor Steve Dewald, and retired University of Wisconsin-La Crosse biology professor and outdoors writer Jerry Davis.

“Hank demonstrated behavior that reflects positively on the tradition of hunting in Wisconsin. His concern for another hunter losing equipment was very admirable,” Dewald said.

“Hank is the epitome of the award’s intent, going well beyond what he did for another hunter,” Lamb added.

Any hunter or non-hunter can nominate a licensed Wisconsin hunter for the DNR Ethical Hunter Award for an action that took place during the calendar year of 2020. Although many nominations are made during gun-deer season, the ethical action could be something done during a squirrel hunt, turkey hunt, waterfowl hunting or any other Wisconsin hunting season.