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Natchez girl takes hunting trip of lifetime

NATCHEZ — In August, Janie Bertelsen, 14, said she began counting down the days until her October hunting trip to Wyoming.

Inside the Bertelsen’s bathroom, there was a blue and red chain made out of construction paper and taped together using Scotch tape. Craig Bertelsen, Janie’s father, said he remembers Janie asking every day “how many days were left.”

“Then we would go in the bathroom and find the chain and tear another loop off and count the days,” Craig said about the unique way they countdown until any hunting trip. “When she gets ready to go on a hunt, even it’s a month or two months in advance, she doesn’t have a good understanding at times, so we typically make a little chain out of construction paper with the number of loops to count down one loop every day until it’s time to go on the trip.”

The day finally came and Bertelsen and her uncle Matt Verucchi packed their bags and travelled to New Castle, Wyoming. The hunt would take place from Oct. 1-3 at RBJ Ranch, owned by Ron Brunner and his wife Barbie. This hunt was part of the Outdoor Adventures for the Physically Challenged.

Janie Bertlesen was diagnosed with Marshall-Smith Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes rapid bone aging and difficulty growing among other symptoms. Craig Bertlesen said his daughter is a 1 in 50 case in the world with kids who have been diagnosed with this syndrome and said most of the time people who are diagnosed with Marshall-Smith Syndrome.

“Getting to do anything with Janie any day is a really special thing. The fact that I love to hunt and Janie loves to hunt makes it extra special. Every day is a gift with the problems she has,” Craig Bertelsen said.

On Brunner’s ranch, the south side of his ranch is blocked off for regular hunters. Brunner opened the south side of his ranch to people who are handicapped. Craig Bertelsen said the ranch owner opened that part of the ranch in 2010 when a quadriplegic came to hunt.

“The only way this quadriplegic can hunt is with a sit-and-puff riffle set up. The gun is basically attached to a mechanism, which is attached to a battery. The straw that you sit-and-puff on controls where the gun points and it also controls when the gun shoots,” Craig Bertelsen said. “Since this guy couldn’t move his arms and legs, he was using this adaptive equipment specifically designed for quadriplegics to hunt. He shot an antelope from 150-yards and dropped it on the spot. Brunner saw this happened, and he was really moved by the experience.”

The last time Janie Bertelsen travelled to go on a hunt was last year. The Bertelsens went on a three-day hunting excursion at King Ranch in Encino, Texas. Janie Bertelsen was able to kill a 175-180 pound buck. Janie Bertelsen has hunted in Mississippi, Texas and Wyoming.

On Oct. 1, Janie Bertelsen and Verucchi went to the firing range. After going to the firing range, they had supper in the lodge, and they played go fish with the other hunting guides and some of the other disabled hunters.

On Oct. 2, Janie Bertelsen began antelope hunting, and Craig Bertelsen said the weather was rainy, windy and cold.

Their hunting guide told them, “The antelope are not going to move all day today, so why don’t we pack it up and try an all day hunt tomorrow.”

Inside the cabin, Janie Bertelsen and Verucchi waited for the sky to clear up. Craig Bertelsen said about every 15 to 20 minutes for five to six times in a couple hours, Janie Bertelsen would ask the guide, “Is the weather clearing up now? The sun is coming out.”

Craig Bertelsen said the guide responded with, “No Janie. It’s still not bright enough. It’s still not bright enough.”

After about two more hours, Craig Bertelsen said the sun came out.

As the guide, Verucchi and Janie Bertelsen walked out of the cabin, they spotted an antelope, which was 150-yards off of the south fence line. Craig Bertelsen said Janie Bertelsen was able to set her sights on the antelope, shoot it and kill it.

Almost 10 minutes after Janie Bertelsen killed the antelope, the weather began to cloud back up and it rained again.

“It was Janie’s persistence in trying to get the guide to take her,” Craig said. “That’s how she always is. When she wants something, she’s really persistent about it. That’s really kept her alive with all of the conditions that she has to deal with everyday.”