The stunning tragedy that struck the small town of Rice Lake Wis., last week smacked five-time Wrangler NFR bull rider Fred Boettcher and other members of the ProRodeo family like a Mack Truck.
Six deer hunters were killed and two were wounded in a shooting in Wisconsin's north woods after a confrontation with another deer hunter who was allegedly trespassing on private land.
Among the victims were Bob Cotterau; his son, Joey; and Denny Drew. All were friends of Boettcher.
"Those guys were my buddies, and all were sponsors of our local bull ride at the JM Ranch," said Boettcher, 29, of Tomah, Wis., who will compete in this year's Wrangler NFR. "When I heard the news, it sure hit home to me."
Cotterau and Drew were major sponsors, beginning with the first bull ride four years ago. They got to know Boettcher and other PRCA cowboys who would stop at the JM Ranch in Rice Lake, owned by PRCA steer wrestler Jeff Rettemund.
"Those guys never missed bull riding here in Rice Lake," said PRCA announcer Jess Knudson of Manawa. "They would be up early, help move bleachers, whatever needed to be done, they would jump in and lend a hand. I know at the New Year's Eve bull ride, it's darn sure going to be emotional not seeing them up in the stands."
Individuals from throughout Wisconsin have expressed their sympathy and support.
In addition to the blaze orange ribbons worn by the residents of the Rice Lake area, the fans of the Green Bay Packers shed their traditional green and gold for blaze orange jackets and hats for the Packers' home game against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 22.
When the Wrangler NFR starts on Dec. 3, Boettcher, a Rice Lake native, will also pay tribute.
"Baur Rodeo Gear and KCC Equipment have donated a pair of orange chaps that I will wear at the Finals," Boettcher said. "We wanted the families of the victims and the survivors to know that the rodeo family remembers and appreciated all that they did for the sport of rodeo."
After the Wrangler NFR, the chaps are going to be retired.
"They started a Rice Lake Victims and Survivors Relief Fund up here," Boettcher said. "So I'm going to ask the other top 15 bull riders if they would sign the chaps for me. Then when I get home, the chaps will be raffled off, with all the money going to the relief fund. There are four bull rides this winter in Rice Lake, and I think at the last one they will do the drawing for them."
Authorities said the victims were shot after a confrontation with Chai Vang, 36, of St. Paul, Minn. He remains in jail on $2.5 million bail pending formal charges.
All of the hunters were from the Rice Lake area. Because the community is so close-knit, many people will be attending multiple funerals.
"I'm still working out a message," said the Rev. David Oberts. "In many ways, we're all still in the shock stage."
For more on this developing story, see further coverage at ESPN.com Outdoors.
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