This is part one in a series of articles exploring veterans’ return to deer hunting. For the complete article, see the March 2009 issue of Deer & Deer Hunting.
As a kid growing up in south Florida, Luke Murphy would spend his days chasing hogs and whitetails, and doing pretty much everything else that had anything to do with hunting and fishing. The outdoors gave him a sense of purpose and it kept him out of trouble.
“If it was in season, I was going after it. That’s pretty much all I wanted to do when I was in high school,” he recalls.
Murphy joined the Army in 1999 and was part of the 101st Airborne Division. Life was good, and he had plenty of opportunities to hunt. When he was stationed at a base in Kentucky, he would go as deep into the woods as he could get during deer season, sometimes walking for miles just to get away from other hunters and to be alone in the woods. Murphy figured that’s where the biggest bucks would be found, but he said he just liked to walk.
That changed on April 25, 2006 when Staff Sgt. Murphy’s patrol truck ran over an improvised explosive device in Sadr City, Iraq. The blast went off directly under his seat, ripping a massive hole in the vehicle and setting it on fire. The blast left him severely injured — he lost his right leg just above the knee, and his left leg was nearly torn off as well. Thanks to the quick actions of medics and the skills of Army doctors, his left leg was saved and he now has partial use of it.
Murphy spent a year undergoing physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. During his stay, he met Barry Bonds, Cher and a revolving door of other celebrities who dropped by to extend their gratitude. Murphy was happy to meet so may A-list stars, but as a self-described country boy, nothing meant more to him than a phone call from Master Sgt. Brian Leverette, who organizes hunts for disabled veterans at the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia. Leverette heard about Murphy’s burning desire to get back in the woods and invited him on a turkey hunt in 2007. Although he didn’t kill a gobbler, the trip served as a new beginning, even a new-found sense of freedom that he thought was gone.
“As soon as Brian and I went for a ride in the four-wheeler the first day I got there, I felt like I was back in the saddle. The feeling was unbelievable. I knew I was going to be able to continue doing what I love to do,” he said.
Leverette organizes deer and turkey hunts for injured servicemen at the bombing range every year, and Murphy has taken two bucks and a doe on two hunts since his turkey trip. Similar hunts are held all over the country for a variety of game. An outfitter in Alaska who lost a son in Iraq started Purple Heart Hunts and donates bear, moose and mountain goat hunts to injured veterans; a group in Texas called Hunts For Heroes organizes deer, duck and dove hunts; and national organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project and the Paralyzed Veterans of America assist in getting injured vets outdoors through a variety of hunting and fishing programs. But because of their widespread availability and abundance, whitetails typically take center stage.