Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt Helps Healing Through Hunting

The Perry Lake Wounded Warrior deer hunt was a great success in the woods and around the campfire for everyone involved.

The Perry Lake Wounded Warrior deer hunt was a great success in the woods and around the campfire for everyone involved.

The word sacrifice has different meaning to different individuals. Webster’s dictionary describes sacrifice as; the act of giving something up that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or help someone. Your interpretation of sacrifice may be that of the short story by O. Henry, The Gift of the Maji, where a young couple sacrifices possessions dear to them to provide Christmas gifts to each other in a strange twist of Irony that renders the exchanged gifts useless.   For Soldiers the term sacrifice can be vastly different, yet seems to find one common theme. Sacrifice for a soldier means volunteering, understanding they may be called to forfeit their life for another, the ultimate sacrifice.

By Capt. Joshua Poling
Special to Deer & Deer Hunting

For some soldiers the term sacrifice is known all too well. With the country exiting from a 14 year campaign in Afghanistan, as well as the eight years the U.S. spent in Iraq, many soldiers who deployed have sacrificed in one way or another. Having served in both theatres and understanding what soldiers experience, I leaped at the opportunity to guide local Wounded Warriors on a deer hunt. This hunt was meaningful to me not only because it is a sport that I love, but because I could give back to someone who gave more than most people are ever asked to give.

The story to be told here isn’t so much about hunting as it is about repaying a soldier, if only a fraction of what they paid forward. The hunt itself paired soldiers of the Warrior Transition Battalion from Fort Riley, Kan., with volunteer guides on a hunt at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Perry Lake, located in Perry, Kan. Six soldiers were selected to participate in the hunt at Perry Lake. The hunting experience of the participating soldiers ranged from seasoned hunters to first time deer hunters. A great amount of time was put in by volunteers to ensure that the experience of the hunt was one to be enjoyed by all.

A blustery December day greeted the soldiers upon their arrival. Given only 2½ days to execute the hunt, the Perry Lake park rangers and volunteers from USACE Kansas City District and Quality Deer Management Association of Atchison, Kan., had their hands full leading up to the hunt. Coordination between volunteers and the Warrior Transition Battalion, as well as setting up locations of camouflage hunting blinds began months prior, but the soldiers would be on a much tighter schedule.

The first evening brought the soldiers their first challenge. After a long trip from Fort Riley the soldiers had to ensure that their hunting rifles were zeroed. While some soldiers had their own rifles, others were introduced to volunteers’ rifles for the first time. With a frigid wind and nightfall rapidly approaching the Soldiers utilized the training instilled in them through the military to quickly and efficiently zero the sights of their rifles.

After ensuring that their rifles could successfully offer a clean shot on a deer, the group of Soldiers and volunteers gathered their gear and headed back to their provided cabins to prepare for the next morning’s hunt.   A delicious catered dinner at the local American Legion brought a pleasant camaraderie to the end of the first day as members of the American Legion, and the Wounded Warriors shared experiences of Soldiers both past and present. The “war stories” as your grandparents or parents may have shared from their sacrifices during wars past, along with the experiences told from the current Soldiers brought forth a humbling experience.

The cold front pushing through from the first evening brought cooler temps and a continuous drizzle of rain throughout the second day. As if engrained in their minds the Soldiers arrived to schedule to meet up with their guides and traveling to their respective stands. I had the honor of guiding a young female Soldier and first time hunter into the field that day. Sharing experiences and lessons I learned afield, we spent the day in the hunting blind waiting for her first deer to present her with a shot. With dawn attempting to peer through the overcast sky, shots from the rifles of the Soldiers began to ring out in the still morning air. As the morning progressed texts began to filter into our blind with pictures of the other Soldiers’ hunting conquests. The anticipation and excitement that a whitetail deer would soon walk out of the woods and into range kept the young hunter and me alert and attentive to our surroundings.

Hunters gritted through nasty weather conditions for the Perry Lake Wounded Warrior hunt.

Hunters gritted through nasty weather conditions for the Perry Lake Wounded Warrior hunt.

As the day began to dwindle and dusk quickly approaching, a group of three whitetail does appeared out of the shaded tree line. All the training from the Army through rifle marksmanship would soon be put to the test as the deer edged closer to the young Soldier’s comfortable shooting range. With time of the essence before shooting hours closed we decided to take a shot at one of the deer. With the crack of the rifle the deer leaped into the air with a movement an educated hunter knows all too well indicating a successful shot. With darkness upon us we decided to allow the deer time to succumb to its inevitable fate. Unfortunately, upon arrival the next morning to the spot where we believed the deer perished we found the carnage that a pack of coyotes had left of the body of the deceased deer.

An unfaltering motivation found the young hunter sitting through another long day in the cold and rain. The end of this day would end with a happier story. With around an hour of shooting light left a group of deer entered the food plot to graze. The young hunter with keen precision was not only able to successfully harvest a doe, but also a 15 point buck that foolishly wandered into the field moments after the first shot rang out. Be it luck or determination, the young Soldier used the type of determination found amongst Soldiers to shake off the frustration from the first day’s hunt and successfully harvest two deer during her first ever hunt.

The success of the story is that all soldiers participating in the hunt were given the opportunity to harvest a deer. A total of eight deer were harvested among the six participating soldiers while a couple of the soldiers were being selective and waiting for the “big one” to come along. All the Soldiers were able to get their deer processed for their tables at a discounted rate and the young soldier that had harvested the 15 point buck was presented with a free mount of her trophy.

The 2 1/2 days spent between Wounded Warriors and volunteers at Perry Lake, Kansas left all with more than just the memory of the hunt. The volunteers were able to take away the warmness of the feeling of helping out another person through sacrificing their free time with friends or family. The Wounded Warrior hunters were able to take with them the peacefulness and tranquility connected with being in the outdoors. The hunt afforded them the opportunity to relinquish any everyday stresses they might face due to their injuries that would sooner than anticipated cut short their military career. It was an honor and a privilege to donate my time and I know I speak on behalf of the other volunteers when I say that any sacrifice of personal time that we made was shadowed by the opportunity to give back to these soldiers that have sacrificed so much for this country.

 

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