Warrenton, VA-Multiply a bad case of a hunter's "cabin fever" with an injured veteran's thoughts about not being able to hunt at all, and you've got the perfect opportunity for an early spring pig hunt in Texas.
It came to pass because a conversation about the new Savage 20 ga. slug gun at the SHOT Show in January lead Lt. Col. Lew Deal, National Program Coordinator for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund (ORHF), Ron Coburn, Savage Arms CEO and John Snow, Outdoor Life Executive Editor, to wonder if the gun and some wounded veteran heroes would be a good field test.
In mid-March, those factors came together for a week in the Texas hill country, near Richland Springs. Five wounded veteran heroes were treated to a PVA-ORHF Fund hunt on a private hunting lease, hosted by PVA associate Jack Hazel and his hunting buddy, Cecil Campbell. From every account, the hunt, according to Hazel, was a huge success: the vet's, with a diverse array of injuries to deal with, knocked down 36 pigs in just three days of hunting, five times more than the lease hunters took in all of the 2009 hunting season.
Veteran hunters included: PVA-ORHF Chairman, Joe Fox, a retired, USMC Vietnam Veteran who hunts from a wheelchair; Dr. Stanley McGowan, a medically retired, U.S. Army Captain who served in Vietnam and is blind; SSG Matthew Keil, U.S. Army (ret) disabled OIF Veteran, a quadriplegic who hunts from a power chair with a custom "sip and puff" set-up to operate his rifle; former U.S. Army SP4, David Bradshaw, who also hunts from a chair and USMC (ret) Cpl. Jason "Miko" Mikolajcik, who is recuperating for extensive burns and shrapnel wounds from an IED in Iraq.
As is frequently the case, the outdoor industry stepped up to help make the hunt possible and fun. Ron Coburn, CEO Savage Arms, brought several of the company's new .20 ga. slug guns which proved to be highly accurate and popular with the hunters. John Snow, Outdoor Life Executive Editor, brought a videographer to provide full coverage of the event and Travis Noteboom, Crimson Trace, brought a variety of guns and laser sighting accessories to make the hunt fun and successful.
To a man, the vets were excited about hunting the beautiful hill country and enjoying the camaraderie of the hunting camp. "This hunt," said Fox, "gave each of them some time to relax and come together, to forget about the disabilities, at least for a while, and focus on their abilities to achieve. That's exactly what our ORHF events are about." The vet's proved their abilities on this hunt.
The "best strategy and use of ammunition" award went to SSG Keil who, on the first day waited patiently for the right shot, then calmly triggered his new Savage, Model 16FHFAK in .300 WSM, topped with a Leupold V3 and put down three pigs with one shot with a perfect execution of the sip and puff mechanism set up on his power chair.
Keil said, "The ORHF hunts are huge for guys like me. It gets me back out in the world, doing things I liked to do before my injury. And, it's great to be around other vets and people who 'get it,' people who see the guy...not the chair. It means the world to both me and my wife for me to go on these hunts."
Dr. Stan, who has hunted quite extensively since losing his sight, including taking a bison with his bow and several African game animals, spends more time organizing events for other veterans than he does hunting with them. But he was an active participant in Texas, taking three hogs himself, including one estimated at 275-300 pounds, with the help of a spotter. McGowen said, "After my accident, I spent nine years wishing I could shoot and hunt again. Then, with the help of some hunting buddies, conjured up a way I could shoot with the help of a sighted assistant. Wounded or injured vets need stepping stones, not stumbling blocks, to a new life, and events such as the PVA pig hunt provide those stepping stones."
David Bradshaw acknowledges that hunting was a major factor in his return to a healthy, active lifestyle..."after spending two years in a very bad place mentally. Being able to enjoy the outdoors, and realizing that there is life after a devastating injury, is an important part of the physical and mental healing process, and seeing that there is really nothing you can't accomplish is a motivating experience that helps people realize their full potential." Bradshaw has been actively involved in the Texas Chapter of PVA Shooting Sports program since it was started in 2004.
"Going on hunting trips like the PVA pig hunt is the best therapy I've come across yet," claimed Cpl. Mikolajcik. "It is very relaxing and gives you time to unplug, kick your feet up and just have a good time being around other service members...people who can relate to each other." Miko was introduced to hunting and recreational shooting early in his rehabilitation and states enthusiastically that they have been a huge part of his ability to enjoy life after his injury.
Lending a Hand
Every participant had praise for the hosts, the land owner and lease-holders who provided the hunting opportunity. The hunting lodge was even made wheelchair accessible for the event with the construction of temporary ramps and the hosts are already planning further improvements for future events. Bradshaw summarized, "They were excellent hosts, very concerned with providing an excellent hunt for everyone and truly caring about the people involved. They treated everyone just as regular guys, while letting us know they would help us with whatever we needed. We couldn't ask for a better group of guys to spend time with."
Jack Hazel, like many others around the country, simply says he saw a need to do something for the country's wounded heroes...and felt he could help.
"Three years ago," Hazel said, "Chris Anthon and I saw a TV show with a vet on a turkey hunt and I thought, wow, we can do that. So I contacted Stan McGowen, who was in the show, and he put me in touch with Col. Deal at PVA. After the first hunt I hosted, I wanted to cry. With all these guys had done...and seeing their injuries...the bottom line was, they were great people. They made me feel super and were so thankful to be outdoors doing something fun. They really enjoyed the fresh air, the jokes, the hunting and the meals. It creates a soothing effect for these heroes. I can see them relax after awhile and some tell me they sleep great after being out for the day. One hero, on new legs, walked to his deer, another fixed breakfast. You can see how much this kind of opportunity means to them. It's part of living a new life.
By getting involved, individuals can help these deserving heroes adjust and gain confidence. If you have property or access to property, take one fishing and hunting. It can be one or a couple heroes, it doesn't have to be a big event. As a host, you will be amazed at how a small effort on your part can make such a big difference in their lives."
There are thousands of these wounded heroes who could benefit from an opportunity to get outdoors. For those who would like to help, click on www.pvaheritagefund.org and learn how even small donations can help create outdoor opportunities for years to come.