For Quinton Picone, 23, a native of nearby Panola, first times seem to be the charm. At least first-time hunting trips, that is.
On his first deer hunt Oct. 12 on the 45,000-acre McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Picone harvested a nine-point buck that weighed just shy of 200 pounds on the hoof and dressed out at 175 pounds.
The buck set a new base record for the heaviest deer taken on the property, and Picone's name now will appear first on that list.
"It was crazy. It was pretty exciting," said Picone, who was deer hunting through the Wounded Warriors in Action program along with two other Army buddies from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. This was the fourth year that Army and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation staff members have hosted a group of Wounded Warriors at the controlled deer hunt.
Picone's fellow Army buddies Stephen Peterson and Roger Benton also took nice bucks over the weekend. And Picone was able to take a doe on the second day of the hunt.
Picone and Peterson are both undergoing rehabilitation after being wounded while serving in Afghanistan. Picone lost both his lower legs and suffered wounds to his right hand due to an Improvised Explosive Device in 2011, while Peterson lost one leg to an IED in 2010. Benton is their platoon sergeant and was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in his Army service.
Hunting at the McAlester Army plant was a homecoming for Picone. His parents, Vincent and Sherry Picone, reside in McAlester, and his father actually is employed at the plant. When he learned about the hunting opportunity through his dad, Quinton Picone said he thought it would be a fun thing to try.
On the morning of his first hunt, Picone and his volunteer hunting assistant Michael Marlow set up in a special hydraulic lift blind designed for physically disabled hunters. A bit more than an hour later, the record-setting buck appeared about 15 yards in front of them.
After a tense few minutes waiting for a best possible shot, Picone fired his crossbow and scored a lethal hit as the buck moved toward the blind.
Picone's base-record deer made an impression on Bill Starry, the plant's natural resources chief who oversees one of Oklahoma's most sought-after deer hunting opportunities each year.
"It couldn't have happened to a better bunch," Starry said of the soldiers' hunting success.
Starry praised the Wounded Warriors program for giving heroic war veterans an opportunity to experience deer and turkey hunting trips, despite their physical setbacks. He said it takes a lot of effort to organize the Wounded Warrior hunts, but "it's a good thing and well worth it."
Picone said first-time hunts seem to be lucky for him. He said the first time he went duck hunting, he shot a mallard and found that it carried a leg band - a rare bird indeed.
Controlled deer hunts are held seven weekends each year at the Army's bomb-making and storage facility, a place known for its abundant population of trophy whitetails. These hunts are among many controlled hunts offered statewide by the Wildlife Department every year. More than 20,000 hunters entered a lottery for hunt permits at the plant this year, but only 1,500 names were drawn. All but one of these hunts are traditional archery hunts, and the average success rate is about 13 percent.
Col. Timothy Beckner, the base commander, praised the Wounded Warrior program. "It's great when the community and the nation can join together and help them out," he said. "Quinton is a great kid. What a great attitude."
This year marked the 50th anniversary of cooperation between the Army and the Wildlife Department in holding deer hunts at the ammunition plant. Col. Beckner said the hunts are true examples of how government lands are being used for public benefit, and in this case, more than 50,000 deer hunters have benefited over a half-century.
"There's no doubt in my mind that deer hunting here is going to have at least another 50-year run," Col. Beckner said.