November 8, 2012
Disabled Veteran Hunting and Shooting Opportunities Expand
Our service men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way are recognized by the hunting and shooting sports community.
At a time when our country is getting ready to celebrate Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11 (or the sanctioned holiday on Nov. 12 to allow for some time off to pay homage to the soldiers), it’s critical to emphasize the importance of hunting and the shooting sports as a coping mechanism, a rehabilitation tool of sorts as these soldiers attempt to bring some normalcy back into their lives. This is even more true for the veterans who have become permanently disabled as a result of their extreme sacrifice.
All veterans deserve – and traditionally receive – special dispensation when it comes to hunting privileges in the individual states. Reduced (and sometimes free) license fees for active resident military can commonly be found around the country. Many states are now offering additional assistance for disabled veterans in a valiant attempt to get them back into the outdoors – enjoying these popular pastimes and spending quality time with family and friends.
Pennsylvania has taken that one step further by initiating a “Hunt with a Veteran” program, designed to get all veterans – disabled, retired or active – out into the fields and forests of the Keystone State.
“This is an opportunity to do something special for the fine men and women who have served or continue to serve in America’s armed forces,” said Carl G. Roe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). “Our armed forces have defended our country and the rights we enjoy for more than two centuries.”
As a result of these actions, the PGC is encouraging licensed hunters to serve as a volunteer guide for a veteran – not just on Veteran’s Day but throughout the state’s many hunting seasons this fall and winter. The Game Commission offers several classifications of free or reduced fee licenses for resident active-duty military, as well as former prisoners of war or disabled veterans. As an added incentive, anyone taking a veteran on a hunt will be eligible for a special drawing involving six framed fine-art wildlife prints. Check out details on the PGC website for how to enter.
It was 10 years ago that the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was started, formed to help address the needs of wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We want to raise the level of awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service members,” said Steven Nardizzi, executive director for WWP.
Eighteen-year-old Ashley Butcher of Lockport, N.Y., is a fine example of how a person can support the WWP effort. She took it upon herself to conduct a fundraising shoot with the proceeds to benefit WWP.
“I wanted to give something back to the service men and women who have made the extreme sacrifice for our freedom,” said Butcher, an avid skeet, trap and sporting clays shooter. Her first annual event attracted 68 shooters and raised more than $3,000 for her kick-off effort. She plans to continue with a second annual shooting event to raise money for WWP in 2013.
In Iowa, the state’s Fish and Game Conservation Officer Association’s Wounded Warrior hunt recently completed its second year. The hunt was held on the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant grounds, using muzzleloaders in tree-mounted hunting blinds in October.
“The hunt was secondary,” said Mike Simester, an Iowan who suffered a head injury while serving in Iraq. “I love coming to these hunts and having a good time. It’s about the camaraderie and the ability to get outdoors – out of the house.”
Another important organization for disabled veterans is the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). The group supports shooting and hunting activities for veterans living with spinal cord injury and disease. As a group, it organizes shooting events across the country. A trapshooting circuit, which does not differentiate between the disabled shooters from the nondisabled, has been organized from coast to coast. The group has donated adaptive outdoor equipment to military installations and state wildlife agencies. PVA has also organized air rifle, air pistol, high-power rifle and high-power pistol to the list of shooting- circuit options.
Renowned big-game hunter Jim Zumbo is now affiliated with the Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund, an arm of the PVA. As national spokesperson for the group, his main responsibility will be to raise some much-needed funds for the group, with a major objective of providing hunting and fishing trips (as well as other outdoor activities) for disabled veterans.
There are numerous other options for disabled veterans looking to participate in shooting sports or hunting adventures designed specifically for them. At the top of the list is the National Wild Turkey Federation’s “Wheelin’ Sportsmen” outreach program. NWTF Chapters across the country work hard to organize hunting and shooting events for the physically challenged. From special deer and turkey hunts to fundraising shoots, there are a variety of activities available for disabled sportsmen of all ages. It’s not just for the guys either. NWTF’s Does for Does pairs women with disabilities with women who are experienced guides for a weekend of hunting and other outdoor educational opportunities.
Another noteworthy program for disabled vets involves Buckmasters American Deer Foundation (BADF). The organization has a Disabled Hunter Services program with an ultimate goal to disseminate information through three primary sources: the website, through an email service and through each issue of Buckmasters magazine. Buckmasters chapters across the country coordinate their resources and efforts to fill a void by giving disabled sportsmen all the information and opportunities to better appreciate our natural resources.
Our armed forced veterans deserve special recognition, and the hunting and shooting sports community is reaching out to them in many ways.