By Gordon Melton ~
In the Fall of 2012, the Hunting with Soldiers program hosted to two terrific young men, Daniel and Joe. Many would call them disabled vets, but after meeting them, I was quick to discover that they weren’t disabled at all, they simply couldn’t get around as easily as I could.
Daniel lost both of his legs in a RPG attack and is currently retired from the U.S. ARMY. Joe lost his right eye and some of the vision in the other from an IED blast, but he’s still active duty in the ARMY as a Captain.
They arrived on a cool afternoon in late November, and the Hunting with Soldiers crew, which on this hunt was just me and my buddy Jason Dane (HWS Vice President), were there to help get them settled into their room at the Holiday Inn Express in Childress. After that, we presented the boys with some special gifts. The first items we packed in were handmade knives, each one having a cool purple heart colored handle. Then, to get their curiosity peaked, we produced two boxes of 410 shells. After some joking around, we brought in a 45/410 Snake Killer Derringer for each one of them. Their eyes really lit up then. Free guns! We gave them a little time to admire their shiny new toys before breaking out the “big guns,” a couple of beautiful Savage 308 rifles. They were darn near speechless.
After the presentation, we took the guys to get their hunting licenses and take them out to eat in the big city of Childress. This is one of my favorite parts of having an organization that works with wounded soldiers, having the opportunity to get to know them. I found out after spending some time with both that they had an overdeveloped sense of humor. For instance, after Joe and Dan got their gifts, Joe told Jason and me that he didn’t know what to think about an organization that would hand over two guns and a knife to a blind guy. After hearing that, I knew we were in for a fun trip.
On the first morning, the 26th, we were out hunting west of Paducah. Since Jason had to work, I guided Dan and Joe in the same blind. The guys saw several mule deer, but all does so we couldn’t shoot. Before we left the stand, Joe asked if he could demonstrate his coyote calling skills for us so we told him to, “Let ‘er rip!” Well… Dan and I agreed that it had to be the worst coyote call we’d ever heard, a cross between a wounded cat and a sick goose. Later that morning found us in Paducah ordering up some hot breakfasts. This became our standard ritual after every hunt.
Another ritual we started consisted of going to my house and seeing who could snore the loudest. My lovely wife was gracious enough to give up her soap opera watching so we could go to sleep in front of the Outdoor Channel.
That evening’s hunt was unsuccessful, which gave Joe more opportunity to hone his calling skills. The next morning was, again, uneventful and I was beginning to worry we’d never see a buck. That second evening, I took the guys south where we hunted on John Smith’s place. Joe decided he wanted to hunt by himself so I sat with Dan in another spot. It was almost last light when two whitetail doe finally came in, followed by a nice eight point buck. Dan took steady aim and fired, dropping the buck within 20 yards of where he stood. Poor Joe, the kid with impaired vision, didn’t see much (no pun intended). After loading Dan’s deer, we were invited to John’s deer camp where we met up with some great guys and they volunteered to skin and quarter Dan’s buck for him which was perfectly fine with me.
On day three, we were back at John’s ranch to give it another try. This time, Dan decided to sit in the stand (which stood about six foot off the ground) with Joe. If you’ve never witnessed a man with no legs climb a ladder, you’ve certainly missed out. It’s truly a sight to behold. 100% determination.
Another morning hunt came and went with no shots fired, but I got to catch up on some much needed sleep. When we got back to Paducah, my wonderful wife had a big lunch waiting for us hungry outdoorsmen. When we were stuffed, I’m sure you all can guess what came directly after. That’s right, another round of window-rattling, wall-shaking snoring.
That evening we decided to head west of Paducah for a change of scenery. Jason sat in the stand with Dan and I sat with Joe. Joe and I watched a few mule deer doe and Dan texted us that they’d also seen some doe. The next thing I knew, a loud boom echoed across the countryside. Then came the text that Dan had gotten an eight point muley. Jason said they were gonna need my light since the deer had run off and my flashlight has a special setting that is supposed to help find blood. A few minutes later, Jason and Dan drove over and picked us up in high spirits. Jason parked right by the beginning of the blood trail and I jumped out to start tracking, thinking I was going to really show these guys how it’s done. Well, I whipped out my light and got on the trail like a hound dog. I was so focused that I didn’t notice all the giggling going on in the background as I started off. I’m quite the tracker you know.
After five very long steps I almost tripped over the buck! Yeah the joke was on me. They got me pretty good and all had a big laugh at my expense. This was Dan’s first muley so we were all thrilled for him. We got the deer loaded and headed to Paducah to the Hunting with Soldiers’ headquarters where we had a skinning rack set up. We got the buck hung and I called a good friend, Ralph Keener, who had asked me to let him know when we got a deer because he wanted to help. He promptly came over and skinned and quartered Dan’s deer was which I thought was another fine idea.
For the final day, I took Joe out early and we headed west again. While sitting in the stand watching another spectacular sunrise, this lone coyote comes sniffin’ around the stand and trots about 30 yards away and lays down. Joe quietly slid his barrel out the window and squeezed. Bang! Dead! The coyote never moved. It was early so we decided to sit for a while longer in case any mule deer bucks wanted to show themselves. After about an hour of Joe texting his wife trying to get permission to get the coyote mounted, it was his first coyote ever, we decided to go take a look at him. When Joe and I get to the coyote, he squats down and looks up and says, “Great. The one-eyed guy shot the coyote in the eye.” Ha! We had a good laugh as we loaded him in my truck and went to find breakfast. Jason went with the guys the final evening and I stayed home since it was mine and my lovely wife’s 21st anniversary. Joe ended up seeing one whitetail doe and took a shot but missed. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
To wrap things up, we all had had a great time together. We made memories that will last us a lifetime, and this is exactly why I created Hunting with Soldiers.
Remember anytime you see a warrior or disabled veteran, make sure you thank them for their service. We can never forget what our servicemen and women have done for us.
To learn more about the opportunities provided by Hunting with Soldiers, visit our website at www.huntingwithsoldiers.net.