Outdoor Articles

Be All You Can Be

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in Turkey Hunting

Be All You Can Be  —  Take A Veteran HuntingPatriotism and support of our troops returning from war overseas is especially important right now, and showing our appreciation for their duty and sacrifice when they return is something we should all do whenever we can. After serving overseas, especially in the rough and hostile conditions that our troops are facing in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, our military veterans look forward to getting home — and feeling at home — when they return.

So how can you and I make them feel more welcome? One easy and rewarding way is to take them hunting. Hunting is a freedom we enjoy as Americans, and one of the many important freedoms that they are fighting for. It’s also a great way to reconnect returning veterans with the community, the land and our cherished hunting heritage.

A Rewarding Hunt

After calling Marine Corps headquarters, Matt Lindler, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s JAKES Magazine editor and photography director, found out just how rewarding taking a veteran hunting can be this past spring.

“Every year at our National Convention, we have a photography contest where people submit wild turkey photos for awards and prizes. After winning and receiving his prize of $500, our third place winner, Brian Machanic of Vermont, told me he wanted to donate the money back to the NWTF to pay for the cost of taking a returning Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran on a turkey hunt. I thought it was a great idea, and we set about making it happen,” said Lindler.

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After calling Marine Corps headquarters and getting some help and direction from retired Marine Corp. Gen. “Buck” Bedard, an NWTF supporter and regular at the NWTF’s National Convention each year, the NWTF was put in contact with Gunnery Sgt. Mark Wendling in Camp Lejuene, N.C. Wendling, a returning Iraq war veteran who served as the bridge company Gunny for the 8th Engineers Support Battalion, and who also just happened to be an avid turkey hunter, quickly accepted the offer and made the drive to the NWTF’s Wild Turkey Center in Edgefield, S.C., for a traditional spring wild turkey hunt.

According to Wendling, a Marine’s deployment schedule can “really put a cramp in your hunting activities.” And having put in 20 years with the Marine Corp., including two deployments to Iraq (one in 1991 and again in 2003) and a four-month deployment to Liberia, a duty reassignment to the turkey woods of South Carolina was unbelievable. “It is unheard of in the Marine Corp to get an opportunity like that,” he said.

Still a little skeptical that this was really going to happen, Wendling said “I found out on a Thursday that I was going to get to do this, so on Friday I was afraid to answer the phone all day thinking it might be someone saying I wasn’t going anymore.”

Fortunately, all the planning came together and Lindler and Wendling met for the three-day hunt. “Even though the hunt started out a little tough with the birds not wanting to cooperate,” Lindler said, “it really turned out great. Mark and I hunted for three days on both public and private land, and on the last morning Mark finally got his bird. It was special for me to get to spend time with a veteran, and to help him get a bird after returning to the states. I came away with a deeper appreciation of who he was and what he had been through.”

It was special to Wendling as well. “After watching all of the news, we thought everyone was against the war, but this shows that some people believe we did a good job over there, and that we are appreciated.”

Planning the Hunt

Planning your own hunt can be just as rewarding as Wendling’s, and easily accomplished, if you keep a few things in mind. Returning G.I.’s don’t necessarily have to be hardcore hunters to enjoy the experience, so don’t limit your invitation list just to returning hunters. Although a veteran hunter will usually jump at the opportunity to get back in the woods, novice hunters, or even those who’ve never hunted before, will often welcome the opportunity to enjoy nature and take part in the natural drama of the hunting experience.

Also, remember that returning war veterans aren’t always men. Women also are often hunters — or want to learn — and typically enjoy the experience just as much as their male counterparts.

If you don’t already know someone who fits the bill, a good place to start is with friends or at work. Most of us know someone who is serving overseas, or know a friend or coworker who has a family member in the military. Also check with local churches and the recruiting offices and National Guard or reserve unit offices found in many communities. Most will be glad to help you contact a returned veteran who may be interested.

A few organizations, like the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), have really gotten behind the push to take veterans hunting, and are ready and willing to help locate veterans to take hunting.

“Patriotism has always been part of the NWTF,” said NWTF CEO Rob Keck. “We fully support our troops and veterans, and want to help in any way we can.”

Picking the Right Time and Place

Once the right contacts have been made and you’ve found a veteran to take hunting, there are some additional things to consider before the hunt. First, take care of when you’ll hunt, then focus on where. “Because he’s active duty military, Mark’s schedule was the biggest challenge,” said Lindler. “Once we figured out when he could go, it was easier to decide on a location and work out the details.”

Many returning veterans, especially those still on active duty like Wendling, have limited time in their schedule for time away from their duties, and typically need to plan their leave time well in advance. Determine when the best time during the season would be for them, then focus on a location that they can get to within a reasonable driving distance of their duty station.

Don’t Forget the Details

Other things to consider include equipment needs, safety and license considerations and expenses. Make a checklist and use it to prepare for the hunt. Does your hunting guest have hunter safety training, and is it required in the state you want to hunt? Do they have the right firearm, ammunition, clothes, boots, etc..? Can they hunt in your state without a license, or do they need to buy one? Make sure you have all their needs covered before you head for the woods.

“Many states have special licensing allowances for active-duty military personnel,” said Lindler. “After talking to Mark, I found out that South Carolina, for example, allows South Carolina residents in the military that are stationed in other states, but are home on leave, to hunt for free. The best thing to do is check with your state’s wildlife agency because special tags or stamps may still be required for some hunts.”

Also, full-time military personnel from other states stationed in South Carolina can purchase less-expensive resident licenses even though they aren’t permanent state residents. Check with your state wildlife agency for similar military personnel considerations.

Remember, making the hunt as easy and enjoyable for them is the goal, and a little forethought can make for a more successful hunt. Doing your part to make the experience simple, safe and enjoyable will be a meaningful and memorable reward for a veteran who has already done his or her part to protect our country, our freedoms and our hunting heritage.

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