By Tom Barrett
It all started right after my son’s fourth open heart surgery. I was at BIC’s annual sales meeting and we had a guest speaker from Wounded Warrior Project. He talked about all the programs that Wounded Warrior Project did and of the support all over the country. I was sitting there listening and thinking how blessed I was that we had so much support and programs for my son who really needed them. I had complete strangers who helped my family at the darkest times, so at the moment I thought I could give back and do something for these guys. After his speech, I went up and got the speaker’s number and called him the next week.
When I did my first hunt six years ago, I invited three hunters to come down for a one-day hunt. I called all my vendor friends and got them to send me any samples they sell. This would range from batteries, toothbrushes, shavers and even candy. I then reached out to Under Armour and got them to send some sweatshirts and a duffle bag to put all the goodies in. My last call was to my corporate headquarters. I told them what I was doing and they offered to pay for the hotel rooms for the guys. Last year, one of my friends started a company called NOMAD. For the last two years, he has sent an outfit to each of the hunters and all of the guides. NOMAD has already confirmed they will be supporting my hunt next year. The first year had some bumps but everyone got a deer so I was pumped. Over the years, I have added more hunters and extended the hunts to two days.
This year’s hunt was the sixth Wounded Warrior hunt I have put together, and it was a two-day hunt for six hunters. I thought the hardest part of putting these hunts together would be getting guides to help me for two days, but in fact that is the easiest. I have had the same guys volunteer their time before the hunt building stands, putting corn out, clearing trails and just helping to get ready for this hunt for the last few years. Every hunter has a guide who knows a lot about hunting and also the patterns of the deer on our farm. We get them to arrive early on Wednesday and we go to a friend’s farm and put a few down range. I have found that by doing this it calms the hunters down and gives them some confidence when they are in the stand. We also can check to make sure their rifles are sighted in. All of the guides bring their own rifles so that if there is an issue, the hunter has something to fall back on.
We hunted Wednesday night, everyone saw deer and one buck was taken. That evening we ended the night at a local restaurant that donates pizza and cheese steaks to the guys. Every year the owner tells the locals and the place is packed. When we walk through the door they clap for the guys and come up and shake their hands. It really makes you proud to see how these people really support them.
The next morning we start early and hunt until 9:30. We then come back to the club house for a special surprise. E.A.R. sends someone out and they make custom hearing protection for the guys to use during the hunt and future hunts. I then start a contest for shooting clay pigeons. It really gets the competitive juices pumping, especially since we had hunters from the Navy, Army and Marines. This year one of the guides brought a 50 cal and everyone had some fun shooting that also. Things did get interesting when one hunter named Ryan wanted to shoot. I never say no, but since Ryan only has one arm and one leg I had my reservations. He shot two clays and handled the 50 cal like it was nothing.
After the activities, we headed to Suicide Bridge Restaurant for lunch. Don’t let the name fool you. The food is amazing and it sits right on the water. We then headed back and got ready for the evening hunt. After the hunt, we had the dinner catered by Mission BBQ. The same guy, for 6 years, drives an hour and half to the farm with a car full of ribs, pork, brisket, corn, beans and anything else you can think of. We finish the evening off when my in-laws show up and they thank everyone for coming.
This year we had a hunter who had never been hunting. He took a large doe and could not have been happier. We had another hunter take his largest buck ever. We also had another hunter take a 8-point large buck.
I have invited Ryan (mentioned above) to the Wounded Warrior hunts before. He never got a shot at a buck. Last year, a monster 10-point walked out at 110 yards, but he had not seated the bullet and missed his chance. I had never seen a person so depressed and upset. It took 30 minutes to get him to join the party last year. This past year I made it my mission to get this man his buck. We had been putting hundreds of pounds of corn in this one spot for the previous 30 days. We did not hunt the spot but did sit in the blind to see what was visiting. We found that there were three big bucks hitting the corn hard so we knew we had a chance. This past year his dream came true and he got his buck.
My buddy Chris Watson (who is a professional photographer) has photographed the hunt for the last three years. We were sitting in the truck waiting for the text from any hunter who got a buck. When we saw that Ryan got his buck, we scrambled like firefighters. We got to the stand and found that the buck was 100 yards in the woods. The guide and I grabbed the ATV and dragged the buck out of the woods and 700 yards to a spot in the field where we could get the sunset behind Ryan. This picture was not enhanced; it was just an amazing sunset. With less than five minutes to spare, we got the perfect shot.
I think everyone thinks that the hunters get the most out of these hunts. I have to strongly disagree. I think it is the guides and me. We hear the stories and heartbreak. These guys talk about losing friends during the war and after the war. This experience really grounds you and puts your life in perspective. I have the right and privilege to hunt because these guys were out there protecting our country. These guys still suffer today. One of the hunters who did not get a deer told his guide during the hunt that he might be blind next year. The surgery he needs has a 50/50 chance that he might lose his vision. He is taking the next 6 months to visit the US and all its great and beautiful places. When I heard this I promised him that he had a spot at the 2017 hunt.