A few seasoned hunters and a few rookies shared in their first bear hunt this spring. But that’s not all the six participants have in common as each has fought for and sacrificed for our country and suffered life-altering injuries during their service. Now, thanks to the national nonprofit Hope For The Warriors and its Outdoor Adventures Program, the six combat-wounded veterans enjoyed a multi-day bear hunt in the rugged country South of Lewiston, Idaho, along the Selway River.
Hope For The Warriors’ Outdoor Adventures Program provides adaptive opportunities for wounded heroes to participate in outdoor sporting activities. Service members who previously embraced an outdoor lifestyle as well as those new to traditional outdoor sports are introduced to recreational opportunities on the road to recovery. Led by Hope For The Warriors Director of Outdoor Adventures Ken Sutherby, each hunt aimed to enable wounded veterans with a challenge, introduce a sense of camaraderie with other veterans and provide a source of food for each hunter’s family. Equally important, the experience encourages healing and aims to revitalize each veteran by demonstrating that he or she is capable and can be independent, regardless of injuries.
Sutherby, a retired Marine himself, understands why this experience is so beneficial and says hunting is a therapeutic avenue for many veterans. “Often, veterans are experiencing extreme social isolation as they assimilate to post-combat life resulting in declining self-worth as they evaluate their current lifestyle compared to their former military life,” he said. “Therefore, they are excited with the challenge and placed back in a position of leadership and trust as they alone are responsible for the outcome. In addition, as we make the long drives up the mountain roads or sit around the campfire, the hunts provide a chance to address any areas of conflict in their lives and communicate with other wounded veterans who have experienced the same effects of combat and have fought the same battle to recovery.”
Harvesting one of largest bears of the season at 253 pounds, Texas-based hunter and Army Master Sergeant Raymond Soto shares what this first-time experience meant to him. “Attending the bear hunt was a therapeutic and great time spent with other wounded veterans,” he said. “With its never ending distractions, life moves too fast and spending time with other combat veterans in a peaceful quiet place like Idaho was what I needed. Sharing memories and knowing that we all carry some sort of continuous pain, emotional and/or physical, it’s always a therapeutic experience when we get together and feel that bond that we all miss.”
“In addition, I spent 11.5 hours in a tree stand with no cell phone service or Internet so it allowed me to enjoy the peaceful outdoors reflecting on my deployments and those brothers who are no longer with us. I needed the time—being completely alone and just remembering.”
Knowing that many rifles present weight challenges to some wounded veterans, Proof Research, a Montana-based firearms manufacturer, loaned Hope For The Warriors a .300 Win Mag. with a carbon fiber wrapped match grade barrel and carbon-fiber Kevlar stock to use on the hunts. At just 6 pounds, this precision rife is the perfect weight for injured veterans who may struggle with heavier rifles.
Hope For The Warriors created the Outdoor Adventures Program in 2010 to provide adaptive opportunities for wounded heroes to participate in outdoor sporting activites. In 2012, the organization recognized the therapeutic benefits for the family members and expanded the program to include spouses and children of wounded and fallen service members.