Over ten years ago, Bill Bachenberg noticed the lack of disabled shooters at his business, Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays in Coplay, Pa. What he found out is that wheelchairs were not able to navigate his stone pathways and many were on disability and could not afford to shoot sporting clays.
Bachenberg, who also happens to be a member of the NRA Board of Directors, started asking disabled shooters, “Would you like to hunt and participate in other outdoor sports?”
Bachenberg took this same approach when he discovered that disabled veterans and first responders had a similar problem. Many of them loved the outdoors, he found out, including hunting and shooting, but the various public lands in the area provided little to no access for the disabled.
Camp Freedom offers a variety of outdoor activities at all skill levels for disabled veterans and first responders. (Image courtesy of Camp Freedom.)
Offering free outdoor adventures for the disabled, Camp Freedom opened last year near Carbondale, Pa. In the fall of 2018, Guedes and his staff took 49 disabled veterans and first responders on various outdoor activities that included hunting and shooting, fishing and biking. (All disabled people are welcome at Camp Freedom, though it primarily focuses on those two above-mentioned groups.) Marking an incredible success story, by mid-October 2019, Camp Freedom had hosted another 292 veterans, 51 First Responders and more than 200 of their family members.
The Camp Freedom property is home to whitetail deer, black bear, turkey, grouse, coyote, fox and waterfowl. There are also two ponds that provide great fishing opportunities, plus 1.5 miles of access to the Lackawanna River for incredible trout fishing.
A partial list of Camp Freedom activities includes:
Guided and Unguided Fishing
Guided Hunting (Rifle, Muzzleloader and Archery)
Hayrides and Picnics
Wildlife Tracking and Identification
Wildlife and Flora Photography
Primitive Overnight Camping
Hiking, Biking, Mountain Biking
River Kayaking (off-site)
Horseback Riding (off-site)
Sporting Clays (off-site)
Camp Freedom uses Action Trackchairs, all-terrain wheelchairs, that give sportsmen full access to the outdoors. (Image courtesy of Camp Freedom.)
According to Guedes, the outdoors provides a healing environment, a quiet and natural setting where people can relax and begin to sort out things in their lives. More than that, he noted, the activities break the pattern of isolation and desperation so many veterans and first responders experience as the mental and physical toll of the work they do impacts them.
“Our guests get the chance to focus on a specific activity, one that gets them off the couch and out of the house,” Guedes said. “They are committed to doing something and it gives them a purpose. Plus, they are engaged in these activities with other people who’ve experienced the same thing in life. That interaction is a huge help, too.”
Guedes continued, “We don’t force an agenda, don’t try to make anyone share their stories. We don’t psycho-analyze anyone. But when you get three to five people sharing a deer hunt over the course of three days, for example, trust and an understanding builds. These people no longer feel alone, and, all by itself, this is a very, very positive change.”
Matt Guedes, executive director of Camp freedom, owned a hunting consultant business for 10 years. He is an outdoor writer, pro-staff hunter and sponsored hunter who has pursued various game in nine countries on five different continents. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Army for 3 ½ years. (Image courtesy of Camp Freedom.)
The activities here are led by Camp Freedom's staff and experienced volunteers. The camp is mostly Action Trackchair (all-terrain wheelchair) accessible, and the activities themselves are adapted to give every guest the opportunity to participate. And thanks to the generous support of donors, all Camp Freedom activities are provided free of charge.To apply for a Camp Freedom experience, go to the organization’s website at and click on “Application.” The website also provides background on the various activities, testimonials and ways to donate and/or become a sponsor.
“Our veterans and first responders have seen and done many stressful things in their work, and the impacts on these people are often very significant,” Guedes said. “Divorces, broken homes, addictions—all are very common problems for these people. But we’ve seen the very positive impact that Camp Freedom can have on people, and we plan on providing this kind of help for years to come.”
About the Author: Brian McCombie is a field editor and editorial contributor for the NRA's American Hunter. He writes about firearms and gear for the NRA's Shooting Illustrated website, as well as handling public relations and marketing for companies and manufacturers in the shooting sports industry. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10 mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with Squinchy, the orange tabby cat.