Heroes, Hunting and Healing: The Trinity Oaks Experience

Heroes, Hunting and Healing: The Trinity Oaks Experience

Above: Rachel DeHoyos, front left, says the Trinity Oaks experience helped her to "heal wounds you can't see." She immediately bonded with her guide, right, and the cameraman who joined them on their hunt.

When you’ve spent your life serving others by helping those in need and, at the same time, trying to create some sense of justice within our world, it can be very difficult to accept being cared for yourself. It can be even harder for you to admit you might be the one in need of help.

This was the dilemma Rachel DeHoyos found herself in after retirement.

DeHoyos had joined the U.S. Navy as a young woman, did her service, and then spent the next 35 years as an officer with the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department (FWPD), rising through the ranks to become a sergeant. Her work on the FWPD included everything from patrol to tactical details, from administrative work to bringing in those who had sexually abused and even murdered children.

“Police officers are exposed to approximately 175 or so critical incidents in a 25-year career, and I had an even longer career,” DeHoyos told “Most civilians only experience one to three such critical incidents in a lifetime. I spent the last few years of my career in the Crimes Against Children Unit. I feel that was a tipping point and triggered some serious PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for me.”

However, she added, actually seeking mental health help was very stigmatized in her line of work.

“You never, ever went to the police shrink and you never, ever let anyone know you were hurting,” she said.

All of which made DeHoyos a perfect candidate for the Trinity Oaks Heroes Program and the organization’s Bucks for the Brave hunt in November 2023. The four days of hunting, the camaraderie she experienced, and the care and consideration directed toward her made DeHoyos’ Bucks for the Brave time truly a healing and life-altering time in her life.

“The experience brought me peace and helped heal wounds that you can't see,” she said. “I can never repay the huge gift that the people at Trinity Oaks gave me.”

Established in 2007 in San Antonio, Trinity Oaks is a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded on the premise that active participation in the outdoors is a powerful, healing and fundamentally life-changing experience. The staff and volunteers at Trinity Oaks use hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities to make a real difference in one’s personal attitude and outlook. To date, it has helped thousands of people experience the outdoors—people who might not otherwise have had access to these experiences.

Founded by insurance executive Tom Snyder, Trinity Oaks began life with a focus on bringing children into the outdoors. Several years ago, the organization added to the mix its Heroes Program for military veterans, first responders and their families.

“The Heroes Program and our Heroes events build a community among these people, many of whom have had similar experiences,” said Philip Washington, veteran coordinator for Trinity Oaks. “Our hunting, fishing and other outdoors events bring people together. But these events are just as much about sitting around the campfire, talking, sharing experiences and realizing they are not alone.”

The Heroes events are many and include the annual Bucks for the Brave hunt. For the hunt, DeHoyos and three other female first responders journeyed to the Thumbtack Ranch near Batesville, Texas. They hunted together, bonded and found they were not alone. They also discovered that healing from troubling past events is very, very possible.

When she retired in March 2022, DeHoyos knew her recurring feelings of anxiety and depression were symptoms of a larger difficulty. She sought out help and received counseling through a first responder’s program located in her home state of Texas, which certainly helped her to understand her PTSD and its effects.

Then her spouse nominated her for the Bucks for the Brave event. DeHoyos was stunned that she was one of the four women chosen to participate in the hunt, though she had been hunting with her father since she was a child, and fishing and camping were also regular activities for her and her family. She said her father is the reason she loves to hunt and fish, sharing that he’d passed away in March 2023, just eight months before the hunt. “This is part of the reason the hunt was incredibly healing and emotional for me,” she said.


Rachel DeHoyos , left
Rachel DeHoyos’ spouse nominated her for the Bucks for the Brave event. She credits her father, above right, with instilling her love of hunting.

DeHoyos hunted hard for the duration of the hunt. She shared meals and experiences with her fellow hunters and was generally pampered by the Trinity Oaks volunteers. She took a beautiful scimbok, a cross between a scimitar oryx and a gemsbok, on the last day of the hunt.

Trinity Oaks hosts approximately 300 events a year spread out over its youth, family and Heroes programs. Amazingly, all events are offered gratis to participants.
That’s right—no charge.

DeHoyos with scimbok

“We frequently partner with other organizations to hold various events,” Washington noted. “We’re very glad to do that. But some organizations come to us with cooperative ideas—some good ideas, too—but then tell us they will need to charge a certain amount for registration or food or lodging. And we tell them, ‘Sorry, we can’t be involved. All our events are without a charge to the participants.’”

The Bucks for the Brave 2023 event was actually a pair of hunts, one for male first responders, one for females. The hunts were offered free of charge thanks to a long list of corporate and media sponsors. Plus, numerous volunteers gave their time to make these hunts happen. The faith-based volunteers were one of the reasons DeHoyos left the event a changed person.

“I was so overwhelmed by their selflessness, by how gracious they were to all of us,” DeHoyos said. “I’m used to being the person who helps others, and it wasn’t easy at first being on the other side of that, to have people take care of me. But they did and it helped me so much.”

In sharing her experience with the other women, military veterans who’d experienced many traumatic events themselves, DeHoyos felt more able to accept and let go of some of the pain of her past.

“I’m not completely whole,” she admitted, adding that her PTSD still affects her and that the traumas she experienced as a police officer still haunt her at times. “But I’m a lot better than I was, and much of that is due to Trinity Oaks. I’m so very grateful.”

For more information on the great things Trinity Oaks is doing for people like DeHoyos, and for children and their families, including the large number of 2024 events and volunteer opportunities, visit Trinity Oaks Outdoors by clicking here.

About the Author
Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. A member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Brian enjoys hunting hogs, shooting 1911s, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats.