To say the least, I am blessed about my opportunities in the great outdoors and to be a small part of a great company, such as Hunters Specialties. Recently it was Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. A photo of my Dad’s grave on my Facebook timeline triggered a flood of emotions. He was an Air Force Veteran, as well as having served in Vietnam. The granite stone at his burial plot reminds us all.
My old man was drafted right out of high school by the Minnesota Twins and he was to report to spring training the following season. However, this great country had other plans. Instead, he was drafted into the United States Air Force. I suppose especially at that time, the United States needed soldiers instead of ball players. He served his time in the military and had hopes of playing professional baseball still. A bad car accident and a back injury ended those dreams. I spent the day thinking about memories of my father and the times we shared. I realized how thankful I was, that he brought me up in the outdoors, hunting and fishing.
I have been given opportunities that many folks never get to experience. One day, while working a fall classic at Bass Pro Shops for HS, I met a fellow by the name of Bud DePlatchett. He introduced himself and told me a little about the organization that he was with, called Freedom Hunters. This was an organization that was dedicated to honoring those who protect our freedoms, to include active duty, combat veterans, families of the fallen, children of the deployed, as well as those wounded or injured by taking them on outdoor adventures. Bud asked me if I would be interested in helping him and being a part of this organization and I could not refuse.
I have been an active volunteer with Freedom Hunters for several years now and have had opportunities to take many Veterans on different outdoor adventures. We have had great success on many of these outings just adding to the experience. One particular hunt stands out the most for me.
Three years ago, I was asked to be a guide on a turkey hunt in central Virginia, for one of the members selected by Freedom Hunters. I distinctly remember Bud calling me and telling me that I would be taking a woman who was not only a Veteran, but also a Gold Star wife. I was speechless. So over the course of time, prior to the hunt, I made contact with Liz Bohle. Liz had never really turkey hunted spring gobblers before, but loved to hunt other animals and loved to shoot her bow. We talked several times on the phone and I was bound and determined to get this woman a bird.
Weeks later, we rolled up into turkey camp, where I finally got to meet Liz. She was a fiery redhead with a passion for life, her two girls, the outdoors and the Lord. As we got to know one another, she had told me about her husband Brad being killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Liz herself was a Veteran and from talking to her, you could tell that she just embraced life and had a vigor for the outdoors. We talked and swapped hunting stories for a while that first evening and I made sure that we covered all of the bases on the do’s and don’ts of turkey hunting, prior to the morning’s hunt.
The next morning found us in a beautiful, wide open creek bottom, with huge old growth trees. I had been in there scouting the afternoon before and had seen a nice gobbler, so I knew we needed to be in there early. We had to cross a big rolling pasture in the dark, to keep from being seen by the roosted birds.
As daylight came, two gobblers erupted from the corner of the pasture about 300 yards from us. We managed to cut the distance in half and get set up. The birds were on fire, gobbling at every call I made. They finally flew down and stayed in the corner of the pasture. I figured they had hens with them. For an hour the birds never moved, but answered everything I said. Emotionally, it was killing me. I wanted Liz to get a bird so bad, that several times I told her we needed to get closer to them, despite my gut saying ”stay put, have patience”. Ultimately, my gut won and we stayed put. Which proved to be the right decision. I got super aggressive on the HS call and within minutes, I had a string of turkeys coming up the edge of the pasture.
The first bird I saw was a jake meandering through the timber. I told Liz to get ready, the birds were coming. Then I saw a longbeard coming down the edge of the field, right toward the waiting muzzle of Liz’s shotgun. I told her to get ready and that the bird was going to pop out from behind the huge tree in front of her and he read the script perfectly. I had a front row seat to one of the most beautiful sights a hunter could ask for. Liz put the bead on the bird and shot. Immediately after the shot, I noticed a bird walking up the field away from us and I thought she had missed. I asked her “if she hit him” and she said “yes”. I said “well there is another one walking, I think you missed him”! She said “no, he is dead”. I said “ok, are you sure” and she assured me she got hers. I raised my shotgun and dropped the other turkey that I had seen.
We quickly made sure the guns were safe and stood up. Sure enough, there was Liz’s turkey laying not fifteen yards away, right where I had last seen him, and mine was flopping up the field. Liz had taken her first longbeard and I was fortunate enough to make it a double. We were beside ourselves! It was a hunt and memory that will last a lifetime and it couldn’t have played out any better. The birds were on fire gobbling, they made us work for them and we ended up victorious in the end. I couldn’t have been more proud of her success and thinking about what she has gone through. This was a hunt that is etched in my mind forever.
As I reminisce about all of the hunts that I have participated in over the years for our disabled Veterans, their stories, there is one commonality amongst them all. Whether they have no arms or legs, lost a loved one, or been injured and recovered, not a single one of them ever complains about their misfortune and not a single one has any regrets regarding their service to this great Country. It truly is an honor to be in the presence of such great people and it truly is a blessing to be able to share the mission of Freedom Hunters and spend the time in the woods with these American heroes. So many friendships have been made over the years and I only wish that I could give back more to these soldiers that truly deserve it. I encourage each and every one of you that read this to become involved with an organization such as Freedom Hunters and give back. It will change your life for the better, I promise.