Hunting with Veterans and Military Wounded Personnel
To honor those who give their lives for our Freedoms has a tradition in SCI Foundation. Disabled military personnel and veterans are honored at an annual SCI Convention Breakfast. It is a way to say thank you. Many SCI Chapters sponsor hunting trips for veterans and military wounded personnel.
Arkansas Warrior Hunt 2014
The 2014 Arkansas Warrior hunt was a huge success. With the funding and support from both the generous landowners and the Arkansas Chapter of SCI, our Arkansas Warrior was able to harvest a Mule Deer, Turkey and two daily limits of Pheasants in South Dakota. The following is a summary of the preparation and execution of the hunt:
In early 2014 (January), the Arkansas Chapter SCI Board voted to sponsor an Arkansas Warrior Hunt in an effort to show support to our State and National Military Heroes, as well as to bring attention to our chapter efforts. The Chapter budgeted $3000 for the sole purpose of taking an Arkansas Combat Veteran on a Deer/Turkey/Pheasant hunt in South Dakota.
A selection process was initiated by myself, in which I reached out to many Veteran Service Agencies (Disabled American Veterans Assoc., Veterans of Foreign Wars, local Veterans Groups etc). Applications were accepted and reviewed and ultimately Arthur Stokenbury was selected to participate in this hunt. Art is a highly decorated combat Veteran who served in Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq until being struck by a mortar round in Sadr City. He was invited to our annual fundraising banquet in April 2014 and the project as well as the Veteran was introduced to the chapter members.
After being selected, the license application process was started and Art was successful in drawing both a difficult draw Deer and Turkey License in Western South Dakota (Pheasant licenses can be purchased over the counter). After ensuring the necessary tags were purchased by the chapter and drawn, I was able to secure access to private land for these hunts by contacting local landowners who were more than willing to support our effort. Since the landowners donated access, there was a substantial reduction in cost, allowing the chapter to purchase a Tikka T-3 .308 Caliber Rifle and Leopold Scope, which was given to him in May 2014 in preparation for the hunt.
I reached out to the Governors of both Arkansas and South Dakota and both provided letters of support to Mr. Stokenbury, thanking him for his service as well as showing support for this hunt. Both letters were framed and presented to the Veteran during his hunt. In addition, I had received donations from local businesses (Cabela’s etc) that were willing to provide gifts to the Veteran upon our arrival in Nov. Finally, an article was published in The Safari Times (August 2014) showcasing the hunt and our chapter’s efforts to support these types of projects.
On November 15th, Art and I packed up and started the 1150 mile drive to Rapid City SD. Time flew by as we took in the beautiful cross-country drive, talked about hunting, military service and most importantly, his sacrifices. We discussed at length the challenges he faced in terms of his wartime service and the injuries he suffered as a result of being hit by a mortar round in combat. Art and I talked for hours on end about the stressors of war and law enforcement and I felt like both of us gained a greater understanding of our many blessings. I certainly gained a greater appreciation for all military and wartime Veterans and felt comfortable that we couldn’t have made a better selection for this hunt. Art and I had a great deal in common and the awkwardness of being on a trip with someone relatively unknown to me was easily overcome. A lifelong friendship and bond was firmly in place before we arrived in SD the next day. Arrival day was spent visiting with family, catching up on our much needed rest and preparing for the first hunt.
Prior to leaving for the trip, Art told me that he wanted the full South Dakota experience. Upon waking up the morning of the 17th I realized that he would in fact get his wish! We woke up to a moderate ground blizzard with blowing snow, extreme winds and an outside air temperature of minus ten degrees. Wind chills factored in resulted in a rather chilly day of hunting at minus thirty. We headed ninety miles East to Philip SD and met with landowners William and Shirley Buls. In typical SD fashion there was very little talk beyond introductions and we quickly found ourselves being dropped off for our first walk across several miles of rolling hills. Within minutes of getting out of the truck for the first walk, Art’s hat blew off and tumbled across the field towards Nebraska! There was no point in attempting to chase it! Several hours and many miles later we found the deer almost impossible to find due to limited visibility and blowing snow. One had to nearly step on a deer to kick it up and most we saw were on a dead run towards the next tree line or in some cases, the next county. After several walks and minimal success we finally spotted a nice buck chasing a doe. Although he stopped and stood broadside, Art struggled with judging the distance and wind drift due to his being unfamiliar with prairie type hunting. We were not able to get back on the deer after they ran over the hillside and out of site. Without exaggerating, Art and I walked nearly ten miles on the first day and after eight hours of walking through snow and deep ravines we had committed to calling it a day. As we were driving out of the pasture I saw what I thought was the same buck and doe trotting through an open field approximately a half mile away. We quickly decided to give it one more chance and found ourselves back out in the cold and snow on a dead run trying to cut the deer off before they dropped into the river bottom. We were able to get set up on a hillside and Art anchored the deer with ease. The buck, although not a record book deer was at least five years old and over three hundred pounds.
The second day of the hunt we travelled to Whitewood SD to Turkey hunt with a good friend named Bob Steenholdt. Bob was gracious enough to open his home to us in addition to providing some wholesome entertainment of card playing and shooting pool.
Because of the late Fall Turkey hunting there was no way to call or set up for these birds. Fall Black Hills Turkeys are very spread out and completely lacking of any sensible behavior patterns. In addition to this, the snow was much deeper in the Black Hills and only the main roads were able to be travelled. We spent the better part of two days driving and walking old forest service roads and trails. We saw hundreds of Deer and Turkey’s, some as close as a few feet away in trees and on the ground. What we did not see were gobblers. Finally, towards the end of the second day we were blessed to have a group of five or six gobblers walk right across the trail in front of us. Both Art and I skirted around the hillside and were able to cut them off. The Turkey’s passed by us at about twenty feet away and Art shot. Nothing! Art shot again and dropped a nice bird. We later found that because he was using Number Two Steel Shot and not Turkey loads, the shot must have spread wider and went all the way around the birds head. I have hunted my whole life and would have never guessed that possible at such close range. Art’s Turkey weighed about twenty pounds and had an eight and a half inch beard. A perfect Merriam’s Turkey and a wonderful hunt.
The next couple days were spent cutting deer for sausage and jerky, taking animals to the taxidermist and sightseeing the Black Hills. Art was able to visit Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument, Custer State Park and many of the Old West Towns of the Black Hills. As a rare and special treat, we encountered a large Mountain Goat Billy just around the corner from Mt. Rushmore. The goat was licking salt and minerals from the roadway and both Art and I were able to get within ten feet of this animal for a rare photo opportunity.
For the final hunting trip adventure we travelled to Winner SD for what is known to be the best Pheasant Hunting in the US. Landowners Jim and Patty Lampy not only welcomed us to hunt but gathered assistance from some of the best local hunting guides to ensure success. The Lampy family owns a large acreage that is managed and planted solely for pheasant hunting. Despite windy, muddy and extremely wet conditions the hunting was phenomenal and we easily saw thousands of Pheasant on our two day hunt. Art was able to participate in some long walks, observe some unreal pointing dogs and harvest two daily limits of birds including a rooster with a twenty four inch tail. Art was amazed with not only the beauty of the birds but the fast paced action of hunting wild Pheasant in strong winds.
To say that this trip was successful would be an understatement. Although I found the experience very stressful in the planning phase, the actual implementation of the hunt made the experience seem easy and relatively effortless. The satisfaction of knowing that I was helping bring a dream to fruition and the realization that I was a part of giving back to a very deserving Veteran was priceless.
As a closing note, there are too many people involved in this effort to thank individually. I wish to thank the Arkansas Chapter of SCI and the Board Members for their willingness to trust me in this effort. Without their support none of this could have occurred. Thanks to the Buls, Lampy and Steenholdt families for graciously opening their homes and properties for someone they had never met simply because he is a Veteran and served his country and all of us as Americans. And finally, anyone and everyone who was involved, supported and followed our efforts to make this Veteran’s dreams of a SD hunt become a reality. Thank you.