Wounded Warrior Hunts Provide Opportunities for Veterans
by Chris Woodall
Over the past three years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working on five different Wounded Warrior hunts. We’ve truly met a ton of great guys and girls that are without a doubt heroes to this nation. The amount of sacrifice that they’ve made deserves more respect than any of us could ever dream of showing them. We are all proud to have been a part of this hunt, and you can bet we are ready to do it again at the drop of a hat.
A few weeks ago, Bill Petrus and I, along with Chris Porter, were invited to film a very special hunt consisting of 23 veterans from all branches of the military. John Nolan Jr., the event coordinator, is the man responsible for putting every one of these hunts together. John, a United States Air Force veteran with over 20 years of service, along with the help of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local businesses, put together a hunt of a lifetime for the warriors. After receiving a few goodies, the guys and girls were split into teams and sent to their hunting locations. One team of veterans was sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Columbia, LA. That’s where we met up with Jack Fanning and Ismael Villegas. Jack served on 6 deployments and was injured in a training accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Ismael (Ish) served 7 deployments and earned 2 Silver Stars and a Purple Heart. The hunt in Columbia ended for both Warriors without any luck, but would be the beginning of an adventure they would never forget.
These guys needed and deserved to kill a deer, and Bill was determined he was going to make that happen. Bill is a member of a hunting club on the Mississippi River and had a plan. It wouldn’t be easy, with the river being high, to get 6 guys, equipment, cameras, 2 trucks, and a pull-behind deer stand across to the island, but he was determined to make it happen. On the morning of January 4 we met u with Jack, Ish and fellow Air Force teammate, Donovan Chapman. After about 4 hours of work and barging trucks and equipment across the river, we finally made it to camp with just enough time to grab a quick lunch and head to the stand. Bill would hunt with Jack that first evening. Chris Porter and I would split up with Donovan and Ish.
It didn’t take long after getting the stand set up. Jack and Bill had deer all over them, from does all the way up to a high 120” class buck standing 60 yards from the special made Antler Shed blind. As a textbook hunt goes, just before shooting light faded, the buck they were after finally appeared at the end of the lane – a 140 lb. 8 pt. in perfect position for the shot. Only one problem. Every deer in the lane was standing right in front of him blocking Jack from being able to shoot. Tension was high with the light fading fast for the camera and for the shooter. As the last moments of daylight passed by, the opening finally presented itself and Jack got his shot. Jack, being a paraplegic, uses a special weapon setup with a mouthpiece to fire his gun. He aimed and fired and the buck dropped in it’s tracks. One of the best moments of being a cameraman is being able to witness firsthand the rush and joy the hunter feels after their harvest.
After a long night of celebrating Jack’s kill and listening to some for the best live music I’ve ever heard from Donovan (by the way, before serving in the U.S. Air Force, Donovan had two songs in the top 40 on country music radio), we prepared ourselves for what would turn out to be another successful day on the island. The morning hunt was tough. There wasn’t much movement in the woods and the weather wasn’t exactly what you’d want it to be for a deer hunt. The forecast for the evening showed one of the strongest cold fronts we’ve seen in years to pass through the area. Perfect timing to get the deer moving.
Ish has proven to be proficient with a weapon for some time, but just got into hunting this season. For the evening hunt we swapped up hunters and Bill was going to take Ish to a spot that was known to have some good bucks traveling through. Once again, a textbook hunt unfolded with cameras rolling the whole time. Bill and Ish had almost given up hope of getting that buck they were after until right before dark he appeared. A perfect 131 lb. 10 pt. walked out at 75 yds. Ish took the shot and dropped the buck right where he stood just before daylight faded.
Both of those guy’s expressions and their excitement for the deer they had taken made all the work and time it took to get to that moment worth it. Without a doubt, that hunt turned out to be one of the best hunts I’ve ever been a part of. We all owe it to these men and women of our military to do whatever we can to repay them for what they’ve done for us. So, anytime you get the chance to say thank you or help a veteran, don’t ley that chance pass you by.
T.P. Outdoors Adventures airs locally on KAQY on Saturday at 5:30pm, KNOE TV8 on Sundays at 10:30pm. Tune in Feb. 1-3 to see Jack and Ish’s hunt.