This is the first Field Journal on my new website, which will describe some of my travels and experiences in the outdoors. I've been fortunate to have done several hunts this past year, from doves to moose, and critters in between, and, of course, some are more memorable than others. When I think about those that had the greatest impact on me, I can easily make choices.
Over the last few years I've been working with disabled soldiers who were injured in the current conflict. I met some at Walter Reed hospital, and others who won essay contests. Hunting with these wounded warriors has instilled in me a great sense of satisfaction in that I'm able, in a small way, to help them overcome some of the shattered dreams that they lived with after suffering severe trauma on the battlefield. Seeing the smiles on these great men as they watched a new morning born with anticipation of perhaps achieving success in the field is a powerful and moving sensation.
Chad Kueser is is one of the wounded warriors I took on an expense-free hunt for Colorado elk. My outfitter friend Dick Dodds of Elkhorn Outfitters near Craig, Colorado, donated the hunt and made it possible for Chad to live a long-time dream. The Outdoor Channel also helped to defray travel expenses and license costs, and Gunsmoke Taxidermy of Craig offered to mount Chad's elk at no cost.
This was not a drive-by hunt where an elk could be shot by the hunter inside a pickup truck. These were wild animals that were bunched in large herds in foothill areas after the animals migrated out of the high country. Because Chad is a double amputee with no legs, it was a challenge to get him close to the elk. One of the guides, Jim McCoy laid awake most of a night trying to figure out a plan. He finally had a solution. Jim devised a handlebar contraption that was fitted to a saddle horn. Hopefully, Chad could balance himself on the saddle by holding onto the handlebars, and Buster, the mule who would carry Chad, would gently transport the hunter across the uneven terrain. But this wasn't enough. There was no guarantee that Buster would be able to get Chad close enough to the elk for a shot, so the guides carried Chad's wheelchair as Chad rode the mule.
At the moment of truth, Chad rode close to the elk, but not close enough. The guides lowered him in the wheelchair and literally trotted Chad through the brush to get closer. Finally, at 200 yards, they set Chad in a spot where he could shoot from, and presently the hunter took a dandy five by five bull with a 200 yard shot.
One of the things that struck me about Chad when I first met him on a Maryland waterfowl hunt in 2006 was his perennial smile. But I hadn't seen anything until I congratulated him on his elk. To put it lightly, he was thrilled beyond words. The whole camp was abuzz when they learned of his success, and everyone shook his hand, not only because of his elk, but because of his service and sacrifice to our country.
I'm totally focused on hunting with as many wounded warriors as I can, but my efforts will reach only a handful each year. If you know a disabled soldier who loves to hunt but needs a buddy or two to help him out, consider getting involved. To these men, hunting is terrific therapy, but many can't do it alone. You can be an answer to their dream. I promise you will be rewarded many times over.