Hart County deer hunt brings out the best in Wounded Warriors, volunteers

Story and photos by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Kerry McDaniel gives the troops a thumbs up as they prepare for a weekend of fellowship and fun during last fall’s Hart County Wounded Warrior Hunt. The event was sponsored by the Horse Cave Volunteer Fire Department, the Hart County Rescue Squad and Western Kentucky University. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

HORSE CAVE, Ky. – Question:  What do you get when you take a bunch of volunteer first responders, some university students and professors and add in a hand full of injured war veterans?

Answer: An opportunity for charity, fellowship and a whole lot of fun!

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William Winburn takes aim during the 2012 Hart County Wounded Warrior deer hunt. Winburn was with 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery in Iraq when he was wounded seven years ago. “I only get to hunt once in a while,” he said. “This means the world to me since I don’t get to wear the uniform or be with the guys anymore.”

Last November members of the Horse Cave Volunteer Fire Department, the Hart County rescue squad and the Western Kentucky University biology department gathered together with sixteen of Kentucky’s Wounded Warriors for their third annual deer hunt.  The event took place on the 800-acre WKU Green River Biological Preserve over a three day period.

Kentucky National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Reed has been organizing hunting and fishing trips for Wounded Warrior for years.

“This is good stuff for these guys,” said Reed.  “Some of them used to hunt and just haven’t had the chance to get out since they were hurt.  And for some it’s their first time hunting, and they have a blast doing something that’s different and fun.  It just doesn’t get better than this!”

The hunt wasn’t just about the troops said Reed.  Biology students from WKU took this as an opportunity to practice their skills in “the real world,” classifying the harvested animals, field dressing them, conducting examinations and collecting samples.

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Jeremy Austin and his spotter, Maj. Gen. Lonnie Culver, show off the eight point buck taken during the 2012 Hart County Wounded Warrior Hunt. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Austin says one of the great things about the Wounded Warrior hunts is enjoying the camaraderie with the troops. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

“This is a community event,” said Kerry McDaniel, Hart County Emergency Services director.  McDaniel coordinated the logistics with the local community.  “It’s got a lot of support and volunteers.  The goal is to put a smile on the soldier’s faces.  Overall we do a pretty good job.”

For McDaniel the hunt is personal on many levels.  His father, Alroy, was a Korean War veteran who took part in the previous hunts until his passing last year.  In a unique turn of events, McDaniel’s son, Curtis, was injured in Afghanistan and this was his first time hunting at the event.

“Dad’s not here this year,” said McDaniel, “but I look around and I see him everywhere.”

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Participants of the Hart County Wounded Warrior Hunt stand over their first morning’s harvest. In addition to giving the troops the opportunity to take part in an American tradition, the hunt aided in the culling of the deer population on the Western Kentucky University’s game farm and provided biology students the opportunity to study wildlife anatomy and take parasitic specimens in the field. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Along with the hunt are cookouts, awards ceremonies and camaraderie.  State and local officials joined the volunteers in honoring the veterans, and hugs and smiles were a common sight.

One surprising note: a custom deer blind to accommodate some of the handicapped veterans was built by the local Amish community.

“The Amish are very supportive of our military,” said McDaniel.

Injured while on duty in Iraq in 2005, Jeremy Austin misses being with the troops.  He says events like the Hart County hunt keep that connection alive.

“I really enjoy being with the guys,” he said.  “These kinds of things help a lot.”

Philip Hain was wounded in Afghanistan in 2011.  His enthusiasm for being part of the weekend’s hunt is matched only by his gratitude.

“It’s a pleasure to be here with a bunch of like-minded people who enjoy hunting and being outdoors,” he said.  “I could never do this on my own.  I haven’t been hunting since I was a kid, and the things that these folks have done, to put all this together for us to come out and do all of this, it’s way beyond what I could imagine.  It’s a once in a lifetime experience for me.”

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Western Kentucky University biology professor Cheryl Davis collected deer ticks for the study of Lyme disease. “Outreach programs like this wounded warrior hunt go beyond our students’ education and allows them to impact other people,” she says. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

The partnership between the community and Western Kentucky University is mutually beneficial.  Kentucky’s deer population is at record height and the hunt aids in the culling of the herd for the WKU game farm.

As the first morning’s harvest was brought in, WKU students were in the mix, assisting the Wounded Warriors in unloaded their trophies, field dressing the animals and taking samples for study back at school.

Cheryl Davis, WKU biology professor – parasitology, to be specific – was particularly excited by all that was going on.  She and her students were collecting deer ticks for the study of Lyme disease.

“The students in our program are bright and have passion for what they’re doing,” said Davis.  “But then if they can take that and apply it to service to others  in terms of social responsibility in conservation and outreach programs like this wounded warrior hunt, that just doubles the impact because it goes beyond their education and allows them to impact other people.  That’s something we’ve been working on for some time now at WKU.”

All of this is music to Reed’s ears.

“We’re working on having these hunts all across the state,” he said.  “There are plenty of folks who want to help our troops.  The more that get involved, the better for our Wounded Warriors.”

For more information on how you can help Kentucky’s Wounded Warriors email pao@kentuckyguard.com or comment on our Facebook page.

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