Eight soldiers from five states (Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) met near Nashville, Mo., for a special mission: four days of hard-earned outdoor recreation therapy at Peterson Outdoors Ministries’ 3rd annual Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt. They would spend opening weekend of the firearms deer season hunting private property, thanks to local landowners.
The participants spent the first day getting to know one another and firing and sighting in their guns. Soldiers were given backpacks full of gifts, mostly hunting items donated by sponsoring companies, and hunter orange vests that had been embroidered with their names.
It was a good first day for the soldiers, but not their first experience with the Peterson Ministries’ staff. The organization had begun contacting the families and preparing for their visit months prior. The organization’s goal is to minister to the needs of the soldiers and their families before, during, and after the event itself.
“It is great to get wounded warriors or individuals with disabilities into the outdoors, but if it stops there, then it falls far too short,” says Tron Peterson, founder of Peterson Outdoors Ministries, a nonprofit organization that offers outdoor recreational therapy to wounded warriors, as well as to children and adults with dis abilities or terminal illnesses, at no cost.
Programs are designed for the soldier’s whole family because spouses and children of wounded warriors also deserve support, healing opportunities and a fun adventure.
Day 2: Team Building
The season opened with a great first morning for the soldiers. Dustin Morrison, of New Market, Iowa, scored a great buck and several others also had deer down. Everyone was treated to a talk by Chuck McAlister, founder and host of the hunting program Adventure Bound Outdoors.
The hunting groups are an important factor in the organization’s process and success. “We team our hunters with a professional guide and videographer,” explains Tron. “These teams are picked not on their hunting ability or excellence in filming, but because of their character and willingness to make a difference, encourage each other, and help the soldier with his struggles.”
Participants are encouraged to use their time outdoors to reflect. “Each morning, before the hunt starts, we have a speaker share a message of hope and encouragement for the soldiers to reflect on while in the hunting blind,” says Tron. “Each evening, we have a speaker give a message to the entire group of soldiers, their families, and volunteers.”
Day 3: Honors and Special Guests
Nick Jedlicka, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, had an opportunity to hunt a great property and took a handsome nine-point buck.
That evening the soldiers were encouraged to share a little about themselves and where they had served. Their humbleness was overwhelming. No matter how long they had served, how many tours they had done, or how severe their injuries, none of them considered themselves to be heroes. To them it was just part of the job.
Day 4: Big Bucks, Big Finish
The soldiers greeted their last day with a morning hunt.
Conservation Department staff set up the evening’s event. They prepared a meal of venison kabobs, fried catfish, venison chili, and sides for about 250–275 people, including the soldiers, volunteers, and members of the community. Some of the funding for the event was provided by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. To learn more, visit missouriconservationheritagefoundation.org.
Alex Rutledge, host of the TV show Bloodline with Alex Rutledge, had hunted that morning with Robert Duke, of St. Robert, Mo., and he gave a talk to close the event. It was a night of good food, pride, and patriotism.
The hunters took a total of 11 deer. Most of the deer were donated by the hunters to the Share the Harvest program.
These events are always met with excitement and appreciation by the participants. However, it is their ability to help individuals and families heal that really make them special.
“We have seen more than 70 lives changed for the better at our events, families and marriages restored, hope and purpose restored in the life of the soldier and his family. This is what it is all about,” says Tron. “Also, several of our wounded warriors have returned to their home states and started programs to help other wounded warriors.”
Behind the Scenes
It takes a great deal of funding, labor, material, and moral support to offer these programs. Planning begins months in advance. Luckily, community members, business leaders, and other organizations have been extremely generous and supportive of their returning heroes.
Many volunteers participated daily during the event as well as before and afterward. In addition, 50–60 volunteers worked at least 10 hours on three of the event’s four days.
“We receive support from both local and national companies, churches, and faith-based groups as well as the community,” says Tron. “We have over 150 volunteers who we train to help with these events. These volunteers and businesses recognize that we are free because of the sacrifices these service men and women have made and want to give back in this way.”
If you are a wounded warrior, or if you have a disability or terminal illness, and you would like to be included in a hunt, contact Peterson Outdoors Ministries at petersonoutdoors.org, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 417-529-0115. Volunteer opportunities are also available.
Missouri–Kansas Ducks N’Bucks
In November 2012, the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation and the Conservation Department cosponsored the annual Missouri–Kansas Ducks N’ Bucks event held near St. Joseph, Mo.
Eight Purple Heart recipients traveled to northwest Missouri for a four-day guided hunt, multiple banquets, and an evening event including dinner and honors at the Conservation Department’s regional office in St. Joseph, made possible by funding through the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.
Community involvement was remarkable. “We had a super group of volunteers that helped out during the event,” says Brian Roderick, Missouri-Kansas Ducks N’ Bucks chapter president. “Thirty-five wonderful volunteers had boots on the ground, helping transport, guide, cook and more.”
The Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation is a national nonprofit organization. They are dedicated to serving our nation's combat wounded by providing world-class outdoor sporting activities as a means to recognize and honor their sacrifice, encourage independence and connections with communities, and pro mote healing and wellness through camaraderie and a shared passion for the outdoors. You can learn more about them and how to get involved at wwiaf.org or by calling 1-888-308-9942.
“I see a crucial need for mental and spiritual healing in the combat-wounded veteran population, and I’ve seen how sporting activities in the great outdoors can meet this need,” says founder John McDaniel, who is also a veteran.
“In my career, this was one of the most humbling and gratifying events I have ever had an opportunity to be a part of,” says Roger Wolken, Conservation Department northwest regional protection supervisor. “I was touched by the gratitude each of the veterans expressed to us. We are so blessed to be U.S. citizens, to live and work in the profession we dearly love, to raise our children in a free country, all of which is due to the veterans of our armed forces and their personal dedication and sacrifices.”
Permit Exemptions for Veterans
Any member of the U.S. military currently assigned as a patient to a Warrior Transition Brigade, Warrior Transition Unit, or a military medical center may hunt (but not trap) wildlife—except deer and turkey—without a permit but must carry orders showing assignment to a Warrior Transition Brigade, Warrior Transition Unit, or admissions verification to a military medical center. However, additional permits are required for migratory birds. Note: Nonresident veterans who meet these requirements also can purchase resident permits, for example, resident deer or turkey hunting permits.
Any honorably discharged resident or nonresident veteran having a service-related disability of 60 percent or greater, or who was a prisoner of war during military service, may hunt (but not trap) wildlife—except deer or turkey—without a permit but must carry a certified statement of eligibility from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more information on military permit exemptions, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/9202, review the Wildlife Code of Missouri: 3 CSR 10-5.205: Permits Required: Exceptions (available from permit vendors and online through the Secretary of State’s website at sos.mo.gov), or call our Department headquarters at 573-751-4115 and ask to speak with someone in our Permit Services office.