There is a great American story that’s seldom told- a story of battle-scarred heroes that we’ve yet to meet. It’s a story of Wounded Warriors trying to find their place in the world and to feel “normal” again. This is a story about Americans we owe a debt of gratitude to.
The steep rugged mountains of Southern British Columbia’s Cascade Mountain Range is the perfect place for anyone to get quiet, take a breath of fresh air and let your soul fly with the eagles. Time spent on the mountain, pressing yourself to go beyond what you “think” you can do breaking those self imposed limitations, doing things you have never before dreamed that you would ever be able to do. The mountain makes you work harder, fight longer and possibly even exhaust you, but at the end of the trail there is the triumph that you have risen to the challenge and owned the mountain.
Adventures Enabled that sums up Ron Raboud’s mission with Wounded Warrior Outdoors, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping active duty service men and women get out in the outdoors while attaining therapeutic benefit, rediscovering their ability despite their current physical challenges. WWO is unique in the fact that all the guests are current wounded in-hospital patients from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, Balboa Medical Center San Diego, Brooke Army Medical Center or San Antonio Military Medical Center. WWO serves 50 active duty warriors every year.
This trip’s warriors were all Marines based out of Balboa Naval Medical Center; Guillermo (TJ) Tejada, USMC, Kaleb Weakley, USMC, Isaac Blunt, USMC, and Jordan Maynard, USMC, Medical Chaperone Anthony Shuford, USN, from Balboa Medical Center accompanies the warriors on the trip as well as wounded warrior mentor Jim Sursely.
In years past, over half of the warriors have never been on a hunt and Dave Wabnegger of Otter Lake Guide Outfitters makes certain that everyone from first time hunters to experienced hunters alike have an amazing experience.
After meeting Ron and several warriors at the Wild Sheep Foundation convention and sporting clays tournament, I was thrilled to participate in this year’s British Columbia black bear hunting adventures. This was a chance for me to honor and an opportunity to thank these American heroes for their service to our great country, countrymen and women. Chris Denham from Western Hunter T.V. was also along with two cameramen to document the journey to air over Labor Day this year.
The night before the hunt was quiet, everyone settling in, dining on good food and just getting the feel of the place. The first night is always the quietest.
Our first day out, I hunted with TJ, a double amputee with a smile bright enough to light up a room. Tj’s love and dedication to his country and his family is second to none, a noble man and true warrior in every sense of the word. The morning started out slow, driving logging roads to glass clear cuts. Dave and Randy were put to work as part time lumber jackers clearing the winter fallen trees from the roads.
Mid day, we got the call that Kaleb had taken a nice bear so we made our way over to where they had taken the bruin in case they needed help packing or skinning. The bruin was stunning a gorgeous cinnamon colored boar. Kaleb was beyond thrilled.
After a series of photos and skinning Kaleb’s bruin, we set back out in search of a bear for TJ. Kaleb’s bear was the first one that TJ has seen in the wild and the excitement had us all anxious for action. While driving a logging road, we came upon an old cabin, feeding a mere 70 yards from the road was a black bear. He was close…too close.
As soon as we spotted the bear, so did the hounds that were boxed in the back of the truck and when their alarm bark went off, so did the bear. Into the timber, we did not see the bruin again. The disappointment was felt in all of us after spending many long hours with the hopes of that moment but blessings come in many forms.
Within 30 minutes, thanks to the help of volunteers Jordie Cook, Omar Karame and Debbie Wabnegger; TJ was back on another bruin; this one, a big chocolate. He was playing peek-a-boo along the hillside between 300-330 yards away (or meters as the guys put it). The bear was a shooter and we just had to get TJ set up to take the shot.
TJ was set up as stable as possible in his chair on the side of a mountain. Unfortunately, the shooting sticks were too short we had to improvise off the tripod that I had brought along for my camera.
Falling Back on Training…
I always say that in the moment one rarely rises up to the occasion but most always falls back on their level of training. TJ is a 14 year Marine and has extensive training. After sorting out the reticle in his Swarovski Optik scope, he set his hand atop the tripod, wrapped the sling around his arm resting the stock of the gun along his wrist, all while balancing in his chair on the side of a mountain, took aim and executed an absolutely perfectly placed shot at over 300 yards.
TJ never wavered, he is a trained Marine and when the time came he had 14 years backing him to take the shot on the bruin. The excitement was incredible for everyone!
Getting TJ to the bruin was our next challenge. The entire crew lined up chain saws and we logged and off-roaded our way nearly to the bruin but we couldn’t get TJ all the way there in the truck. The bruin was going to have to come down or TJ was going to somehow get to him.
As a hunter, the moment of truth and reward lies in the recovery. The bruin was too large to drag down the mountain without quartering him up. TJ deserved better than that, he had earned a proper recovery for his bear, so the chain saws came back out and we all made sure that TJ was there, in the exact place that his bear lay, doing a proper recovery. TJ put his arms around the necks of Omar and Jordie and they literally carried him to his bear.
I have been on many hunts and I have never been on a hunt that has affected me so deeply. Words simply do not give this moment justice but in that moment, watching TJ with his bear, that is exactly why I volunteered to be part of the hunt. I could relate to TJ and knew from my own personal experience as a hunter exactly what he was feeling and I could not have been happier for him in that moment.
Back at the Ranch…
Now this is what hunting camp is supposed to be like, the guys were throwing jabs back and forth, telling stories, laughing and joking. A little bit of smack talk back and forth which was much more entertaining than the quiet evening we had had before. What a great day and night.
The next day, I was hunting with Isaac, the youngest of the group at 21 years old. The weather was not good. It was raining and the skies were dark and grey. Not good for bear hunting so we spent most of the day telling stories in the truck and learning a bit about one another.
Isaac is a strong guy and I would describe him as graceful. Strength tends to lend itself to grace. He talked about how he was getting new legs and arms that were going to take him atop a mountain in Australia in June. I believe that those legs will take Isaac just about anywhere he makes up his mind to go. He is strong in the mind like that. No limitations just small obstacles that can be overcame. There is great strength in the will to do something.
We did get some action when we spotted a big chocolate bear in the exact same spot that we had busted the black bear with TJ the day before. We had the same problem with this bear too…it was too close and it saw us when we saw it. No time for a shot.
Unfortunately I had to leave the next morning, so I was not around for the remainder of the week. The weather continued to be adverse and the bear hunting action came to a close with the continued adverse weather.
The weather was bad but the guys still received a lot of therapeutic benefit to the hunt putting in long hours and dedication. All in a normal day for these guys! Be sure to head over to facebook and “Like” the Wounded Warrior Outdoors or check them out on their website. It is through generous support and donations that WWO is able to ease some of the challenges facing our American heroes.
I am already looking forward to 2014!