When a Gift Trumps Investment
By Bob Warren, South Texas Chapter-San Antonio
Savoring last year’s awesome dove hunt, I was about to call the landowner for reservations when my memory kicked in. I already had a commitment for the upcoming weekend. But it seemed relatively unimportant, something I could surely cancel for dove hunting.
“Tony, don’t you have enough RMEF volunteers for the Wounded Warrior free-ranging exotic hunt? I’d really like to beg off,” I asked with just a twinge of shame.
“No way!” answered San Antonio South Texas Chapter chair Tony Arnold. “I’ve already given you an assignment. Besides, you’ll be very glad you came.”
In retrospect, ambivalence was bugging me even back when I had volunteered to help on this hunt for six soldiers from San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) Warrior Transition Battalion. Hadn’t I sacrificed much of my own hunting time for 10 years as a Huntmaster with the Texas Youth Hunting Program? And wasn’t it a better investment for the future of hunting to spend time with kids rather than adults? But I kept my commitment, and in the end God showed me the operative word here was not “investment” but “gift.”
Preconceived notions began melting away when I met these men on October 10, 2008, at the Troy Smith Ranch outside of Ingram. Younger than most of my own six children, these veterans definitely were of investment quality. As they mingled easily with four Smith family members and six RMEF volunteers, all senior to them in years, they exuded inordinate respect, enthusiasm, maturity and patriotism. Four were already avid hunters and the other two trying for their first time.
David Schrauger, born in Texas but raised in Michigan, says his dad got him into hunting and shooting. He brought to the hunt his prized Swiss-made Schmidt and Reuben K-31 7.5x55 surplus rifle from the 1940s. “A kill is unnecessary. I just like to be in the woods with the animals and no people shooting at me,” Schrauger says. “My greatest hunting thrill came after I’d served in Afghanistan and before I was bombed in my Humvee in Baghdad. I was with my younger brother when he got his first deer back in Michigan.”
Schrauger’s emotional toughness comes not only from his own wounding, but from an unimaginable family tragedy back home soon after. Both his brothers were killed in an automobile accident. At the same time, his parents lost their home to foreclosure. (To see a remarkable story of neighborly love, visit the Schrauger Family Home Project at www.oakgov.com/house/.)
is a native of Lubbock, Texas. Although no one in his family hunts, Lopez found time growing up to fish, which has now become his passion.
It was his interest in the outdoors that got Lopez an invitation from Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) Randy Bagwell to try this Wounded Warrior hunt. Though he suffers from intermittent paralysis and eyesight loss from neurological wounds, Lopez actively participated over the weekend. "Hunting is just like fishing without a catch-and-release,” he said with a chuckle.
Andrew Howard from Wisconsin received a Red Ryder BB gun at age 8 from his dad, followed by a .30-30 rifle at 13. At 16 he got his first bow which he used to hunt rabbits. Howard hunted white-tailed deer with both gun and bow before volunteering for the Army at 17.
Now, after 4½ months of rehab for burns over 15 percent of his body, Andrew looks forward to more hunting, the driving passion in his life. “Hunting was really the only quality time I had with my dad. Hunts like this are a wonderful chance to get away from the sterile rehab situation and to meet great people,” he says.
came from a hunting family in Pennsylvania. His dad got him into hunting at age 12. “Hunting is very important to me,” says Leonard. “It’s easy for me to get my wheelchair into the box blinds guys hunt from in Texas. And back home I have a 4-wheeler and camo cloth to cover it with in the woods. I can hunt just like anyone else.”
Although his legs are missing from above his knees, Leonard’s powerful upper body and indomitable determination allow him extreme mobility in a wheelchair. His buddies lift him and his chair in and out of the truck, taking him out into the pasture. After that, Leonard is ready to rock n roll.
“I’m eager to volunteer for hunts like this. They are very encouraging and make me feel that people respect and appreciate my service to our country,” he says.
our other first-time hunter, is a former “military brat” originally from Georgia. At 34, he was our senior warrior, with wisdom and pride that comes from having served for half his life in four military branches: Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force.
While serving in Baghdad, Wickstrom was blown up by a roadside bomb that put him in rehab for the past 18 months. He spent a large part of his military service “in the woods,” which he enjoyed and misses. “When I got the opportunity to sign up for this hunt, I saw it as a chance to get back into the woods I hadn’t enjoyed since I was a Ranger. I haven’t been disappointed,” he says.
was the NCOIC for this hunt. A farm boy from Kentucky, he grew up with an identical twin, Andy. They had early interest in bows and firearms together with active Boy Scout careers. Their scoutmaster had a powerful influence on them, teaching them to love and be comfortable in the outdoors. Andy made Eagle, and Randy was very close when he enlisted in the Army.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was to leave my brother behind. We were so close—fingerprints, DNA and all that stuff. Leaving hunting was hard, too, because it had always been so important to me,” he says.
Now recovering from shrapnel wounds to his legs, arm and face, Bagwell finds these “thank you” hunts as we call them to be great escape from his rehab environment. “They reinforce my old interests and help me mentally,” he says. “I really enjoy placing first-time hunters and scrambling to fill last minute openings when we have drop-outs.”
Bagwell was the only hunter to take an animal on this hunt, a nice 3-point Axis buck. Besides Axis deer, the hunters also spotted white-tailed deer, turkeys, foxes, squirrels, armadillos, a rattlesnake and a “Boone and Crockett” tarantula, all critters they rarely see at BAMC.
The men’s perseverance was evident. When offered a midday rest and relax period back in Ingram’s Hunter House Inn and Suites, all the hunters refused in favor of returning to the ranch and taking sack lunches back to the blinds. They essentially hunted full-time, dark to dark.
All accounts by these recovering warriors confirm the therapeutic benefits of just being in the woods. The privilege of being there with them gave me love and respect for six fine young men.
In whatever form you choose, let our servicemen know how much we appreciate them. It is a gift that will last a lifetime.
All accounts by these recovering warriors confirm the therapeutic benefits of just being in the woods. The privilege of being there with them gave me love and respect for six fine young men. In whatever form you choose, let our servicemen know how much we appreciate them. It is a gift that will last a lifetime.