Wounded Warriors Enjoy Texas Hunt, RMEF Style
By Tony Arnold, Texas Regional Chair
When RMEF folks come together, good things happen. This was certainly the case during October 11-13, 2011, when RMEF staff and volunteers from chapters around the state gathered at RMEF member and donor David Watts’ Back Porch Ranch just south of Rocksprings, Texas, to host a Wounded Warrior Hunt for six soldiers from Fort Hood.
Located on the western edge of Hill Country, the 5,000-acre Back Porch Ranch supports native white-tailed deer, turkeys and quail, as well as many non-native exotic species, including blackbuck antelope, axis deer and feral hogs. Watts provided the lodging, food, beverages and wild critters at no cost. RMEF volunteers and staff—including myself, Al Swertfager, Ronnie Creek, Gary Bowdoin, Mike Falk and Michael Gookins—served as guides. Spouses Cynthia Arnold and Donna Gookins volunteered as lodge and cook helpers.
The hunters included SFC Thomas Reifel, SGT Richard Ravenscraft, SSG Joseph Ruda, SGT Bobby Courtney, SPC Jesse Rice and PFC Matthew Ferguson. We all arrived Tuesday afternoon to sight in rifles and scout hunting areas for white-tailed deer spikes or does, axis deer does and hogs. Each hunter was allowed to kill one deer and as many hogs as they could.
We held the first hunt that evening, putting the large cleaning shed, complete with hoists and walk-in coolers and freezers, to work immediately. Ranch manager Crystal Michelle recorded all of the specifics for each animal harvested, as required by the ranch’s wildlife management plan. Later, she prepared a fabulous meal that was enjoyed by all. Tall tales circulated around the fire pit late into the evening.
The next day dawned bright and clear. After an early morning hunt, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast. Some of the hunters returned to the field, while the others waited for the afternoon/evening hunt. The cleaning shed stayed busy throughout the day.
After preparing another wonderful meal, Michelle serenaded us with country-western songs and lively guitar music as we lounged around the fire pit and traded war stories and hunting tales. The festivities lasted into the early morning hours.
Thursday morning brought more sunshine, and the hunts brought more success. We field-dressed, skinned and hung the last of the game in the cooler before enjoying a memorable late brunch. All told, five of the six hunters killed four deer and seven hogs. One of the hunters had never hunted before, and two others had never killed big game. Both killed deer and were later awarded “First Harvest Certificates” from the Texas Wildlife Association.
Finally, it was time for everyone to bid farewell and head home. Watts proved to be a tremendous host, treating the hunters and volunteers like family. An RMEF State Grant paid for the game processing, and I later delivered the meat to the hunters.
The Wounded Warrior Hunt was an outing none of us will soon forget. The hunters greatly enjoyed themselves, and expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to get away from doctors, medical appointments, physical therapy and the military hospital environment. The quiet setting, hunting and social interaction proved to be great therapy sessions in their own right. The entire experience was uplifting and enjoyed by all. We volunteers look forward to doing it again.