November 11 was Veterans Day, and Wapiti Wire staff commends the many RMEF volunteers who give of their time to help our nation’s veterans. Here’s just one example:
RMEF member Don Wicksell’s father served in the armed forces, and Don was named for his uncle who was killed in combat in World War II. Whenever he thinks about the sacrifices that U.S. military members make, he feels compelled to help in any small way he can. For him, that means helping disabled veterans get out hunting. “It’s just my way of giving back to those who have given so much for this country,” says Wicksell. In pursuit of this goal, he got involved with Hunting with Heroes Wyoming (HWHW).
Hunting with Heroes Wyoming is a nonprofit organization that pairs disabled veterans with donated tags through Wyoming’s Licensing for Veterans program. It was started by Vietnam veteran Dan Currah and Afghanistan veteran Colton Sasser in 2013, and has since expanded to eight different chapters around the state of Wyoming. HWHW has provided disabled veterans with more than 1,000 hunts, hosting veterans from over 40 states.
In addition to volunteer people-power in members like Wicksell who donate tags to veterans and help guide them on their hunts, RMEF has donated more than $30,000 to support the organization.
In October 2020, Wicksell volunteered to come from New York to help guide Marine veteran Andrew Kinard on a pronghorn hunt on the beautiful Rolling Thunder ranch in Bondurant, Wyoming.
In 2006, Kinard was a U.S. Marine platoon commander in Iraq, when insurgents launched an improvised explosive device. He was blown back 40 feet by the blast. Only a Navy corpsman who ignored his own concussion to start life-saving measures kept Kinard alive.
The next time he awoke it was a month later in a hospital bed in the U.S. The then-23-year-old found that both of his legs had been amputated just below the hip.
It was longtime RMEF member and former RMEF board member Jim Zumbo, who got Andrew back into hunting after he began his recovery. “I was in physical therapy when Jim walked through to lend his support to guys who were going through tremendously difficult periods in their lives,” says Kinard. When he first saw Zumbo he remembers thinking “what’s this guy in a cowboy hat doing in a hospital in Washington, D.C.?” “He’s just so naturally affable, so easy to talk to, and we struck up on conversation wherein he learned that I grew up in South Carolina, hunting whitetails and particularly eastern wild turkeys with my father. He invited me on a turkey hunt,” says Kinard.
The two stayed in touch, and before long, Zumbo invited Kinard on a number of hunts for his outdoor TV show. A little over a year after he was injured, Kinard was on a plane to Namibia with a film crew. “Hunting for me was not only an opportunity to make friends and harvest great game, but also to experience challenges that allowed me to stretch myself,” says Kinard. “I could tell myself ‘if I can go on a hunt in Africa, or sit on the back of a mule at 10,000 feet in the Flat Tops of Colorado, I think I can figure out life.’”
Kinard’s 2020 pronghorn hunt through HWHW was his latest hunting challenge. The three-day hunt culminated in Kinard dropping his first pronghorn buck at 80 yards with his two guides, the ranch owner and Don Wicksell, at his side. He’s already eaten two batches of pronghorn chili back home in Bozeman, Montana.