It was the ideal backdrop for a hunt.
Skies were mostly clear with morning temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, expected to soar into the 60s, as 10 veterans, their guides and two eager retrievers tracked through windswept prairie grasses southwest of Albert hunting pheasants Saturday morning.
It was the eighth year for the annual Wounded Warrior event, hosted by locally by volunteers from Pheasants Forever “Rooster Booster” Chapter #504 and Crosby’s Wildgame Adventures. The event was scheduled to run from Friday night through Sunday morning. Veterans had the opportunity to hunt pheasants and chukar, as well as being provided meals Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning.
Pheasants Forever chapter president Scot Moeder said the event was started eight years ago as a way to give back to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for the country.
Moeder said another reason he is involved in this event is to help bring awareness to the public of helping veterans reintegrate into civilian life, including their struggles finding employment. “It’s hard to get a job, to find a job when they get back,” he said, hoping to bring additional awareness to employing veterans as they transition out of the service.
According to Lance Crosby of Crosby’s Wildgame Adventures, everything on the hunt is the product of donations, and all of the time is volunteered.
“Everybody donates their time,” he said, adding that several local organizations also donate funds and food to the event.
Since their father was also a Vietnam veteran, Crosby and his brother, his partner in the business, felt the hunt would be a good cause to give back to those who have served in the military.
Tim Matney, an outreach specialist with Wounded Warrior Project, is also a veteran and a past participant of this hunt. He helps organize this event and others like it in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
“Our organization is built on reintegrating veterans back into society and this is a good way to get people to come out and spend a few days together, to build relationships,” said Matney. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to be out here.”
Matney said he knows it’s not an easy process to put on a complex event such as this guided hunt, and he’s grateful to the volunteers and local sponsors for the time, effort, land and resources they provide.
This year, only two of the 10 veterans had participated in the event before, though Matney indicated all but one had done some form of hunting before.
One for whom this hunt was a new experience, however, was U.S. Army veteran Christian Vazquez, who served a year in Iraq.
He said getting involved with Wounded Warrior Project, including events like this, was a crucial part of his personal recovery process as he returned to civilian life.
“I was really isolated, depressed and just kind of kept to myself most of the time,” Vazquez said.
“Wounded Warrior Project gave me the opportunity to slowly get back out into the community,” he said. “I was able to socialize and build connections with other warriors, and that’s been very helpful to me.”
As his own recovery progressed, he had the opportunity to become a Wounded Warrior leader, which gave him the opportunity to help lift other veterans up who were struggling in the same ways he had.
Vazquez is grateful for this hunt, an experience he said would not have been possible without the help of Wounded Warrior Project.
Ken Poe is a former calvary scout for the U.S. Army, who served in Korea and Iraq, as well as Fort Knox and Fort Riley stateside. This is the third year he has participated in the Wounded Warrior hunt.
He said the there is a lot about both the environment in rural Kansas and the people that keeps him coming back to this event.
“The connections you make out here, with not only the Warriors, but the community,” he said. “The tranquility out here and the peacefulness is just something you can’t experience in the city.”
Poe has been involved with Wounded Warrior Project since 2015, and also feels events like this are important to the recovery of returning veterans, because of the ability to share time with others who understand the shared experiences they have as wounded combat veterans.
He said the connections he has built with other Warriors last outside of these events and translate into everyday life. They improve the quality of life and wellbeing for not only the warriors, but their families as well.
“Being with all your brothers, being able to share stories, see what others are going through and what helps them ... it’s a life changer,” Poe said.