Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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Wounded Soldier's Hunt at Deep Fork NWR
Southwest Region, December 3, 2013
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Ft. Sill soldiers in transition Joseph Ragan, Daniel Wafford, Lewis Marshall, and Anthony Crincoli at the Wounded Soldier's Hunt at Deep Fork NWR December 3 and 4, 2013.
Ft. Sill soldiers in transition Joseph Ragan, Daniel Wafford, Lewis Marshall, and Anthony Crincoli at the Wounded Soldier's Hunt at Deep Fork NWR December 3 and 4, 2013. - Photo Credit: Gary Max Carr

It was chilly in the pre-dawn hours of December 3, 2013. Four soldiers from the Warrior Transition Unit of Fort Sill, Oklahoma arrived at Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to participate in a special muzzleloader deer hunt on the Refuge. Joseph Ragan, Daniel Wafford, Lewis Marshall, and Anthony Crincoli, all soldiers who had combat related injuries, had been selected by their Commander to come for a hunt on the Refuge. For the next two days, their mission was to enjoy themselves, tell a lot of stories, and hopefully harvest a deer. These warriors in transition are army veterans who are transitioning back to duty or to civilian life in the local community. During this transition, they have to attend a lot of doctor appointments and training while they heal and await their disability evaluations. Each soldier’s transition time is different and depends upon his/her injury.

After arriving on the Refuge, the staff briefed the soldiers on what to expect on this hunt. Then it was time to get into the woods. Refuge staff and SCA intern Megan DeTurk took the soldiers out to hunting blinds. Staff returned to pick the soldiers up later in the morning. When they arrived at one of the hunting blinds, the staff and the soldiers got a treat. One of the soldiers had shot a deer and now it was time to track the blood- trail. When the group arrived back at the shop, imagine the excitement they showed as the staff measured and weighed the 7-point buck!

These soldiers had been on a few hunts before. Lewis, a Texas native, enjoys hunting quail and turkey and was hunting deer for the first time this year. Anthony Crincoli (Tony) told a story about the first time he had been on a hunt with Lewis. He said, “Marshall, do you remember the first hunt we went on, you didn’t speak a word. I didn’t think I would ever get to know you.” Even though these soldiers are in the same unit, they do not have a common task so the only way they get to interact with one another is on special hunts and activities like this.

Deep Fork NWR works with a couple of non-profit organizations for these hunts. Freedom Hunts of Oklahoma helps with the logistics and planning of the hunts and helps get the warriors permits and licenses, hotels, etc. The Friends of Deep Fork NWR assist by providing meals and funding for the hotel rooms, licenses, and meat processing. The Friends of Deep Fork NWR also provide volunteers to help as needed during the hunts. Refuge Manager Unruh stated, “We couldn’t conduct the hunts without these organizations.  They are critical for us to partner with because with a limited staff, they take a lot of the burden off of us for managing the logistics. Our staff knows the area and can help with the hunts, but the logistics of getting the soldiers here, making sure they have guns, ammo, camo clothing, and a place to stay is critical to the success of this hunt.”

Joseph Ragan said that hunts like these make it possible for him to re-connect with his former lifestyle. He was an avid hunter prior to joining the army. Tony stated, and the others agreed, that getting into the woods is very therapeutic. He said, “Most of the time, hunting is better than talking to a therapist. I would rather enjoy nature and see what is going on with it than talk about my feelings.” Activities like this hunt help the soldiers by taking their minds off of their injuries, problems, and what the future holds and lets them enjoy themselves in the here and now.

The Refuge received benefits from this, too. Refuge staff positioned the veterans in one of the areas that is generally closed to hunting. Due to its close proximity to Highway 75, we see a lot of vehicular accidents involving deer. The Refuge opens the area up to disabled and youth hunters to help limit deer numbers near this highway area. This year, our Youth Hunt was cancelled due to the government shutdown, so we needed an additional way to conduct some population control in the area. The staff and volunteers also benefit from meeting and getting to know these soldiers. Megan DeTurk, SCA intern, said, “It was a great experience driving these men out and picking them up each day of the hunt. I was able to see first-hand what kind of therapeutic experience they received when they entered the woods. The most notable experience was when Joseph Ragan shot his 7-point buck. Excitement was in everyone’s voice as we tracked the blood-trail and located the buck. I could see how much they enjoyed it. This was a beneficial experience for me, because it was my first time tracking a blood-trail and watching a deer be field-dressed.”

When talking with Refuge Manager Darrin Unruh about why the Refuge wants to continue to do these type of activities, he said, “These wounded soldier hunts accomplish two things. First it is a way that we can say thanks to these soldiers that put their lives on the line for us and help preserve our freedoms, and second, these hunts help in their healing process. Getting to know these soldiers and their stories is important and we feel that these hunts help return a little bit of sanity to these soldiers who have given so much to our country. I can’t think of a better place to do this than on a National Wildlife Refuge. ”

Contact Info: Lori Jones, 505-248-6484, lori_jones@fws.gov
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