Thursday, February 14, 2013
Left photo is Aaron & Heath trying out the track chair. The photo below is Aaron and I inside the lodge. Yes, I'm wearing a camoflouge T-shirt and it's the first time I've ever worn anything camoflouge. I even sported a camo ball cap at one point, but that photo I'm not sharing!
Aaron hasn't been hunting in over 4 years primarily due to accessibility issues, but last week that changed when we were invited by HAVA (Honored American Veterans Afield) to go hunting in Del Rio, Texas. The hunt was located on a 14,000+ acre ranch. Can you even grasp how big that is? In the SW region of Texas all you see is scrub oak, cacti and big, white rocks and the rolling terrain makes it breathtaking. You may be thinking that cacti and rocks are not wheelchair friendly and you're correct. However, in this case Aaron was provided with an Action Track wheelchair, which has tires like a tank. We've tried in the past to get the VA to purchase one, but with a hefty price tag of $15k we haven't been successful. As soon as he got into it he was taking off to see what kind of trouble he could get into. It was a blast seeing him going over the rocks at full speed with a smile on his face instead of strain & frustration. Nothing was stopping him, not even steep downhill terrain!
HAVA's coordinator, Heath, didn't waste any time getting the group out to hunt. After a delicious lunch, the "boys" went out to hunt and the "girls" went out in the Rover for some safari style sight-seeing. Rock Canyon Ranch offers big game hunting so they have Zebra, Buffalo, Gnu, Whitetail Deer, Black Buck, Orex and more on the property. It was amazing to be up close to these beautiful creatures that are huge yet agile. The boys went out with individual guides and Aaron was partnered with Seth. At one point during the long weekend, I went out with Aaron and Seth to see what this hunting thing is all about. They were using an insulated ground blind, which was a nice set-up if I do say so myself. According to Aaron and Seth this isn't the typical hunting amenity. I was told to use my hunting (quiet) voice and after being reprimanded twice I decided to sit quietly and take in the scenary. Ironically, they talked more than I did and they say women talk a lot. Not always!
Each day the boys went out to hunt at 5:30am and again at 4pm with downtime after lunch. With the amount of food we were consuming we needed a nap. On the 2nd day Aaron came back with a doe weighing close to 90lbs. In Texas, this is a good sized, mature doe. I say this, because in some parts of the country the deer are bigger and I wouldn't want to make him look bad. Ha Ha. I was thrilled that he got a doe, because what I failed to mention earlier is that this hunt started on 2/7/13 which is the 6 year anniversary of Aaron's paralysis. I was happy that a bad memory could be replaced with something positive to focus on. When life has dealt a tragic blow to your body, it's easy to be distracted by what you have lost. Learning to focus on what you still have is crucial to healing, no matter what your circumstances are.
Over the 4 day hunt, we spent a lot of time eating, connecting with other couples, exploring the property and hunting. We had no cell phone connection, which took away any distractions. There was no pressure to participate in anything you weren't interested in. If you wanted to read a book while everyone else went out exploring then that was okay. Many organizations that provide retreats tend to pack your schedule in order to provide a lot of resources and activities, but this can leave you downright exhausted. I'm not saying that this is always a bad thing, but it was a nice change of pace.
On the last day of the hunt, Aaron shot a second doe. Fortunately, on the way to Del Rio, we stopped to buy a 30 gallon cooler. We almost went with a smaller one to save money, but thank goodness we went super-sized so both doe could fit in it. We already had visions of venison chili, jerky and sausage dancing in our heads. Each veteran got at least one doe or buck, so not one family in this group was going to go hungry. These guys had a great time hunting and also connected with other veterans that could relate to what they are experiencing after injury. Many veterans live in rural areas, which makes it hard to find other veterans to connect with. This is why non-profits like HAVA are beneficial and in their own words, "The ultimate goal is to increase their confidence and hope for the future by reconnecting with their love of the outdoors and the American traditions of hunting and firearms." I couldn't have said it any better myself.
A special thanks to: Kat & Ken who provided the ranch, Heath with HAVA, John & Stephanie with XS Sights and Seth who provided great conversation and assistance to Aaron during the hunt. For more information about HAVA go to www.honoredveterans.org For more information about Rock Canyon Ranch go to www.huntrcr.com