As a combat veteran continuing to struggle through anxiety and depression this organization afforded me an amazing opportunity to aid in recovery. Through multiple deployments I have seen the best and worst sides of war and would not wish my memories upon anyone else. Providing an outlet for a veteran to be with others of like mind and guides that are there to help benefit more than anyone will ever know. Something as simple as sitting around a campfire talking allows us to let pieces of ourselves out that we would otherwise keep tucked away. Sharing similar experiences and having someone that can relate to the experience promotes a better understanding and in a sense will open up more. Providing us the opportunity to hunt increased the recovery even more. Sitting in a blind you have the ability to let all cares and concerns dissipate you become one with nature. All forms of technology disappear and you are left with the primal sights, sounds, and smells of nature.
The trip I was selected for was a whitetail, hog, and predator hunt in Comstock, TX. I was a little hesitant at first due to the distance with which I would have to travel. Something told me that I needed to apply for the hunt. Within a few minutes I found myself struggling with the technology and getting the application to proceed. The founder provided knowledge and insight in how to complete the task at hand. After what seemed to be an eternity to complete the application it was finally submitted. The time that it had taken to submit I knew that I was too late and others had jumped onto the opportunity. A short time after submission the results for selection came out and I was on the list. I could not have been more excited to leave the daily mundane duties of daily life. With my job there isn’t much time to enjoy things outside of work. Family and friends suffer along with the joys and hobbies we once had. As the trip date came closer there was constant contact from the field guide giving me all the information I needed to be successful during the hunt.
The day of the trip had finally come and I had all my equipment packed and ready for the adventure that was ahead of me. It took multiple hours of travel through rain and fog to get to the meeting place where I was greeted and introduced with a level of hospitality not generally seen anymore. The guides were cheerful and welcoming making you feel at ease. We commenced to talking for a short period of time and started our travels out to the ranch. Once arriving they showed us around and let us unpack and set up our living area for the weekend. We sat around the kitchen table watching the wildlife out the window and started learning about each other through talking and stories. We commenced with our conversations and discussed the limitations and rules for the following day. These conversations went through the late evening until we realized the time and knew we needed to get some sleep before pressing on in the morning to start the hunt.
Morning came much quicker than any of us had expected and thankfully we prepared to coffee the night prior. We woke up started the pot and began getting everything ready for the day ahead. The weather could not have been better as we headed out with a little fog in the area. Once out at the stands the weather turned on us with wind picking up and the fog thickening. It seemed that as sunrise came closer and closer we had limited ability to see in the fields in front of us. Despite the weather we were able to locate multiple animals venturing through the area conducting their morning routine. They were all unaware that we were watching them as they went about their business. At this point we could see what they were but not able to make out the true sex of the animal and had to sit and watch as they went about their day. As daylight came the fog thickened and the animals moved on. This occurred right at about the time you would have enough light to completely make out what was in front of you. Disheartened we sat and waited for the fog to lift. After what seemed to be about 30 minutes we had our opportunity. The winds died down and the fog slowly began to rise. My guide and I feverishly scanned all of the area around us looking for signs of movement. Finally it happened a young six point buck came walking by the blind with some hesitation but apparently felt safe because he continued along his route. We continued scanning and waiting when finally two doe stepped out into the open. One appeared to be a little older while the other seemed to be around a year old and smaller than the other. We watched them as they went along their way waiting to have a shot opportunity. The doe spent quite a bit of time eating and positioning herself in a way that would not offer a shot. Finally she jumped a fence and was standing in a field exposing herself a little. I positioned my rifle and put her into the crosshairs of my scope. She continued feeding and began to turn to my advantage. I switched my safety to fire and waited for my opportunity. She turned again to where she was slightly quartering towards me, I took a slow breath, and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out and I saw her jump into the air from the shock of the impact and watched her run into a small group of trees near her. We continued to sit in our blind knowing that the morning was successful and excitement took over. No other thoughts were in my mind other than the knowledge that I was able to provide for my family. In the distance we heard shots fired from another blind and were even more excited when we heard over the radio the other hunter was successful as well. We left our blinds and made our way to the harvest locations. There were no signs of struggle as the animals went a short distance and collapsed. I thanked the doe for providing her life for my family and loaded her into the back of the truck.
All loaded and complete for the morning we all headed back to camp to prepare our harvest for the coolers. Quick work was made of the deer as we each learned different techniques from each other. Having multiple cleaning racks helped tremendously as more than one of us could work at the same time. The guides offered advice and instruction for new ways of completing the quartering process. Although this time proved to be much more work the enjoyment remained knowing that you are placing quality meat into your cooler. We completed this process and went back out to attempt our luck again. Fortunately for us this occurred as we were able to located and harvest an additional two doe. Again we went through the quartering process loaded the coolers and went into the house to recover. After cleaning up we again sat around the table eating lunch and talked about our experiences from the morning. There were many laughs and jokes spread as the stories continued. As light faded we began the set up for the campfire. This was a magical thing due to the night temperature starting to drop. Once the sun had set we lighted the fire and sat around amazed at its beauty. We sat for what seemed to be an hour before actually starting in conversation as we took in the warmth and beauty. Once conversation began we all opened up again talking about previous experiences and continued with this, jokes, and riddles until we placed our last log. As the fire diminished we all understood that it was time to go in and prepare for sleep.
Morning once again came quicker than any of us could expect. The downside to today is we will part from each other and head our separate ways. There were short conversations around the dinner table during morning coffee and breakfast before we started preparations to leave. Each of us went our separate ways loaded our vehicles and began cleaning the areas to make them presentable for the next group of individuals. Once everything was packed and cleaned we met again for pictures and our final farewells before we headed to our homes. This was what seemed to be the hardest part as we had built friendships and a connection with each other. I would like to thank the guides, my Marine counterpart, the lease owner, and the organization for offering such an amazing opportunity that no doubt aided in the healing and recovery of myself.
SFC (P), USA
NCOIC, Department of Leader Training
I attended a hunt with hunting with soldiers December 27, 2019. I originally saw the post and saw that it was a meat hunt which was great for me because my family and I prefer to eat natural over store bought meats. Upon arrival to the Texas Divide Ranch we were surprised with an upgraded hunt and also received several gifts donated by the ranch. I personally have been having issues and needed to get away in which hunting is my go to sport to de-stress and reset. Hunting with soldiers provided me the chance to meet amazing people and was able to talk about experiences both good and bad with fellow veterans. One does not realize that by simply opening up it can make a huge difference and can help reduce the load that we carry on our backs. The ranch and it’s staff also reached out to us by providing support and shared their life’s stories and experiences which also served as a form of one and one therapy. Overall Hunting with Soldiers is a great program, it’s mission helped me cope with some personal problems. This program made a huge impact in my daily life due to the fact that’s when things get tough, there will always be a member of the Hunting with Soldiers staff willing to talk at any time of the day.
I went on a Duck Hunting Trip a few years ago with Hunting With Soldiers. It was an awesome hunt, it allowed me to get back out with fellow Vets like myself, and meet fellow hunters that have same interests as I do! I made new friends and branched out new contacts to hunt with after this experience... I want to thank yall for everything changed my life greatly... Thanks Mr Melton and Staff of HWS
I would like to extend my most sincere appreciation for the opportunity you, the Hunting with Soldiers team, Billy Chance and his family, and all of the volunteers on the lease provided for my son and me. It was an honor to be apart of the Jessica Chance Memorial Hunt. Everyone we encountered this weekend were truly generous and kind. For my son and I, this weekend was much more than just a hunt - it was a bonding experience like nothing else. The emotions of the memorial, the coin given to us and the significance behind it, the gifts given to my son, the amazing food, and most of all the one on one time with my son. The relationship with my son increased tremendously over those 3 days and I got to learn more about him that I otherwise would not have. We spent hours in the blind talking about everything and anything, including the importance of the memorial, the generosity of everyone involved with putting this weekend together, the meaning of the "22 a day" coin, and much more.
Life's struggles, and the struggles from our experiences, can often get the better of us and if we allow it, it will eat us alive and take away our thoughts and efforts from what's important in life. Until this weekend, I didnt realize just how much I needed this reminder. There is so much to live and be thankful for. Being able to enjoy and share my deepest passion of the outdoors with my son is something I will always cherish and hold near to my heart. Again, with every bit of sincerity, thank you!
Staff Sergeant Matthew Rivera
To all of the supporters,
My name is Chris L Cummins, Sergeant First Class retired, U.S. Army. Combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 2006-2007. I reached out to Hunting with Soldiers in 2019 in hopes of connecting with other combat veterans such as myself. I was pleasantly greeted by Mr Gordon Melton from the organization who quickly welcomed me within the ranks of Hunting with Soldiers. Immediately it gave me the sense of being a part of something again, which I longed for. Shortly thereafter, I too my surprise I was notified that I had been selected for a combat veteran hunt in central Texas. This was outstanding news for me because I had been in a dark place after retiring from the military. When I arrived to the San Saba location I was instantly greeted by Mr Melton and Bobby Pennington with open arms. They took me in like a brother and introduced me to a unique set of like minded individuals whom I had never met. Upon meeting the group it was almost like we could have or did serve together at some point. The key to this organization is fellowship, and bringing together combat veterans in a positive atmosphere where we could share stories, conversate, connect and network, and gain a network of brothers and sisters that we could always count on in times of need or just to have someone to talk to when our demons came to haunt us. The bonus to this whole trip was also being able to get outdoors, which to me is some of the greatest therapy for combat veterans. This organization is truly about the combat veteran and helping him or her in any way possible. Since being a part of the trip I have smiled more frequently, and have received many compliments from my immediate family about how I seem happier and full of life again. I've also spoke with veterans that were a part of the trip at least once a week since then. The overall experience and connection with an outstanding group of men and woman to me is priceless. I can't thank you enough for your generosity towards helping make this happen for us combat veterans and keeping this organization alive in order to reach out to more veterans such as myself.
SFC (Retired) Chris L Cummins
To whom this may concern. I am a combat veteran recently medically retired from the military. To paint a picture imagine moving to another country, where everyone does things differently and you don't know anyone. Also have a difficult time meeting new people. The things you are accustomed to make zero sense to the people in this country. The things you know or care about, sometimes it seems fall upon deaf or uneducated ears. When you explain something it comes out wrong and people take offense or distance themselves. Now imagine you have friends somewhat close but you can't see them due to conflict of scheduling. Deployment or PCS (Permanent Change of Station). You still remain close but you can't see each other often. Basically you are isolated. Now imagine this country has many programs for people just like you. Some of the programs are for profit and do not exactly help the people just like you. Other programs are not for profit but pay themselves handsomely and do not do as much for the people like you as everyone thinks. Then you have a solid program that is down to the roots of "you are not alone" it's just a not a slogan but more of a way of doing things. "I am here for you" as not just a quote, as a way of communicating and welcoming with warmth and affection. Then, you meet others in the same, worse or better situations that understand your ways and think similarly. Have shared experiences or even are willing to learn with a level head. Just plain smart people who don't necessarily get it but care a great deal and show true compassion which you thought was lost. Then you have the outdoors, the peaceful, almost sacred outdoors with the tranquility to tame even the mightiest of beasts or demons whichever is in your closet. To not be judged, and let your story be told. Sometimes things that have never been spoken of to... Anyone...ever. When you tell your story and the person listening lights up and shares their story with striking similarities even if it a different situation all together. The power of Mother Nature to heal in a relaxing environment with genuine people is what makes Hunting With Soldiers unique from any other organization I have experienced. Even if just for a couple of days to be able to live again.. Makes it all worth it. I know for a fact there are some people that have went on a hunt or trip that may not be with us today if not for this organization!
I just got home from Henrietta Texas and turkey fest. It has been an amazing few days. I was able to catch up and have a great time with my good friend Stephen Jackel and meet many wonderful folks in Henrietta. I can say that Hunting With Soldiers and The people of Clay County Texas know how to give a couple veterans the time of there life. Made a lot of new friends and on top of that we were able to kill a few turkeys. All I can say is AMAZING. Thank you very much.
Scott Lear of Plato, Missouri
Thank you for an amazing weekend!! We meet some awesome people and experience things that I've never seen before!! We made some unforgettable memories!!! We appreciate all the effort and all that you do thank you so much for everything!!!!
Whitney Taylor of Oklahoma
I finally got my internet restored and wanted to say a little something about the fishing trip in Port Aransas. First, I was completely blown away! I never expected the experience that I had. The group of guys in the condo was amazing and each night was a great time of drinking beer and swooping stories. Also, the fishing was amazing! Even with the bad weather, I was still able to pull in four nice cats. I didn't win the big fish competition, but watching the big one being brought on the boat, was a great experience in itself. I cannot thank HWS enough for the generosity and I look forward to giving back when the time comes. Please keep me in mind when there is work that needs to be done to blinds, feeders or anything that will assist other vets, to go out and relax and have a great experience like I had.
Kalvin Karr of Azle, TX
Being able to Hog Hunt in July, with Hunting with Soldiers. This gave me an opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do. I have never been Hog Hunting, and never been to Texas. Be a Combat Veteran, having PTSD and numerous other health problems. It is hard for me to get out and hunt like I did before becoming disabled. I hunted for two nights while I was there. Looking for Hogs and or Coyotes. Even though all I heard or saw was some roadrunners, quail, Coyotes (not getting a shot), and some other birds. Just being able to get out in the woods, (blind), was so great. Being at peace with nature is one of the best things for me. Gordon Melton and his Organization is not just helping Combat Veterans. They are helping Gold Star Children. Most people don't or can't understand why Hunting and fishing helps the Combat Veterans. It is so hard to explain to someone that has never been there. Hunting and fishing, help us get out of the normal world. When we are Hunting and fishing we don't have to watch our backs, don't have to answer any questions, and are at peace with ourselves. Combat Veterans are most comfortable around other Combat Veterans or alone. Going on fishing trips with other Veterans, gives us the opportunity to talk to other Veterans that have been through similar things that Combat Veterans go through. When we are out in the boat or just fishing off the bank, we can be ourselves. Let our guards down and finally enjoy life. When we are around other Veterans we know that they have our backs and we can relax.
> Hunting with or without a guide. We can get one on one with nature. By helping Hunting with Soldiers, the Combat Veterans get a chance to hunt and fish with other Combat Veterans. We get a chance to talk with Veterans from all eras. Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Korea, Gulf War , and OEF/OIF Veterans. There are a lot of Veterans that need help and this is one way for us to be a peace with not just Nature. But, with ourselves.
Thank you for your time.
Wanted to take a moment to say I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to participate in this past weekends hunt/work in colombus texas, it was great to meet fellow soldiers and veterans just an all around good group of guys I can honestly say hunting with soldiers are doing great things helping soldiers and giving them a chance to get out of the norm and do good things and I greatly appreciate it and thank you bucky as well for all the work you did helping us making sure we were squared away before we hunted and afterwards, last but not least wanted say thank you to John heffley for having us out it is greatly appreciated.
I would like to Thank Hunting with Soldiers for one of the most relaxing and memorable weekends I have enjoyed in a long time. Thank you to my wife Elizabeth Sturdivant for allowing me to spend a weekend away for my trip with HWS. A group of 5 of us arrived at the Skull Creek Ranch in Columbus, TX ()and were met by Buckey Lobdell (HWS Field Officer) and John Heffley (owner) at Boar's Nest Hunts, LLC to one of the most quite settings I have ever been to, a little rustic cabin set among some big Texas Live Oaks over looking a nice size lake, I knew at this point whether I killed a pig or not it was definitely worth the drive! Once we got our mandatory safety briefs, we went and looked over some stand locations for a possible evening hunt on Friday, luckily the pouring rain let up around 1800, and I was on my way to the stand John said had some good activity, and wouldn't you know I no sooner step on the road to the stand, I spotted a group of three hogs milling in the wood line, I took a couple steps and lowered my crosshairs on the mid-shoulder and squeezed the trigger, and bam, hog one of the trip was on the ground!! The evening was uneventful as far as hunting goes for the rest of the group, but we all had a great time enjoying the evening, day two rolled around and Buckey said bass are jumping get your poles within minutes we had fish on the hook! After a great breakfast, we started our work part of our work hunt! Chainsaws!!!! We dropped four dead Live oak trees and went around and cut some shooting lanes at some stands, around 4:00pm I was chopping at the bit to get back to pig hunting , Buckey took me to the Castle Stand, rightfully named, cause it is big enough for a Volkswagen, however I had a love hate relationship with this stand as it was occupied by yellow jackets and red wasp after several minutes of torching we eradicated them, or so we thought, they began to return to where their nest were and guess what, they couldn't find them so they began to buzz me all night, but I was determined...to kill them before they stung me!!lol, soon after the torch session three little piggies showed up, it was around 9:36 pm, I lowered cross hairs once again and squeezed again and bam hog number 2 down, the activity this night was better for the other guys as one of them got one! We cleaned them and put on ice! This night the camp chef was busy and left the cooking to the best jerky maker this side of the Mississippi!!LOL!!! We called it a night as we all had the hog fever, ready to take the woods by storm, well only a couple of us made it out the next morning! But we were unsuccessful, so we started our day of work cutting up the trees we fell the day before and loaded them up and took them back to camp, checked fence lines and feeder maintenance, and before we knew it it was hunting time again! This night was more productive for the group I believe there were 8 pigs down total that night smiles and great times around the meat pole! Our weekend was winding down and one more morning hunt was left , Nate and myself still had the fever and a lack of sleep wasn't stopping us, we got to our stand and here they came two nice size hogs, and I put my expert marksmanship to the test and scored to head shots dropping both in the tracks, bringing my weekend total to a final count of 4 pigs in the cooler, next I hear what sounds like world war 3 has started , I'm thinking " yes IsIs has invaded and they went by the wrong stand, cause it sounded like Nate got them all!!!!lol, turned around and he had a Big ol Nasty pig on the ground, needless to say we were once again skinning and quartering pigs! This hunting trip, I met some of the best Men who served and are still serving our Country and I am grateful to have met all of them and be able to call them all Brothers! This trip wasn't about any one individual but being able to share the outdoors with Men who respect our Great Nation and enjoy the outdoors! One of the best experiences to date! For all those who sponsor HWS, Thank You!
It's taken me awhile to find a way to put this into words, as a simple thank you just isn't enough. I was one of the vets that had the opportunity of a lifetime to make the turkey hunt up in Henrietta Texas. I was under the impression that we was gonna go up there for a few days and hunt turkeys morning and evening. That in itself would have made the trip more than exciting and a complete blast. When I got up there Hunting With Soldiers went above and way beyond just your typical turkey hunt. They paid the fees to enter myself and another vet, Juan Rubio, in the turkey fest big beard, big spur, and overall heaviest turkey competition. Which brought hunters from all over the country to compete in, including 10 pro teams. The first few days I had an awesome guide, Michael Riley Sizemore, he consistently put us on giant gobblers. Had it not been for a pack of hogs one morning and a dang ol coyote another morning, there is no doubt we would have dropped a massive turkey. This brings me to another fella named Scott Catlin, a wounded Vietnam vet himself. He was unbelievably gracious opening up his huge tracts of land for us to hunt on as much as we wanted. He will be retiring after this year, but having the big heart that he does, he's gonna leave his land wide open for future Hunting With Soldiers vets to come out and still hunt his land. I also want to say a huge thank you to Gordon Melton, without you my friend I never would have had this once in a lifetime opportunity. What you, Jason Dane, and Bobby Pennington, and all y'alls field officers are doing for all these vets cannot be put into words enough to show the great amounts of appreciation we all have for you guys. One of the highlights of the hunt came Saturday night when local business bought myself and Juan a hunt with one of the pro teams that was in Henrietta to film our hunt to be aired on one of the hunting channels, my hunt will air on the pursuit channel in January of 2017. The team that took my out is called HuntCo. They are a terrific pair of guys. Heck they even gave me a brand new Bear Archery bow. To top it all off I was also given 1 of just 13 turkey calls made by the 5 time world champion turkey caller, Mr. Preston Pittman. After meeting him he also said he's gonna make me a custom turkey call with a Purple Heart on it made from purple wood. Folks I just can't say enough how thankful and proud I am of Hunting With Soldiers. They are in a class of their own and you will not find a better group of people anywhere else on Gods green earth.
I had the great pleasure of attending 2016 turkey fest in Henrietta, Texas and Clay County. It was with Hunting with Soldiers that made that possible. The day I was supposed to leave to meet the guys from Hunting with Soldiers, I seriously hurt my back. Contemplating on calling them and canceling my hunt with them. I went ahead and decided to work through the pain and continue with my reservations for my turkey hunt. With every excruciating day of the hunt, the staff, hunting guides, and land owner, went above and beyond my expectations in helping me enjoy my turkey hunt. The list is to long to mention how they whole heartedly made me feel comfortable that week. I owe everything to them.
Now three months have passed and two series of six injections to my lower back and next month having back surgery, I will never forget the people, new friends, and brothers in arms that made that hunt a dream come true for me. And hope one day we all can get together sit down and have a beer and reminisce of the hunt. Thanks again to my brothers with Hunting with Soldiers for the experience of a life time.
This last weekend I had an experience that I felt I must share. Now before I get into that I want to say a LOT of VERY LARGE THANK YOUs to those that were involved (moved it to the end to keep this easier to read).
I want everyone to know that this was one of the best times I have had in my life. I normally tend to think I’m blessed. I take life on life’s terms no matter what those are. I expected this trip would be great, and I would enjoy it a lot, but that is inaccurate, because it’s a major understatement. I spent every moment I could either on the water or as close to it as I could. Visiting with other veterans and supporters of the event all the time. I thought I was just enjoying the company and the fact that I was at a lake known for big bass. I honestly had no idea how much stress and relaxation this simple trip would bring me that is until I started to make the long drive home. I hadn’t made it five miles when the feelings came flooding in I almost had to pull over my eyes where clouding over, my shoulders felt lighter than I thought they could be. The effects of this trip will more than likely go on for me for a life time. Then to top it off I made some lifelong friends that I now call Brothers and Sisters.
The list to follow of those that made this trip such a great success.
First off this list is in no order other than the order I remembered them and I’ll more than likely miss a few or a lot of them (please feel free to add to my list or add links.)
Thanks again to everyone... I Love all of you... Brothers and Sisters, You will forever be in my heart...
My name is Justin Johnson and I served in the Army from 2002 to 2008 with two tours in Iraq.I was graciously able to attend a deer hunt with this organization and nothing else will ever compare to it. I want to thank everybody that had a hand in making this the best weekend I have had in ages. Gordon and his team is amazing and the hill and vale ranch was amazing. I shot my first deer and turkey ever on this trip. The ranch was gorgeous and was nice being out in the good lords back yard away from my daily struggles, it really gave me time to breath a little. Gordon, Jeff, BJ, and every one else thank you so much I could never have got this experience anywhere else.
Sgt Justin Johnson (Tulia Tx)
First off I would like to thank the hunting with Soldiers crew, and all the folks that put this trip together. The sponsors, boat captains, the amazing folks who cooked all the awesome food, and those behind the scenes I did not meet. Awesome trip!
Secondly, the trip allowed me to meet some true warriors and family members. I got the chance to sit and talk with an old buddy who has been going through some tough times and doing that face to face while doing something we loved to do, was 100% better than over the phone. Thank you!!!
Bonding with the other guys also affords the opportunity to make you realize you're not alone in some struggles with the VA, family life, or in general with dealing with stressors from your combat experiences.
I really enjoyed it the fact that there were heroes from all wars and talking with and listening to the Vietnam veterans was an honor and being able to lend an ear to them and learn from them on how they have been dealing with the pain weather physical or mental opens your mind to various techniques or other avenues to seek for help.
Thank you all for the opportunity to just relax all weekend and have some fun with some amazing hooahs!
MSG, US Army (Retired)
The trip with Hunting with Soldiers helped me to be able to relax and reconnect. I felt at peace while I was there. I was able to relate to the other guys that were there and talk about things that I have not talked about in years. I came home more calm.
Farron Fiedler Jr.