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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Don’t forget the annual Disabled Veterans Hunt this Saturday

This Saturday will be full of excitement for a number of disabled veterans who make the trip from Richmond and other locations to hunt and fellowship with one another at Caledon State Park. Many of these men and women are unable to walk, or they cannot walk well. Some are in wheelchairs.

Several years ago, I had the honor of taking my nephews to the hunt to help out. I explained what a veteran was to them when they asked, and we discussed the sacrifices many of the vets made for our freedoms.

I was determined when the bus rolled up from McGuire V.A. Hospital that my “boys” were standing there to see the vets unload in their wheelchairs. I hoped they would step forward and thank the men (and women) for their sacrifices.

My daughters had already been on the hunt many times and knew all about veterans, as both my father and I are veterans. Their other grandfather is also a veteran.

I remember very distinctly, the boys, both of them under the age of 12 at the time, being nervous. They are shy and don’t really speak to strangers much. In this instance, they did not have much of a choice.

Some of the vets who were unloading from the bus came down the ramp in the back that lowered them to the ground. We were standing out of the way, but very close by.

The first vet who was unloading must have sensed what was going on with the boys being nervous. He eyed them as his chair was being lowered. I smiled towards him and nodded. As soon as his wheelchair hit the ground, he wheeled right up to my oldest nephew and stuck out his hand, saying, “Thanks for coming to help us hunt!”

I think he took us all by surprise. The look on the boys’ faces was telling, though. They suddenly understood a little bit about life, what a good attitude is, and sacrifice. I am sure they were thinking about it the rest of the day as they interacted with the veterans. They saw the handicaps the vets faced, but they also saw men and women who just continued living life.

It was a healthy experience for the boys, and they realized that freedom is not free. Although they are normally pretty quiet, I did get to field a few questions that day about veterans, their injuries and war. Again, freedom is not free.

Please come out to help with the hunt this Saturday. Bring your kids, too. I am not sure who gets the most out of the experience- the hunting veterans, or those who help them.

Tips for the hunt
If you are coming to help out this Saturday, look at the weather forecast and dress appropriately. As I type this, the long-range forecast is for rain on Friday and Friday night, but very little chance on Saturday. It could be breezy, if the forecast holds, with a high of 45.

Some parts of the deer drive are swampy. If you plan on helping drive deer, you need to keep that in mind. With up to an inch of rain before the hunt, those low-lying areas are going to be very wet. Wear waterproof boots.

Wear your bird hunting pants with the stiff fronts on them to ward off briars. Bring a walking stick, and wear PLENTY of blaze orange to include a cap. Bring hand warmers and foot warmers, and then wear good socks.

Don’t wear brand new boots. It is a long walk, and blisters are sure to develop. Those on the drive need to stay on line, to keep the deer moving in the right direction.

I often take a pack with water, hand warmers, band aids and possibly a piece of rope to drag any deer out that make it back to the woods. Layers of clothes vs. a huge bulky coat would be appropriate. All that walking gets you warm, but then when you stop, it can get cold again.

Make your kids comfortable while on the hunt with regard to clothing. This is a great way to give a tiny bit back to the veterans.

I hope to be there and see many familiar faces. The hunt this year will be at Caledon, and volunteers should show up at 6 a.m. Buddy Fines, organizer for the hunt, told me he expects to be done around noon.

The drives will be limited to two this year, in consideration for the deer herd at the park after last year’s bad Hemorrhagic Disease outbreak. It sounds like we can all do a great deed for those who did so much for us, and still make it to a treestand for an evening hunt.

God bless our veterans.

Mark Fike

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