Earlier this year I was invited to attend a turkey hunt at a veterans retreat hosted by American Patriot Outfitters (APO). APO is veterans helping veterans through outdoor activities in oder to rehabilitate the mind, body, and soul while fostering a sense of camaraderie and well-being. These events are free to veterans with the belief that we all need each to help other out when it comes to relaxing and maintaining. After a very memorable weekend, I can tell you that I believe they are really on to something! There is something very relaxing about sitting around watching Ranger TV (campfire) with people of similar life experiences. The values transcend branches, even where light-hearted rivalry does not.
Outside of a few survival courses, I have never been much of a hunter. I can track the enemy as demonstrated in my past, but I had to Google the anatomy of a turkey. These are skill sets that I as a father want to pass down to my boys. This opportunity with APO not only offered me a chance to learn something new, but I got to do it while talking trash to Marines. That is an opportunity that no self-respecting Army guy can ever pass up! I grabbed my drinking horn, my dog Riley, and off I went.
After a few beers sitting around the campfire, you quickly learn that a lot of the military branches experience the same things. Especially if you find yourself listing combat arms in your pedigree. The stories of “acquiring” things, squaring away soldiers, and the veteran suicide epidemic all come flowing out over the course of the night. There is a brotherhood and bond in those shared experiences that can’t be explained, but I can implore you to find it. It may not be in a group of veterans, but seek out and find your tribe. Spend time among its people and you’ll see what a rewarding experience it is. Back to the hunt …
Turkeys, as it turns out, are hard to stalk. They are also very paranoid. This makes them hard to kill. The hunting consisted of sitting under a tree hours for on end trying not to move while “talking” back and forth with them. It’s very exciting to hear them answering back while they come closer and closer. At one point, some walked right up past our blind side but were gone before anyone could move to take the shot. Our first day of hunting was a bust, but the company and amazing chow more than made up for it.
The next day we were at it again with even less luck than before! In fact, the largest turkey I had seen so far was on the drive up next to the road. Then, right as we were about to call it quits, we heard them on the other side of a tree line. Our guide said I could try to sneak around on them for a shot, but it wouldn’t be easy. Now a stalking challenge had been thrown down and off I go to ground! Having to low crawl for about fifty yards is something I haven’t done since probably infantry school. If those instructors could have seen me, they would have had nothing to complain about. My face was in the dirt as I slid my 870 along with me trying to sneak up on the hens.
Just as I peeked over, I saw the big tom in the middle and knew I wanted to get him or nothing at all. In order to do so, I needed to scoot out and commit myself to being seen by the hens. It was amazing how exhilarating sneaking up on something with sharper senses than yours offers. Once I had a clear shot I took two sideways shuffles on the ground, locked the tom in my sites, and took my shot just as the hens alerted. The blood was rushing through me and I was on my feet racking another round in before I even realized it was happening. I had just secured my first turkey and I was excited!
Returning to camp, Riley was excited about our prize and was close by while the turkey was cleaned with Gunny W’s supervision. It was good to be in the company of people who understood many of the same struggles through life. I was able to secure Sunday dinner for my family and learned a skill that I can pass on to my boys as they grow up. That night, I found myself thinking about what was next in the challenge line up.
The mission of American Patriot Outfitters is an important one. More and more of our veterans are drowning, lost in reintegration. APO not only offers a safe place to unwind, but a place to do so in the company of kindred spirits. If there was ever a cause I could get behind, this is one of them. If you would like to help them keep their mission going strong, please show your support either by liking their Facebook page or making a donation on their homepage. Without donations their mission would stop, and that my friends would be a great tragedy. I’d like to give a special thank you tot he American Patriot Outfitters team. Your dedication and hard work is greatly appreciated. We need more people like you!