Dan Shepherd (left) looks on as Matt Keil gets rigged up for his first-ever turkey hunt. The two wounded Iraq veterans shared a first turkey hunt together as part of a program offered by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Matt Keil is rigged and ready to go. Col. Dick Weede ( in camo) and Jeff VanDriel accompany Keil as he steers his motorized wheel chair toward the ground blind.
Matt Keil is all smiles as he and Col. Dick Weede (USMC, Ret.) show off Matt’s first turkey. Actually, it was his second--the first gobbler that Weede called into the decoys escaped unscathed because, in the rush to get Keil rigged and ready for his first turkey hunt, nobody remembered to load the gun.
Matt Keil shows the sip and puff mechanism he uses to fire a rifle or shotgun. The gun is mounted on a moving platform that Keil can manipulate with a joy stick. When he gets everything lined up, he takes the trigger mechanism in his mouth and fires.
Dan Shepherd poses with two of the four gobblers he harvested during his hunt sponsored by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The camaraderie and friendships that injured veterans experience, and the chance to simply be with a bunch of guys who accept you without reservation, can be an experience that helps wounded vets recover emotionally and spiritually from their wounds.
Walking back to the truck at the end of a hunt is a lot more satisfying if you’re toting the makings of a fine meal. Dan Shepherd, who suffered six major concussions from IED attacks during tour tours of duty in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq, has memories that will last a lifetime—memories he can revisit again and again when the civilian world overloads him with daily stress.
Hosting wounded veterans may require the landowner to make a few modifications. For the Oasis Creek ranch, the main modification was to build a ramp up the front steps of the bunkhouse. Once inside, the doors and hallways were wide enough for Matt Keil to maneuver his wheelchair.
Col. Dick Weede, a retired Vietnam veteran, did the spotting and calling for Matt Keil's first turkey. Here, he describes to the late A.C. "Bub" Smith, ranch owner and host for the hunt, how the gobbler came down the fence and into the decoys. Smith was watching a hunting show on television when a Public Service Announcement for the Paralyzed Veteran's of America Outdoor program came on. Smith had hosted several youth hunts and thought that hosting wounded veterans on a hunt was a way he could pay his gratitude forward.
Matt Keil, (center) and Col. Dick Weede (USMC, Ret.) pose with the late A.C. "Bub" Smith, owner of Oasis Creek Ranch and host for the hunt. The Army truly came home to Oasis Creek. It got its name in the 1870s when an Army Cavalry patrol camped near the spring that forms the headwaters for the creek. The commanding officer declared it was an oasis, and the name stuck.
A big part of the healing that occurs when a landowner hosts a hunt for wounded veterans is simply that the veterans can relax, be themselves and enjoy the company of others. Dan Shepherd shares a laugh with the late A.C. "Bub" Smith, who hosted the hunt. Smith was so taken by the experience that he invited the veterans back for another hunt in 2011. Smith died later that year.
Different generations, different wars, same issues. Col. Dick Weede (USMC, Ret.) and Dan Shepherd, an Army veteran with tour tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq, share a quiet conversation at the end of a successful day's hunt. For wounded veterans, getting away from the daily pressures of civilian life and spending time with people who understand what they've been through and the sacrifice they've made can help the healing process. Landowners can play an important part in the process by volunteering to host a hunt, a fishing excursion or other outdoor-related trip for wounded veterans.
Photographs for the wall and memories for a lifetime--these are just a few of the things that wounded veterans take away from an outdoor adventure. While photographs and memories are important, what the veterans take away from a hunt in terms of self confidence and satisfaction are vitally important in their recovery and healing.
Lt. Col. Lew Deal (USMC, Ret.) stands with Mat Keil and Dan Shepherd as they display a part of their harvest. Deal works with the Paralyzed Veterans of America and landowners willing to volunteer to host a hunting, fishing and other outing for wounded veterans. "It's not a trophy hunt," Deal stresses. Rather, it's a chance for wounded veterans to just be one of the guys for a few days.