Hunting lets wounded warriors feel 'normal'
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- 2nd Lt. James Biggerman aims his rifle at a deer as Steven Navakuku watches through binoculars. Biggerman participated in one of the hunting trips for wounded warriors, which ran from October-January.

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Moore knelt in the brush, sight set on the white-tailed deer. He pulled the trigger, sending the herd scampering. Ratcheting his high-powered rifle, Moore waited.

"It was 9:37 in the morning," he said. "I let him walk right up on us."

Moore fired again, striking the doe in the side.

"I was really excited," he said. "I went over to her. She and I had a talk. I told her she was for my Family."

Moore, with help from a volunteer, field dressed the deer and carried 125-150 pounds of meat to the truck. Moore said after the deer is properly dried and butchered, he'll eat the venison.

A Soldier with the Warrior Transition Battalion, Moore was one of 14 wounded warriors participating in hunting trips on Fort Carson, which ran from October-January.

"This was a combined effort with the WTB, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and range control," said James McDermott, chief, conservation branch, Directorate of Public Works.

For the second year, McDermott said Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers provided Soldiers hunting licenses and tags, and waived hunting fees to allow the servicemembers the opportunity to get outdoors.

"It's therapeutic," said one Soldier who asked to remain anonymous. "It gets them out into nature, seeing the wildlife."

Moore said hunting was always on his bucket list and he was glad he had the opportunity.

"I've lived in Colorado for 19 years and never went," he said. "It makes me feel like more of a Soldier. That made me feel good to fire."

That, officials said, was what they hoped would come out of the hunting experience.

"There's a lot of apprehension at first, but once you get them out and interacting, it's like a brotherhood," said Steven Navakuku, one of three range inspectors who leads hunting trips.

Sgt. Brandon Hilliard, also with the WTB, said he grew up hunting rabbits and squirrels with a pellet gun, but had never hunted larger game until Jan. 27.

"One deer, all that meat, I don't have to worry about protein for a long time," Hilliard said.

Hilliard, who has problems with his back, said the officials supervising the hunts assisted Soldiers when needed.

"You're in a controlled environment and everyone is there to support you," he said.

Many of the Soldiers needed some assistance, either navigating the terrain or dressing their kill.

"We had everything from missing limbs to (post-traumatic stress disorder)," said Cory Chick, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "For those with PTSD, it's huge for them to overcome that, to pull the trigger again."

Chick said some of the Soldiers had never hunted before and officials held special hunting courses to brief them on safety procedures and technique.

"Hopefully we're helping them," Chick said. "Being able to accomplish something, that's the whole purpose."

Chick said organizations host hunting opportunities for wounded warriors across the state and in December, Soldiers from the WTB were able to participate in pheasant hunting and ice fishing activities.

Because hunting on Fort Carson is restricted, officials at the Colorado Division of Wildlife were working to secure more licenses for the spring.

With 100 percent of Soldiers hitting their targets, many said they would return for a second trip.

"You can overcome the physical challenges with the right teamwork," Hilliard said. "It reminds you that despite your condition, you're fine."

Page last updated Thu February 9th, 2012 at 00:00