Wounded Warriors take aim in specialized deer hunt
October 19, 2012
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Three Wounded Warriors with a passion for deer hunting were provided with a special opportunity through Hunters Helping Heroes, a non-profit organization.
Hunters Helping Heroes organizes hunting excursions for service members, firefighters, police officers and Wounded Warriors as a small "thank you" for their service.
Ryan Miller, who served in the Air Force and is now a reservist at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, founded Hunters Helping Heroes in 2010.
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua A. Johnston, who is assigned to Picatinny Arsenal, was one of the three Wounded Warriors who participated in the hunt. Johnston was recently awarded the Purple Heart at a ceremony here for wounds received in action in Iraq in 2007.
"This is a great escape from everything,"Johnston said. "Hunting helps take my mind off of everything. It's a great relaxer."
The participants used compound bows, positioning themselves in hunting blinds built with materials and by volunteers from a local Home Depot in Dover, N.J., earlier this year.
Before venturing into the woods the hunters received safety briefings and practiced at the installation's indoor archery range to familiarize themselves with the weapons they would use.
Retired Marine Corps Cpl. Larry A. Draughn Jr., an avid hunter and a double-leg amputee, flew in from Ohio Oct. 10 to claim his first deer in the Garden State.
It did not take long for Draughn to accomplish his mission only several hours after stepping off the plane. Along with his 4-year-old son Garon, and Maj. Vinson Morris of Project Manager Soldier Weapons, Draughn took down an 11-point buck.
"It was amazing,"Draughn said."I was happy I got to share that moment with my son."
Draughn lost both legs and two fingers after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan in May 2009.
Not someone who is easily dispirited, Draughn set out at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to establish the fastest recovery time for his type of injuries.
Just five weeks later, he competed in a bass fishing tournament at Picatinny Arsenal's neighboring Lake Hopatcong.
From that point Draughn gained momentum. In 2011, Draughn was offered a professional fishing contract and his own bass boat.
"I hope to be successful in fishing also, so that I can give back to those who have helped me achieve my dreams," Draughn said. "I want to show other wounded veterans that the sky is the limit and they can achieve anything they can put their mind and heart to."
The third wounded warrior, Marine Corps Sgt. Thomas Holland, suffered injuries from an IED blast while rescuing an eight-man sniper team in Afghanistan.
"It was a great time," Holland said of the recent hunt. "Not only did I have the time of my life but I made memories that I will never forget."
The warriors hunted two sessions per day for three straight days. They went out around 5 a.m. and then again around 4 p.m.
Each sat in a hunting blind with either Miller, Morris or Jim Opalecky, the post's game warden.
Draughn and Holland each took down a buck and a doe. Johnston opted not to take down the does that he had in sight. He felt there would be plenty of other opportunities throughout the year.
Many communities helped to make the hunting event possible. They paid for airline tickets, donated meals and equipment, and picked up the cost of butchering, mounting and taxidermy of the deer the hunters would take home.
One restaurant, Brick 46 in Dover, provided a buffet lunch for the hunters and volunteers.