Supporting our troops should go far beyond the occasional social-media share. As The Arizona Elk Society (AES) knows, it's important to put our time and effort towards ensuring that those warriors who have returned from action bearing injuries can continue to enjoy life as much as possible. For many veterans, that means finding a way to reconnect with the outdoors. Towards that end, AES recently launched its "Hunts for Heroes" program, for the wounded warriors of Arizona. Their mission is to help members of our nation's military who came home with disabilities to heal through hunting, and was a natural outgrowth of the Society's support for both our nation's hunting heritage and our military. Their goal is to provide great opportunities for these men and women to get back into Arizona's stunning wilderness areas. As AES Executive Director Stephen Clark says, "We as hunters sometimes take for granted the serenity, beauty, peacefulness, quietness, camaraderie and much more that we experience in the outdoors. This program aims to share all the great experiences of the hunt and outdoors with Arizona's disabled veterans."
The Arizona Game and Fish Department is helping make this happen with a very successful tag-transfer program, which allows a donated tag to go to qualified 501c3 organizations like the Arizona Elk Society. The qualifying organization can then offer the tag, along with help and support, to a disabled veteran who qualifies.
AES Hunts for Heroes Program Director Dave Holbrook's background includes time spent as an outfitter operating a successful operation in Colorado for many years, where he ran a program of his own to get disabled veterans out hunting through his outfitting business. Now that he lives in Arizona, he decided to approach the AES Board and offer to help start a disabled veteran program. This was the birth of the "Hunts for Heroes" program.
Here are a few comments from past warriors:
"My experience of being in the woods with a team of experts was more than humbling, and to me, an absolute vital step in becoming reacquainted with normal life."
"What can we do to thank you guys for what you have done?"……. A question I've been asked a few times and never can come up with a solid answer. After all, we all enlisted mostly knowing what we were getting ourselves into. However, the Arizona Elk Society and Hunts for Heroes have the answer figured out. Whether you're a first time hunter, or have been in the woods your entire life, taking us on hunts like these is an extraordinary gift."
"The hunt also got me out of my house and routine that keeps me to just myself. I met some good fellow veterans and other good men that really care. And that by far speaks/shows respect that not a lot of people do."
The response has been tremendous; in fact, many program attendees have returned to volunteer with other hunts! AES is seeking program sponsors, outfitters and guides that are familiar with different Game Management Units in Arizona and volunteers. They have many hunts coming up and are receiving new tags all the time.