The Arizona Elk Society recently returned from 24 different hunts across northern Arizona. But these weren’t ordinary expeditions. As part of the Hunts for Heroes Program, The Arizona Elk Society (AES) and Arizona Game and Fish connect veterans with disabilities with Arizona hunting outfitters to get veterans out of their routine and enjoying the outdoors. 50 percent of the veterans participating in the AES Hunts for Heroes program have never experienced the hunt.
The program is for veterans with a significant mobility disability. Many of these veterans remain at home, disengaged from society and some losing hope. The three to seven-day adventures are more than a hunting trip; they provide a sense of normalcy that the veterans thought they lost and provides new perspective on what their life can look like with a disability. Often, those that volunteer for the program are veterans themselves, which creates an immediate sense of family for the wounded veterans and a quick bond on the expedition.
In 2015 the Arizona Elk Society launched the Hunts for Heroes Program with the aid of Program Director Dave Holbrook. It soon became a joint venture between the Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Game and Fish and many, many volunteers. Those involved had no idea how fast it would grow. They are projected to provide more than 60 hunts in 2017.
“We’re all coming together to help the healing process for these warriors,” Holbrook said. “It’s amazing how many people love and respect our veterans. It’s very heartwarming and gratifying.”
The Arizona Elk Society works with several local organizations and businesses, including Diamond Outfitters, Miller Southwest, Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse, DAV Thrift Store in Prescott, Sprucedale Ranch and many others, to offset costs and provide accommodations for the veteran and whatever their mobility challenges might be. The trip is free of charge to the veteran, made possible by fundraising efforts of the AES throughout the year, and the generosity of donors, sponsors and many outfitters.
“I’m passionate about what I do and I thank God every day for the donations and volunteers who take the time to reach out to help heal our Veterans and put their lives back on track,” Holbrook said. “This gives them something to think about other than their injuries and places they’ve served.”
Dan Neild is one of the participants on a recent elk hunt. Dan served in the Air Force and now lives in Chandler. He recently spent five days on a hunt south of Williams, Arizona.
“I always wanted to go on a hunt and it was definitely a good experience,” Neild said. “It was great to connect with other vets and hunters and just spend time in the outdoors.”
He said the best part of the experience was the community feeling and the food. Neild was surprised that a chef accompanied them, cooking fantastic food, not just simple sandwiches.
“I’m super grateful that Steve Clark and Tom Wagner took the time to reach out,” Neild said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s another way to recover and an experience that helps you relax. I would definitely recommend it to other vets.”
The program is looking to help even more Arizona wounded veterans by accepting individual donations, corporate sponsorships and volunteers. Contact Arizona Elk Society Executive Director Steve Clark if interested in providing hope to more local veterans through this extraordinary program. stevec@ArizonaElkSociety.org
For those interested in nominating a veteran with a significant mobility disability, please visit https://www.arizonaelksociety.org/hunts-for-heroes to learn more about the program or email Dave Holbrook at DaveH@ArizonaElkSociety.org
About The Arizona Elk Society:
The Arizona Elk Society is committed to conserving and enhancing wildlife habitat in Arizona, protecting sound wildlife management and habitat through partnering with government agencies and other organizations and implementing special programs for youth education regarding conservation, hunting and outdoor activities. The Arizona Elk Society regularly informs the general public about issues concerning wildlife conservation, as well as scientific and biological wildlife and habitat management. Volunteer and sponsorship opportunities now available. Visit https://www.arizonaelksociety.org/