SHERIDAN — Hunting heals. For veterans returning from the stresses of service, certain programs utilize transfers of donated hunting tags to make the transition for disabled veterans a smoother one.
And with proposed legislation that would add 12-year-olds to the list of license recipients, the process could be beneficial to even more people.
Sheridan hosted its first hunt through the Hunting for Heroes organization last season. The volunteers brought along six disabled veterans to experience hunting again, some starting in after decades of idle firearms due to injury or illness.
Alfred Hill, a resident of Story who helped organize the local event, recognized the benefit to the veterans with disabilities.
“Basically, you’re speaking about people who simply wouldn’t have had a chance to go hunting,” Hill said. “They’re all so delighted and they were all so very, very happy to get some good, wild meat.”
Co-founder Dan Currah believes the weekend adventures were transformative for the participating veterans.
“We’re pretty certain there were some folks on the edge of suicide and they said, ‘Hey, you brought me back; I love this; can we do this some more?’” Currah said.
The program started five years ago and only brought nine veterans on Wyoming land to hunt with donated licenses.
Last season, the program increased its participation to around 200 veterans and totaled more than 500 in the program’s entirety.
The program runs entirely on volunteers and funding from fundraisers and profits from commissioned licenses.
Members of the VFW Post 1560 helped with the Sheridan hunt by providing meals for everyone involved. Local landowners — IXL, Eaton’s, D Bar D and Fletcher ranches — contributed licenses and land. Others lent side-by-side vehicles to help transport the participants.
Currah said donations from landowners prove most effective, as they receive the licenses applied for nearly 100 percent of the time and allow the program onto their land to hunt.
Big Horn Meat Cutting helped further cut down costs by subsidizing part of the meat packing process. The only financial burden on veterans was travel to and from the hunting location.
The program undoubtedly helps out veterans with disabilities. Both Currah and Hill see the potential adjustment to the current law as an opportunity to further their impact and expand the program to include family members of veterans, too.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Public Information Specialist Bud Stewart said no programs or plans have been set yet, but the department will track the bills going through the Legislature this session and will move forward with ideas if passed.
Hill said some family members participated with their veteran kin at the hunt.
“A lot of these veterans don’t really want to talk outside of their own group about it because there’s a lack of understanding,” Hill said. “In a lot of cases, veterans can open up more with family members with other veterans that they’re in conversation with,” Hill said.
Hill said because of this, Currah’s idea of creating family-focused hunts with the state’s expansion of license donations to 12-year-old children provides a wonderful opportunity. The combination of family and fellow veterans help facilitate conversations about past time serving in the military, allowing the family to gain insight in what otherwise would have been a locked down history of their loved ones.