Wyoming landowners support disabled veterans through Hunting with Heroes
When U.S. Army Veteran Dan Currah found out that a fellow Wyomingite was in recovery after being injured in Afghanistan, he went to visit.
“He asked if I wanted to get out of the hospital and do something, like get lunch,” explains U.S. Army Veteran Colton Sasser.
Small outings eventually led to a hunting trip, and the two men realized they wanted to get other disabled veterans involved.
“When we did some more research, we found out about the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) donated license program,” Sasser notes.
WGFD allows people to donate their big game licenses back to the agency to be reissued to disabled veterans with a Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating of 50 percent or more.
“The disabled veteran then has to be sponsored by a non-profit,” says Currah.
In 2013, Sasser and Currah founded Hunting with Heroes, a non-profit organization that is qualified by WGFD to sponsor veterans.
“We can help a veteran get a donated license that he can use on his own, or – most of the time – we set up hunts for those veterans, get them the licenses and actually take them out hunting,” Currah continues.
One of the first challenges that Hunting with Heroes faced was getting enough donated licenses for the program.
“We discovered that landowners have a much greater opportunity to get a tag in the lottery than the public does. We approached landowners and asked them if they would put in for an antelope tag to donate back to WGFD,” he explains.
Wyoming landowners proved eager to help.
“Probably 90 percent of the tags that we use for veterans are landowner-donated tags,” he comments. “We really rely on the stock growers and landowners. If it wasn’t for their participation, we would probably only hunt with 20 veterans a year.”
The 2015 season marks the third for Hunting with Heroes, and over 120 veterans were sponsored through the program this year.
“If it wasn’t for the landowners, ranchers, farmers and small communities that get involved, it would never work the way it does. We would like to say thank you,” states Sasser.
Not only have landowners donated tags, many of them have also provided hunting access on their land and hosted hunters in their homes.
“No one knows the land and the game on the land better than the landowner,” he adds, mentioning that many landowners go out of their way to get hunters to the best locations on their land.
“Generosity is displayed through the landowners, not just from letting hunters on their land but also with their hospitality,” Sasser remarks.
Sasser and Currah work closely with landowners to apply early for their game tags, take care of the necessary paperwork and ensure that they are set up for any additional support they chose to provide.
“WGFD has been more than a blessing for us,” Currah continues.
Agency administration and game wardens provide assistance to ensure all of the paperwork and other details get taken care of.
“I’ve been on several different hunts now through the organization and had game wardens drop pretty much anything at the drop of a hat to help and be involved as much as they can,” he explains.
Volunteers are also critical to the program.
“All of our guides are volunteers,” Currah remarks. “Mostly, we have groups of volunteers who come from different communities, get together and host hunters for a three- or four-day event.”
Governor Matt Mead has also supported the program.
“This year, we had two tags donated by the Governor and the First Lady. We hunted antelope on their ranch down by the Laramie River,” Currah comments. “That was pretty special.”
Hunting with Heroes also strives to include any veteran who qualifies for a WGFD tag.
Sasser explains, “We try to accommodate all of the branches of service, male and female and all wars. It’s about what the outdoors does for the therapy part of healing, whether it’s mental or physical. It’s huge.”
The experience allows veterans enjoy all aspects of a hunting trip, including time around a campfire, sharing stories and getting to know other veterans.
“We’ve had a WWII veteran, a Korean veteran and a Vietnam veteran on one antelope hunt together,” he comments. “I think the friendships last way longer than the hunt.”
“It’s very rewarding working with these guys and gals. We’re doing this to thank the veterans for what they’ve done, but they start saying thank you to us because they never dreamed they would be able to hunt antelope in Wyoming,” says Currah.
Sasser explains that the outdoors did a lot for his recovery, and now through Hunting with Heroes, he is seeing how the same experience helps other veterans as well.
“We are both Wyoming veterans, and we both want to do what we can to help some of these disabled veterans that might not otherwise have this opportunity,” explains Currah.
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.