[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]Hogs, Dogs and Heroes[/su_heading]
Special Forces Wounded Warriors On The Hunt
Story by Walt Hampton • Photographs by Reaper Outdoors, SOWW and Walt Hampton
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]H[/su_dropcap]aving been raised as a hunter, I am guilty of forgetting how important that simple pleasure is to my life. What defines my personality is the ability to take up a weapon and go to the woods to enjoy the sport with never a thought of what it would mean to lose that privilege, or what it would take to regain that part of me if, God forbid, I was so challenged.
Hunting has always been an integral part of my life; it is my connection to God, the land and to those who over the years have meant the most to me. It is a concept that many men far more articulate than I have tried to define over the years. I can only offer my belief that it is the hunt itself and not the kill that adds character to our lives, but the kill necessarily punctuates the act with the finality that completes the experience. When this activity is something you do well, imagine the struggle it would take to regain your soul if it was lost.
There are folks out there who have never been exposed to hunting, never considered taking it up or participated. What I have enjoyed over the years is watching when an introduction to the sport is done correctly and in the company of people with similar backgrounds and values – we gain another good soul to our ranks. Now, when you take men who already have focus and intelligence, such as our special operations personnel, and put them into this scenario, you see a transformation that is smooth and seamless from warrior to hunter; after all, these are just two different words for the same thing.
Bobby Dove was a Green Beret medic who lost his right arm and leg in Afghanistan in 2012; his road to recovery revolved around adapting to his situation so he could get back into the woods. Hunting was that one thing that would define being normal again. Three months after his medevac he was on Buck Mountain in Virginiawith us, and I watched him focus on the task at hand with repeated failures as he worked to regain what he thought he had lost. When he was eventually successful in completing his hunt by fair chase and on his own, you could see the transformation. He is a part of my family so I was there to see it, and it was the pinnacle of my hunting career.
Not long after that hunt, Dove was selected to participate in an event put together by an organization called Special Operations Wounded Warriors (SOWW) for their flagship event called Takin’ Bacon 2014. This is where wounded special operations personnel are teamed up with some of the finest dog men in the South just to hunt feral hogs.
When Dove and I initially arrived at the event, I was happily surprised to see Chris, an Army Special Forces wounded veteran who I had met in Dove’s hospital room when he first returned from overseas. Chris, a double amputee, was attending the event as one of the hunters. Chris had never hunted before this event, but ended up taking the most hogs – four all together – as well as the largest: 285 pounds. If you are one of those folks who likes to keep score, here is the breakdown of that weekend: eight special operations Purple Heart recipients took 24 hogs in three days. Oh, did I forget to mention that there were no guns allowed on this hunt – it was conducted solely with knives.
This was not meant as a stunt. The knife was one of the first human weapons, and is often the weapon of last resort. It is a symbol of the level of commitment that each special ops person makes to ensure the job gets done – simply put, to never quit. A specialized knife was designed for this event by Mil-Tac Knives and Tools, and each of the hunters were presented with one of their own. It is a serious tool for men who understand the importance and value.
If you look at many special ops logos – Green Berets, Rangers, Navy SEALs, even the center of the Purple Heart – you will find the bladed weapon.
The hunt was purposely made to be difficult. It was imperative that these intensely committed individuals were challenged. If you were to take this group to a canned-hunt area and sit them in a box blind over a bait pile so they could pull a trigger on a released pig, they would laugh in your face. To be worthy, a thing must be earned.
I have attended several charity events over the years. The most remarkable impression I have from this experience was SOWW’s approach with these hunters; they were not going to be able to blend into the surroundings. Each was given a blaze-orange cap and told the only requirement of the weekend was that they wear them, so the focus of all other participants and visitors would be on them. Once the hunt began, they would be turned over to the dog-handler guides. The rest was easy; they were here to enjoy themselves. I also found that the warm family atmosphere represented by the presence of some very respectful kids made it feel as if I was attending a family reunion more than a charity function.
If you are going to do something, you should do it right. It was no coincidence that SOWW masterfully orchestrated this event by pairing the hunters with dedicated dog men who know what they are doing. The low-country swamp is no place for amateurs, be they man or dog, and to watch the performance of both at the top of their game was a rare privilege for me. These dogs are not pets; they are just as dedicated and professional as the operators who followed them into the impenetrable brush and waist-deep muck. The demonstration of their singularity of purpose was, in a word, magnificent. Doing what their kind has done for man for thousands of years, these animals made the connection of swamp, man and dog to represent the very essence of hunting. For a moment this changed the focus of a wounded man from what he thought he couldn’t do to what he can.
The swamp does not care how many legs you have or who you are; you must earn your place here and when you have done this, in the company of men and dogs that must prove themselves every single time they face these obstacles, you become accepted into their circle, and the accomplishment makes an indelible mark on your soul.
For me the purpose of the entire event was captured in this example: One of the hunters, a veteran of Mogadishu – yes, that Mogadishu – who was reluctant to participate in the event at all and initially held back, eventually hit the swamp behind the dogs in the dark of night. He emerged from that experience wet to the waist, briar-cut and bruised, his hands stained with the blood of his quarry, and started immediately texting one of his wounded teammates to tell him how he should come to the swamp with him for next year’s event.
Each step in the process of a wounded soldier’s recovery has its place and meaning. No one thinks that a single hunt is a cure-all, but there are wounded operators out there who sustain both the physical and mental effects of war, and who we must reach. We have to let them know what could be the most important message of their lives – you are not alone.
Having had this opportunity to meet and come to know these exceptional individuals has made an impression on me that is hard to articulate. I can only say that my pride in my country and love for our way of life has been reinforced. For those of you looking for what being an American truly means, I know some men who can show you. You can bet that I will be back amongst them next year.
With the camaraderie of other wounded operators on that hunt, Dove was so impressed that he became a SOWW board member. Please help support this organization, their events and the fine work they do. ASJ
* Bobby Dove and his Green Beret teammate Cliff Beard operate Hooligan Charters out of Destin, Fla., and provide inshore fishing adventures.
* Clint McDaniel, one of the dog handlers who volunteered his time and effort to the SOWW charity hunt, is a top-shelf taxidermist with Candler’s Taxidermy Studio in Pelzer, S.C.