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Beyond the Kill – Hunting With Veterans

Sometimes the Hunt Is a Means to Bigger Ends

While we love the taste of fresh-killed game and the thrill of the stalk, there’s another vital-yet-oft-overlooked component to hunting season. We had a chance to spend a weekend with Frio County Hunts, a veteran-owned ranch and guide service specializing in providing vets the opportunity to experience the great outdoors in a supportive, therapeutic atmosphere. Our time with them was grounded in a weekend of hog hunting, with several hours of art therapy and a lot of grilled meat and beer.

The veterans we had the privilege of hunting with all came from Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. The 2/7, sometimes known as the Forgotten Battalion, has the dubious honor of leading the entire Department of Defense in per-unit suicide rates, including both active duty and former members of the battalion. According to an article written by the New York Times, the suicide rate of 2/7 Marines is four times higher than male veterans as a whole and 14 times higher than the general average for the country.

If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that the surviving member of 2/7 are some of the most tightly knit military veterans you’re bound to encounter. During our time with them, we watched a borderline roll-call rundown of squad- and platoon-mates who were not present, how they are, what they’re up to and if they’re struggling. This brought home for us a key element of any good hunt — community. Living in camps or bunkhouses, spending long hours in wait or on stalk, the shared joy or success (or frustration of defeat) all bring us closer to the ones we love and trust enough to brave the elements with; the people we want to be around when WiFi and cell reception are nonexistent.

Frio County Hunts intends to channelize this unique sense of connection in the fight against veteran suicide, by surrounding vets with people they know in a physical environment that is comforting, if not always comfortable. Our early summer hog hunt in western Texas was hot, oppressively humid, and chock full of mosquitoes and chiggers. Maybe not the kind of place that most would find ideal for a friendly reunion, we venture to say that veterans and hunters alike can speak to a sort of primal satisfaction in enduring the elements to make that golden shot and take your game. At the end of that day, whether you’re with your dad or 10 of your closest friends, there’s a wholly satisfying joy in recounting all that misery over a stiff drink by a roaring fire.

This particular weekend also included several hours of art therapy. We were familiar with the concept, but hadn’t experienced it for ourselves. Smack-your-forehead-simple on the outside, art therapy gives post-traumatic stress survivors an opportunity to focus their energy, free themselves of intrusive thoughts, and talk openly about whatever they care to. Just off the front porch of the Frio Hunts bunkhouse is a picturesque bend in a lazy river. With camp chairs and easels set up on the high ground, several of us took the opportunity to try our hand behind a brush instead of a trigger. A couple of the 2/7 guys had a natural knack for painting. But, more importantly, it gave old friends the opportunity to sit side-by-side, sharing news about their families and memories of fallen comrades.

We want you to get out in the field as often as possible, but not just to run that new rifle or stock that chest freezer in the garage. Time spent in the blind or on the trail is time away from the soul-sucking, brain-draining grind of fast food, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle. Regardless of whether you come out empty-handed or haul home a new rack for your wall, the stories told and memories made will be your most prized trophy. So get cold, get dirty, and get closer to the people who mean most to you.

Frio County Hunts
www.friocountyhunts.com

 


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