Hunts for Heroes Project helps military veterans experience the great outdoors

Military veterans are getting the opportunity to experience the outdoors with help from community volunteers. Through the Hunts for Heroes Project in Cochrane, veterans are able to get the full hunting experience as a thank you for their service.

As the saying goes, “The hunter that travels out into the woods is lost to the world, yet finds himself or herself.”

“When hunting season is around I try to go as much as possible,” said Shelby Hatch, retired U.S. Air Force veteran.

In Buffalo County, near the communities of Cochrane and Fountain City, muzzleloader gun deer season is in full swing.

“We come from all over,” Hatch said. “Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan.”

Retired U.S Air Force veteran Kyle Johnson said his passion for the outdoors runs as deep as every coulee and valley.

“For me it’s the serenity of sitting out there with your own thoughts,” Johnson said.

Hatch said there’s nothing better than country wilderness.

“I’d rather be out here than in a city,” Hatch said.

All of these hunters have one thing in common.

“I was in the Air Force. I was a master sergeant when I retired,” Hatch said. “Worked in surgery and was used as a combat medic down range.”

Johnson had a similar experience.

“Retired a little over 20 years as a master sergeant,” Johnson said. “I spent 14 years overseas.”

All of them have sacrificed a big part of their lives for the safety of others.

“Twenty years is a long time,” Hatch said.

Through the Cochrane Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10406, organizer Kyle Bushman helps disabled veterans experience the great outdoors.

“We do eight to 10 events all over the U.S.,” Bushman said.

Community members donate the use of hundreds of acres of prime hunting real estate, including transportation to heated blinds.

“Somebody would probably pay upwards of $30,000-$40,000 to lease this piece of ground,” Bushman said. “Each one of the blinds they put up are well within three grand.”

Johnson said the gratitude from people is overwhelming.

“It’s really humbling for me to have this experience knowing that this community cares so much,” Johnson said.

Hatch had the best luck of them all on Thursday night.

“I had my sites on a doe and then out of the corner of my eye I saw a big shadow and I looked over and he was massive,” Hatch said. “I said, ‘looks like I’m not getting a doe today. I am going to get this buck.'”

Two hundred pounds dressed and nine points, caps this memorable hunting story. And of course excellent marksmanship.

“Pretty awesome shot if I do say so myself,” Hatch said.

She said the thrill of the hunt is just a small piece of the experience.

“We kind of put it as our mind goes quiet,” Hatch said. “That’s priceless to a lot of us.”

It’s a chance to escape and be with brothers and sisters of honor.

“All the vets are a family,” Hatch said. “We may not be blood related but we are still a family.”

It’s a reminder that the community hasn’t forgotten their sacrifice.

“Just because you are not active duty or in the reserves or guard, that community still exists and you can still be a part of it,” Johnson said.

The Hunts for Heroes program helps covers all travel expenses for these veterans.

The program received a $7,400 donation from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association on Thursday night.

The program offers many more hunting opportunities for veterans. For more information, visit the Hunts for Heroes Project Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/HFHWI/)

Get your weather forecast from people that actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.