LIMA — For some, deer hunting is simply a great way to enjoy the weekend and spend some time outdoors. But for a group of disabled veterans in Lima, representing conflicts ranging from Korea to Afghanistan, it meant enjoying fellowship with others who have served, along with regaining a sense of independence and normalcy in their lives.
“We had 27 coming, and three didn’t show,” said Joe Sawmiller, coordinator of Hunting with Heroes, “and next year we think we may have somewhere between 35 and 40.”
During the hunt, held Sunday and concluding today, each disabled hunter, some in wheelchairs, others with prosthetic limbs, was joined by a volunteer guide who stayed with the hunter during the hunt, offering assistance as needed. Holding this bow hunt this weekend was a deliberate move on the part of the organizers, given the significance of Nov. 11.
“We try to plan our hunt every year right before or after Veterans Day to make sure we tie it in with that,” Sawmiller said.
Hunting with Heroes drew veterans from throughout the region, including Frank Cole, of Marion, and his son, Allen Patz. Both served in the military during conflicts, Cole with the Navy in Operation Desert Storm, and Patz with the Army serving two tours in Iraq. Both also suffered disabilities during their service, Cole losing all ligaments in one knee and Patz suffering injuries to his feet and back. For this father and son, this trip had more significance than just enjoying a hunt.
“My primary thing was to get my son back into hunting,” Cole said, “because he had quit hunting completely when he came back. When this came up, we had to talk him into coming. He said he had seen enough killing.”
Getting a chance to enjoy the day with his father has helped Patz regain some of his love for the outdoors, reclaiming a part of himself he had lost in the service.
“Now, he’s starting to want to do more things outside like he used to,” Cole said. “This has helped him out tremendously.”
“It’s great being able to come back out and go on a hunt with my dad,” Patz said.
Stories like that are the reason Sawmiller and the volunteers take the time to put this event together.
“A lot of the younger guys are having trouble dealing with the things that they’ve been through. I can’t walk in their shoes, but I’ve got a set of ears on the sides of my head just like the guy in the blind with them, so hopefully they can loosen up and talk a bit and share some things and maybe start that healing process.”
While the experience itself has been enjoyable for Cole and Patz, along with the other vets, the father and son duo did not have any deer to show for their efforts as of Saturday afternoon. However, if a disability could not dampen these veterans’ resolve, there was no way a slow start to the morning would.
“Yeah, I saw one and took a shot at it, but I didn’t quite get him,” Allen said. “I just skimmed the belly. We’ll try again.”