Arizona Elk Society provide hunting trip for disabled veteran

Neil Schalk on a hunting trip through the Arizona Elk Society. (Submitted Photo)

U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Neil Schalk had a holiday experience he’ll never forget, thanks to the Arizona Elk Society’s Hunts for Heroes Program.

The program, a partnership between the Arizona Elk Society and Arizona Game and Fish, connects veterans with disabilities with Arizona hunting outfitters to get veterans out of their routine and enjoying the outdoors, according to a press release.

On Dec. 27, Program Director Dave Holbrook received a donated Arizona Desert Sheep Tag. Time was a factor since the season ended on Dec. 31, meaning the Arizona Elk Society and volunteers would have to organize the hunt immediately.

Mr. Holbrook reached out to volunteers who dropped everything during the busy holiday season to volunteer less than 12 hours after the initial request. Additionally, Mr. Schalk was contacted to be a participant in Hunts for Heroes.

Mr. Schalk, who lives in Williams, contemplated the opportunity to participate in a hunt using a donated Arizona desert sheep tag despite the holiday season and short time frame.

“After considering the magnitude of an Arizona sheep tag and a conversation with Hunts for Heroes coordinator Tom Wagner, we decided to give it a go,” Mr. Schalk said in a release.

Mr. Schalk met up with Mr. Wagner the next day and they headed to Superior. The two met up with seven volunteers from CouesWhitetail.com, a local online forum created by a wildlife biologist for hunters and wildlife conservationists.

Forum members rallied equipment and resources to participate on short notice. They met at the trailhead and then glassed the mountain looking for sheep.

After spotting two mature rams, Mr. Schalk and three volunteers headed up Picketpost Mountain.

“The rams had spotted us and were looking straight down at us,” Mr. Schalk said in a release. “Although the wind was in our favor, we decided trying to get closer would probably send them over the top. After a few minutes of fumbling around trying to get a solid rest, we were able to take a solid shot. One shot and the ram rolled downhill out of sight. It took us about 45 minutes to cover those 500 yards, and I was speechless when we walked up on the monster sheep.”

They took photos, quartered the ram and headed back down the mountain, the way lighted by headlamps.

Mr. Schalk said he is still in disbelief of the coordination, volunteers and harvesting of a trophy desert bighorn.

“I cannot thank the volunteers from CouesWhitetail.com and Arizona Elk Society’s Hunts for Heroes program enough,” he said. “It was an unbelievable team effort and I truly appreciate the compassion and footwork that made this hunt possible. It made me feel greatly appreciated. Many combat wounded veterans say the hardest thing isn’t the combat tour itself, but the transition back to ‘normal’ life. For someone like myself, this hunt has proven to be a great healing experience, and a great step toward normalization.”

Mr. Schalk joins a growing list of veterans helped by the program for veterans with a significant mobility disability. Many of these veterans remain at home, disengaged from society and some losing hope.

The three- to seven-day adventures are more than a hunting trip, they provide a sense of normalcy veterans thought they lost and provides new perspective on what their life can look like with a disability. Fifty percent of the veterans participating in the AES Hunts for Heroes program have never experienced the hunt.

Hunts for Heroes is projected to provide more than 60 hunts in 2017.

“We’re all coming together to help the healing process for these warriors,” Mr. Holbrook said in a release. “It’s amazing how many people love and respect our veterans. It’s very heartwarming and gratifying.”

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