By Michael L. Ritchie
The sun was just appearing over the horizon, and two moose had already crossed in front of us. Our guide Jeremy Judd was at the corner of the woods frantically waving for us to catch up to him. I was doing my best to get my friend Dan Holbrook in position, but his legs just would not cooperate, and it was too late. “You should have seen him; he was the largest bull I’ve ever seen in Maine.” Jeremy said, exasperated, “Then that guy drove up in the red pickup and pushed all the moose out of the field!”
Dan participated in a Disabled U.S. Veterans hunt put on by the Maine Fish and Wildlife Department and hosted by Smoldering Lake Outfitters out of Bridgewater, Maine. Through a close friend Ray Howell, the founding servant of Kicking Bear Ministries, I learned about this hunt. “The hunt is really a crop damage hunt.” Said Jeremy Judd, who is a Maine Game Warden. “The local broccoli farmers get 25 tags per year to prevent these massive creatures from consuming 60 lbs. of broccoli per animal per day. Smoldering Lake Outfitters raises funds, takes applications, and facilitates the veterans’ hunts as a part of the Veterans Afield Foundation.”
It turns out that the gentlemen who drove the fields spooking the moose was doing it intentionally. When our guide Jeremy confronted him, he gave our guide and Game Warden an earful. It seems he disapproved of the veterans getting “First Shot” at the moose ahead of Maine’s hunting public.
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What would possess a person to interfere with a disabled Veterans hunt?
The signs on the property’s perimeter clearly stated, “Keep Out, disabled Veterans Moose Hunt in Progress” It was clearly a lack of respect for our National Heroes. Ray Howell serving as the cameraman for the hunt, was mortified. “What kind of person does such a thing? Thankfully, I have it all on video.”
Proverbs 3:27 Withhold not good (honor) from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
Danny Holbrook served in the U.S. Marines from 1966-68. He was working at Great Lakes Steel in southeast Michigan when the draft called him up. He was married 2 months before his deployment to Vietnam. He opened a letter from his wife, Lynn, sitting on a hill waiting to cross a river on a search and destroy a mission. She was having second thoughts about being married and was considering divorce. This is not an unusual thing for those fighting for our nation. The spouses’ stress and loneliness are sometimes too much, and they send a “Dear John or Jane” letter. Dan was talking to God and asking for his help, and a still small voice came to his mind, “Danny, do you want to come home now? “perceiving it to be God, he replied, “No Lord, I want to complete my job and return to my wife.
Suddenly 5 shots rang out and a bullet whizzed by his abdomen hitting his fellow soldier in the leg. Thankfully, Dan returned to his wife Lynn, and have been married for 54 years.
“The worst thing was the terrible way Vietnam Vets were treated when we returned home. I was called a baby killer, loser, and many worse things. I was told the war was escalating, and I would likely have to return to Nam, which was horrifying.” Dan shared, “All by people who never served their country in the military.”
Amazingly, Dan was not bitter against the man who interrupted his hunt or the people that did not honor him for his time in the service. His hunt continued, and we spotted several different moose without a good shot. The rules of the hunt were this. 1.Do not shoot a moose while standing in the crop fields. Moose are as “Big as Dinosaurs” as Dan put it. And to get them out of the field with a truck would destroy too much crop. 2. Shoot the first moose that offers a good shot. The Vets were told to shoot bulls, cows, or calf.
Returning to camp for lunch, we saw that one of the Military Heroes had scored on a 50+ inch bull moose. Tyler (who was in the Coast Guard) was sharing his success story. The other vets were all crowding around him with huge smiles and handshakes of congratulations.
Ray Howell and SLO owner Dave Hentosh were doing Kicking Bear Ministry camps together for many years. Many of the guides for the moose hunts are part of the on-going Kicking Bear Camps, including Josh Hanes, Jeremy Judd, Joe Boyd, Mike Swimm, Doc, and others. “It is incredible to see the positive impact between today’s youth and the veterans at our camps. Now to be a part of this veteran’s hunt is absolutely amazing.” ”Ray Howell shares.
Dave Hentosh had a heart for the Veterans saying “The reason I began doing disabled veterans hunts eighteen years ago is that I never served in the military myself, I wanted to give back. The reason I still do them today is because of a letter I received after the first hunt.” Dave relates his first such hunt was a bear hunt with five vets. The letter simply said, “Thank you for saving my life.
Dave immediately called the man and asked him what he meant by those words.
“I usually woke every morning and took a bottle in one hand and pistol in the other and had to decide which one I would use that day,” said the veteran. Sadly, twenty-two combat veterans take their own lives every day in the United States because of PTSD.
Jeremy Judd volunteers to guide for these hunts every year, taking vacation days from work to help. “The real magic that happens during these hunts is when these hunters get together to share camp and tell their stories-there is visible healing that takes place.” I was witnessing this myself as one of the six hunters began to heal before my eyes. Sean was having difficulty adjusting to normal life after Afghanistan. By the week’s end, he was smiling, interacting with everyone, and genuinely enjoying himself. Dan asked me why everyone had treated him like a king when he had “only” done his duty. I responded, “Dan, you are a king! Don’t you see? You spent 2 years in Nam defending our freedom. You deserve to be honored.” The staff, guides, and helpers all gave maximum effort to make sure the Veterans understood that.
On the second day of the hunt, Jeremy set Dan up in a field that had not been hunted. Dave Hentosh noticed the broccoli was heavily damaged due to the munching moose. Dan would have a maximum of a 300-yard shot if the moose came where Dave expected. The difficulty is to shoot them before they reach the crops. Jeremy had hollowed out some brush downwind and set Dan in a chair and his rifle on a shooting rest. Now we just had to wait to see who showed up. Hopefully, no red pickups would disturb our hunt on this day. The field was remarkably close to a county road. As evening approached, Jeremy would softly call, hoping to coax a moose out of the thick timber. Suddenly, a black silhouette of a moose appeared. “Moose!” Jeremy said excitedly. Dan’s hunt was over at 200 yards, with finely tuned .308 hand loads out of his CZ rifle. The 300 lb. calf moose would provide many tasty meals for Dan and his friends and family. On the third morning, the final moose tag was filled.
Dave and the other volunteers guided the hunters six for six. The third day of the hunt the final tag was filled in a dramatic way when state policeman David Tripp carried hunter Brad Lang on his back to get him into position to take a nice bull moose.
Everyone in camp was just as happy as Brad as he was able to harvest a moose in such an amazing fashion. Brad was using his own custom rifle chambers in .308 cal. He started his own business after the military called: www.stumpiescustomguns.com. He can make you just about anything you could enjoy shooting. “I won’t sell a rifle that won’t shoot quarter-inch groups at 100 yards. His shop is in North Carolina and people can send their rifles to him through the mail.
Honor, defined by Wikipedia, is the idea of a bond between an individual and society as a quality of a person that is both of social teaching and of personal ethics, that manifests itself as a code of conduct, and has elements such as valor, chivalry, honesty, and compassion.
I was blessed to help Dan with his once-in-a-lifetime hunt to honor him for his service to our country, to give honor where it was due.
First of all, I want to thank the six Veterans that we hunted with for their service to our country. Next, I would like to thank those who sponsored him, providing the needed funding. Safari Club International two-time president, Bob Easterbrook; Safari Club Mid-Michigan https://midmichigansci.org/ and Safari Club Michigan Chapter were first to help and provided 2/3 of the total funding. Many thanks to individual donors: Amber H, Richard R, David M, Bill H, Don O, Roger C, Jeff C, Laurie C, Mike D. Special thanks to Smoldering Lake Outfitters-David & Kerry Hentosh, https://www.smoldering-lake-outfitters.com/, Jeremy Judd, and other volunteer guides and helpers, Ray Howell (Kicking Bear Camps www.kickingbear.org ), Centershot Ministries (www.centershot.org ) and Smith Farms of Maine.