Mark Spencer recently spent a weekend in the Yankton area with two disabled veterans. During the course of the weekend, the group did some white-tail doe management hunt along the South Dakota and Nebraska border, through Spencer’s organization, Patriot Outdoors Adventures.
Patriot Adventures is a 501(3)(c) group with its headquarters in Hutchinson, Kansas, which offers opportunities to veterans to spend time with other soldiers in the great outdoors.
“Twenty-two U.S. Veterans take their lives every day,” said Spencer and he is speaking up and speaking out to stop this tragedy. “When I started this group in 2008, I knew from personal experience sometimes it is good to get away from home or a job and be with people who have had the same experiences I had like in combat. We now know talking about the same experiences is a great help to veterans returning from fighting.”
As a retired Army veteran with medical injuries from service in Iraq, he said sitting around a fire, talking, can be a great healer.
The adventure group reaches out to veterans who are interested in hunting or fishing and sets up weekend trips. Last year, they reached out to 400 veterans. Many hunts have been organized at Texas sites where they hunt the beautiful sicha axis deer, elk in Montana and even alligators in Louisiana. The group also hosted a turkey hunt this past spring and participated in the Outdoor Expo at Ponca State Park in September.
Along with Hartington resident and veteran Mark Wieseler, who is the Nebraska representative for Patriot Outdoor Adventures, the group did some outdoor deer hunting and had not been successful. On Saturday afternoon, the group visited the National Field Archery Association Easton Yankton Archery Center and spent some time with archery coach Bill Hewes shooting bows.
Doug Hanson of Council Grove, Kansas, came to Nebraska with the Adventure program and has a long history as an Army Ranger, serving two tours in Iraq and returning home with a debilitating spinal injury.
“When I came back, I had a hard time coping; I was getting frustrated,” Hanson said. He finally participated in a Purple Heart Outdoors tour. He was very active before getting injured and along with playing hockey, he was an archery lover.
In fact, coming to the Easton Center was very poignant for him. After his injury, the doctors told him he would never be a father but after talking with other veteran organizations like Wounded Warrior, he now boasts about his two children — the oldest is named Easton because he loved their quality hockey equipment.
”You know, I never hunted for sport; I hunted for humans,” Hanson said. “So this was quite an adjustment; hunting for food for my family has helped me.”
A “brotherly” hunt can be a very emotional thing he said. Being with other 30-something soldiers who have been through what he had and being outdoors with them helped the healing whether it be problems adjusting from the war, adjusting once again to family life with a wife and kids or even building morale.
“We have a second chance and we have learned never to take anything for granted,” Hanson said.
“I met Mark at a hunting expo in Kansas a little over a year ago and immediately became interested in Patriot Adventures,” Wieseler said. “Our motto is ‘Soldiers Helping Soldiers’ and that is what it’s all about.” It’s not a hobby to him but a way to help soldiers lead a healthy life and hunting can be a part of it.
Spencer said the group also helps veterans with questions about many issues ranging from medical issues to finding employment. For more information, check out the following Facebook page, Patriot Outdoors Adventures.