Bowhunting Helps Veterans Cope and Recover
The nation has over 3 million bowhunters and hundreds of thousands of military veterans and service members. In addition, hundreds of organizations across the country reunite or reintroduce veterans to outdoor recreation like bowhunting.
Those support organizations vary in size, and help veterans with physical disabilities and mental illnesses. Regardless of their size or services, all the organizations help veterans find peace, enjoy nature and rediscover themselves.
Hope For The Warriors is a national nonprofit organization striving to restore hope, and a sense of self and family to veterans, service members and military families. Among its offerings is the Outdoor Adventure program, which provides adaptive opportunities for wounded heroes to hike, fish, hunt, kayak and, of course, bowhunt.
Ken Sutherby, director of Outdoor Adventures, believes the physical coordination and mental concentration needed for bowhunting is therapeutic for veterans. He said many people with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder prefer bowhunting over gun-hunting because it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s also more challenging, which Sutherby considers a big draw.
“Many guys miss what they did with the military, and the challenge and responsibilities they had,” Sutherby said. “Bowhunting fulfills that level of challenge. It requires hunters to get closer [to game], use more stealth, and fine-tune their skills.”
The desire “to provide” is also evident. Most service members join the military to serve their country. Hunting allows hunters to serve their families by providing food they’ve harvested.
Hope For The Warriors also partners with corporate and nonprofit outdoors groups to host nationwide events for veterans and their families. They provide adaptive equipment, when necessary, and try to give participants the best experience possible.
Danny and Carla Santangelo own and operate Okeechobee Outfitters Inc. in Lorida, Florida. They volunteered their land and resources to veterans’ hunting programs for years before founding The Sportsmen’s Foundation for Military Families in 2009.
The couple loves connecting veterans with the hunting community, and started the SFMF to host individual veterans and their families every week. The Santangelos let veterans bring unlimited family members because they think the sessions help families understand why veterans are drawn to the outdoors.
“A lot of wives and children don’t realize how much of an escape hunting is for veterans,” Danny Santangelo said. “Allowing the entire family to come helps them bond and connect.”
Camaraderie is also important to bowhunters, especially veterans like Mark Bishop, who participated in the SFMF program in Summer 2018 with his wife, Kim, and their three kids.
“[Hunting] is a tremendous way to spend time with your family without distractions,” Bishop said. “When you’re in a hunting blind with a loved one, and you’re whispering and talking, it’s an awesome way to bond. Taking game together is amazing, too. You get to watch [your child’s] reaction, which is often a smile and tears of joy. It’s really special.”
Bishop gun-hunted before he was deployed but discontinued hunting after returning home because it reminded him of his deployment.
“When you’re gun-hunting, you’re around the thing that probably brings you the most stress in your life,” Bishop said. “I didn’t hunt for five years. Bowhunting reintroduced me to hunting because putting a bow in my hand didn’t make me feel like I was back in Afghanistan.”
Veteran Nathan Byron appreciates all aspects of bowhunting, and said it’s therapeutic because of the sunshine, fresh air and solitude. It also provides quality family time and a sense of accomplishment.
“There’s no better feeling than to slow down, relax and take in the sights, sounds and smells of nature,” Byron said. “[I like to] unwind and unplug from the hectic pace of daily life, and get my hands dirty and put some mud on my boots. And now that I’m a father, there’s no better joy in life than having my daughters accompany me on my hunting trips.”
Byron visited Okeechobee Outfitters Inc. in 2016 with his wife, mother and two daughters. He said the Santangelos were fantastic hosts and “truly God’s gift to the world” because they value family, and have “their hearts and minds in the right place.”
Sutherby and the Santangelos said they’re grateful for their careers and cherish the experiences they have with veterans. Sutherby advises veterans nervous about hunting to try it. He said overcoming initial fears might be difficult, but it’s worthwhile.
“I can’t think of anyone who wasn’t truly impressed by what the outdoors does for them,” Sutherby said.
Visit the Hope For The Warriors website or The Sportsmen’s Foundation for Military Families website to learn more.
You can find a list of similar programs and organizations on Buckmasters’ website.