What is in this article?:
For many wounded veterans, returning to civilian life is rife with challenges. A program that teams up willing ranchers with wounded veterans helps that transition.
Matt Keil shows the sip-and-puff mechanism he uses to fire a rifle or shotgun. The gun is mounted on a moving platform that Keil can manipulate with a joy stick. When he gets everything lined up, he takes the trigger mechanism in his mouth and fires.
A first-time story
In fact, Keil’s hunt began not with a bang, but with a click. He and Shepherd, along with Jeff Vandriel, Keil’s hunting buddy and attendant, arrived mid afternoon on the first day of the hunt.
No sooner had Keil stowed his gear than he and Vandriel were getting rigged to hunt. Turkeys were gobbling and would soon be heading to roost. Time was of the essence if any hunting was to happen that day.
In the rush to get Keil rigged up, nobody thought to rack a shell in the chamber. Keil finally got settled in a ground blind along with veteran turkey hunter Col. Dick Weede of Lexington, VA., (USMC, Ret.), who did the spotting and calling.
“The bird came in and it was awesome,” Keil says. Intent on the decoys, the gobbler didn’t notice the low hum and whir as Keil maneuvered the joy stick on the shooting platform as he kept the wood-stocked pump lined up. At Weede’s whispered command, Keil pressed his lips over the sip-and-puff mechanism that actuates the trigger and…click.
Weede quickly shucked a shell into the chamber, but it was too late. About a half-hour later, however, another gobbler answered Weede’s seductive calling and, at a paced-off distance of 41 yards, Keil joined the ranks of hunters who, once they experienced the heart-pounding thrill of watching a gobbler strut his way to a call, can’t imagine what life was like prior to that moment.
More than another hunt
For Weede, a Vietnam veteran, the experience was more than just another turkey hunt. “I’ve been hunting turkeys since 1977,” he says. “But to be able to hunt with Matt and help him make the shot of his life…it was the most memorable turkey hunt I’ve ever been on.”
Prior to his injury, Keil’s hunting experience was limited to one dove hunt with his brother-in-law. Since returning, he’s been hunting a number of times.
“The camaraderie is amazing,” he says. “Not only do we bond over the hunting experience, but we talk about injuries and heal that way, too. Everyone goes through injury a little bit differently and to talk creates the healing process.”
In that sense, Keil is an inspiration to other wounded warriors. Too often, injured veterans, regardless of the war, slip into a shell upon return to civilian life – a shell polluted with drugs or alcohol or self-pity. There are answers to that, and many of them can be found around the supper table or campfire of a hunting camp.
“If I can get out as a quadriplegic, anyone can do it,” Keil says. In fact, he works with PVA to encourage injured veterans to take advantage of the sports program the group offers.