The outdoors is a tremendous venue in which one can escape the pressures and stressors of daily life and relax in solitude. The therapeutic benefits offered through various forms of outdoor recreation are numerous and well documented in validated research, anecdotally, and also in scripture. If you recall, Jesus often retreated to the wilderness or out of the way natural places to escape the pressures he was facing. The disciples blew off steam by going fishing.
Today, one particular group of people that is benefitting tremendously through outdoor recreation and retreat type settings is our wounded warriors. Many men and women in our armed forces have served multiple combat tours over the past 12 years and a significant number are returning with scars and permanent physical injuries that impact the way they are able to enjoy certain recreation opportunities they once found easy. Even more men and women are returning with unseen injuries such as post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Though maybe not visible to the eye, these injuries are just as or even more so debilitating in many cases. To help these men and women, Smoldering Lake Outfitters in Bridgewater, Maine, began hosting groups of wounded warriors at their lodge for black bear, moose, waterfowl, and turkey hunting and fishing adventures a few years ago. I have had the privilege of participating along the way.
Last fall, 13 wounded warriors made their way to northern Maine to participate in a special moose hunting opportunity. Making this hunt unique was the fact that hunters included not only wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they were joined by several wounded veterans from Vietnam. This mix of ages made for a very special dynamic in camp. The older veterans, many of whom were forced to deal with emotional and mental scars they carried home with them were able to share what they had learned with the younger warriors. The younger warriors saw the older veterans as mentors. The older veterans felt as if they were able to contribute something meaningful to the care and recovery of the younger men.
Northern Maine has a moose density that rivals the deer density in many areas of the southeast; 20 moose per square mile in some places. No doubt an over population of whitetail can cause havoc on crops, gardens and natural food sources, just think what the same number of deer could do if each one that stepped into your backyard garden weighed 1000 pounds. In northern Maine agriculture is the big business and one of the largest crops is broccoli. It just so happens that moose love broccoli and these giant members of the deer family will travel great distances to gorge themselves on this delicacy (sans ranch dressing nonetheless) while causing millions of dollars in crop damage along the way. To help control the growing moose population and in an effort to help local farmers, the state of Maine implemented a special moose management hunt for the late summer and early fall. These hunts are limited to selected agricultural areas to maximize the hunt’s intended purpose.
These are not easy “fish in a barrel” hunts, however. For starters, you can’t shoot a moose in a broccoli field without destroying huge amounts or produce. The trick is to intercept the moose in edge habitat and travel corridors before they actually reach the fields. Access to these areas is generally much easier than a trip into the deep Maine wilderness for moose, such as during the regular hunting season, and access to hunting areas can be accomplished by motorized vehicle. This makes it an ideal hunt for wounded warriors or others with physical impairment that might otherwise have difficulty traversing more rugged terrain. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Governor’s office, and the state’s Bureau of Veteran Services have been all incredibly supportive in making sure wounded warriors have the opportunity to participate in this very special event. House in the Woods, another Maine based veterans outdoor rehabilitation program has also played a major role in these events and members of the Maine Guides Association donate their time to help the wounded warriors achieve their success.