In 2013, an all-volunteer team from Garrison Petawawa and the local community in conjunction with the Soldier On program gathered in Ontario to conduct a two-day fully mentored hunt for recovering veterans and soldiers.
Soldier On is a program that gives ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members the opportunity to attain and maintain an active lifestyle through outdoor recreation and sport. Key to the success of this mentored hunt was Ducks Unlimited Canada, thanks to their provision of material support.
The two-day mentored hunt was first conceived early in 2013 after we learned about veterans being taken on hunts in Manitoba through an organization called Faces of Freedom. That program takes veterans from both the United States and Canada on fully mentored hunts and other activities. Based on this example, a group of Petawawa volunteers decided to follow suit.
In April 2013, the lead organizer brought together the volunteers to conduct detailed planning. Bill McDonald, an Ontario hunter safety and firearms instructor with vast experience, volunteered to run hunter safety and non-restricted firearms courses for the Soldier On participants. He ran the veterans through his in-depth courses over the summer months at no cost to the participants, a significant savings for them.
Ducks Unlimited Canada and other conservation organizations provided further support in the form of duck calls, equipment, and clothing. The Ducks Unlimited organization is well known for its preservation and expansion of wetland habitat throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
The volunteer mentor team, consisting of soldiers from Canadian Special Operations Forces, the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, and Garrison Petawawa came together quickly, enthusiastic to support their fellow comrades. While Warrant Officer Mike Hopping became the lead mentor for the duck hunts, outfitter Claude Lachance became the mentor for the goose hunts, with his professional guiding services.
On October 3, in the pre-dawn light, five Soldier On veterans met the volunteer team to be split into two groups. One team would conduct a hunt over water out of two duck boat blinds with retriever assistance, while the other team conducted a field goose hunt with outfitter assistance. On the second day the teams switched so that all the participants could experience a field goose hunt and an over the water duck hunt.
The Soldier On participants moved out to their hunt locations. After extensive decoy setups and careful camouflaging of their hunting spots, the action quickly began as the sun rose. On both days under the guidance of the mentors the veterans harvested their birds. To conclude their morning hunt, the volunteers and Soldier On participants gathered on the banks of the Muskrat River, just east of Pembroke, for a barbeque. There, the mentors taught the hunters how to dress out the waterfowl, and prepare them for the table. The barbeque provided the perfect forum to recount the morning events, and to forge memories and friendships.
The mentored hunt experience was a great success, and all the participants thoroughly enjoyed themselves. On multiple occasions during the planning and preparation phase, as volunteers contacted the lead organizer, they would say: “It would be an honour to participate” or “I would be honoured to volunteer for the mentored hunts.” Their words summarize it very well. It truly was an honour for all, civilians and soldiers alike, to participate in the program with the Soldier On veterans.
Many thanks to the contributors and volunteers.
“These veterans who served in Afghanistan, have sustained injuries, both visible and non-visible in service to their country. Many of them have been down a very long road of recovery, which at times has been challenging, both physically and mentally. The opportunity for them to come out and experience an outdoor adventure with fellow soldiers as their mentors has been great. Many of these guys are leaving the Canadian Armed Forces in the near future, but even though they will be taking off the uniform they will never leave the brotherhood. They have made some great new friends in the last two days. The support from the Canadian Armed Forces, unit Commanding Officers, volunteers, industry, conservation organizations, and local business has been outstanding. All these people, working together, have made this all possible. We all look truly forward to doing this again in 2014 with some increase in veteran participation.”
- Captain Andrew Van Loan, Canadian Armed Forces and lead organizer, Garrison Petawawa mentored hunt
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Conservator, fall 2013. According to Captain Van Loan, similar hunts were held in 2014 and 2015, however, the Soldier On mentored hunt program was discontinued after 2015.