Purple Heart Recipient Tackles the Mighty Buffalo
|Bows - Crossbows|
Memorial day has become a transitional period between spring and summer, an extra day of rest, its original purpose lost in a swirl of picnics and appliance sales; of flower bed plantings and weekend getaways.
It has not always been this way.
The idea of Memorial Day goes way back to the years right after the Civil War when relatives of soldiers who had been killed would decorate their graves with flowers. Three years after the end of the Civil War, General John Logan proclaimed this practice a holiday declaring it Declaration Day.
In 1882, Declaration Day was given its modern name: Memorial Day, and in 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday.
It is easy to get caught up in the trappings of barbeques and family get-togethers, but at the same time it is imperative to remember all of our armed forces, and recognize their tremendous sacrifice.
As we pay tribute to these individuals, we are reminded that freedom is never free; it is a gift purchased for us, by others, at a great cost. I was reminded of that last Memorial Day weekend when I looked in the eyes of 22-year-old retired Marine Lance Corporal Chase Savage, Purple Heart recipient who lost his right arm just above the elbow while defending our freedom in Iraq.
Being honored by Red, White, Blue Outdoors television, with an invitation to accompany Lance Corporal Savage and active duty, Army Major Jerry Gray, Army aviator for 23 years on a Buffalo hunt outside of Floresville, Texas was in itself a tremendous privilege, and there was no better way to spend a Memorial Day weekend in the woods with these two fine heroes.
Red, White, Blue Outdoors television is aired on the Men’s Outdoor Recreational Channel. Their mission is to provide returning and wounded soldiers, and those in the civil service, who have displayed tremendous valor, an opportunity to hunt with outfitters that donate their time and resources to honor those who serve.
Tony Dukes, the concept originator of Red, White, Blue Outdoors is a man on a mission. Tirelessly, he continues to contact sponsors for equipment support and outfitters for donations of hunts and lodging for his organization. His entire focus is showing our active and veteran servicemen and women that they are appreciated, that they are not forgotten, and just to give something back, a smidgen of gratitude for what they have done and continue to sacrifice on a daily basis.
“It is not enough to honor their sacrifices simply on Memorial Day,” Dukes said, “We should remember then throughout the year, as we enjoy the freedoms they've won and preserve for us.”
Department of Public Safety officer E.T. Hughey, owner of Lon Lease outfitters, located in Lavernia, Texas, donated two buffalo hunts to Red, White, Blue Outdoors.
An easy going, soft-spoken man smiled when he said, “Even if I have nothing left but my family on this earth and I am sitting by a campfire with not even a soda to drink, I can still look back and say, ‘Yeah, but remember when those two soldiers came out to the ranch….’ There is nothing like giving back, there is nothing I would rather be doing.”
With the help of his long-time friends Bob, Brian, and Josh with Cactus Creek Bowhunting we set out on Saturday afternoon the find the mighty buffalo.
Lance Corporal Savage was set up first. We set up in a Double-Bull Blind on a path that the outfitters were certain the buffalo would cross, and we waited.
Storm clouds threatened in the distance, and thunder would occasionally rumble deep and ominous, and still we waited. The buffalo, at first detected in the brush, spooked and crashed through the thicket. They are powerful and strong, known to be aggressive, so caution was to be observed, and proper shot placement was imperative.
LCpl Savage waited with his cross-bow braced across his prosthetic arm, posed and ready, but opted not to take the shot. The distance was too great and the chance that the animal might be wounded, rather than a clean kill, was his primary concern.
We would get another chance.
About an hour later, the buffalo returned, they ambled across the clearing, unaware of our presence, until one bull stopped and looked in our direction with a beautiful broadside target. The opening was brief, but LCpl Savage grasped the opportunity, and he nailed a great shot, clean through at 48 yards.
The eyes of that young man have seen horrors that, I, as a civilian, could not imagine, but for the brief moment, they reflected nothing but victory and happiness. He flashed a grin in my direction that I will carry with me forever.
The following day dawned soggy and wet from a torrential rain the previous night.
Brian decided it would be best for us to spot and stalk the beasts because of the condition of the terrain. The day promised to be hot and humid, with rains coming in late in the afternoon. We had a rugged day before us and time-constraints to contend with. This was Major Gray’s day, and he was up for the challenge.
Brian guided the Major, myself and Rex, the cameraman for Red, White, Blue Outdoors television, and Tony Dukes right-hand man, through thick brush and thorny mesquite. The bugs were relentless, and we were covered in sweat. The buffalo came into our sights several times, but would move off, just out of range, only to be lost in the deep woods. We continued to track them, wanting to get within close range with the cross-bow to avoid arrow interference from branches.
The Major’s first shot was straight and true, only it did exactly what we had been trying to avoid: at the last minute it struck a tiny branch, altering its course, luckily landing below the animal rather than wounding it.
This made the massive 1000-pound animals slightly more skittish, and potentially more aggressive, so caution was in order.
When we finally got in range again, a female buffalo, lagging slightly to the rear, stopped and quartered on us bringing her head and shoulders around to see who was in the brush, exposing a prime target area. Major Gray took the shot and completed a perfect two-for-two Memorial Day buffalo hunt. The stalk took a total of six hours, and we covered an abundant amount of ground at a very quick pace, but the prize was before us and the weekend was complete.
As the buffalo were cleaned, and congratulations were shared, I looked across the group of men whom I had shared an unforgettable weekend with: these men who gave and continue to give for their country and the men who unselfishly give of their time and resources to say thank you for the vigilance, courage and resolve through their donations; I was in the best of company.
For more than 220 years our military has provided a bastion against our enemies. In that time, our world has changed and our armed forces have changed with it, but the valor, dignity and courage of the men and women in uniform remain the same.
Since the Revolutionary War, more than 42 million men and women have served in America’s military. More than 600,000 of those dauntless, selfless warriors died in combat, and countless, like Marine LCpl Chase Savage have been injured, and their lives changed forever.
We fight because we believe. Not that war is good, but that sometimes it is necessary.
Regardless of personal feelings about our war and conflicts, it is important to stand behind the soldiers who keep us free. I look at men like E.T., Bob, Brian, Josh, Rex, Tony Dukes and organizations like Red, White, Blue Outdoors.
They are an inspiration.