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Loaded for Bear in Maine’s North Woods

At the Coalition’s Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute in December 2010, I met Bob Duhadaway, who has been a long-time supporter of the group and is a passionate game hunter. He told me he wanted to take some injured service members on a bear hunt, and asked me to bring along another veteran. My first call was to John Case, who I knew from my time in Iraq. John has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and suffers from a serious case of PTSD – so bad, in fact, that he had not left Logan County in southern Ohio, where he lives, for six years. Although he was a little hesitant at first about being so far away from home, he ultimately accepted the invitation.Bob, meanwhile, had lined up two Marines from Virginia to join us – Brad Garfield, who was an explosive ordinance disposal technician injured in Iraq while trying to disarm an IED, and James Gill, who was with an infantry unit and lost a leg and an eye during a cordon and search. Emails were exchanged and the date was set for the end of August. Bob was kind enough to donate the hunts and agree to have trophies mounted of any bears we took, while the Coalition was very generous to cover our travel expenses.As the time for the hunt drew closer, excitement was in the air, as well as a bit of apprehension as Hurricane Irene decided to make her debut up the East Coast. Although flying to Maine was never an option – given that we were headed to the tiny town of Stockholm, less than 15 miles from the Canadian border, and planning to transport bear meat on the way back – this storm still complicated our plans. On the day I was to leave my home, we decided that instead of us all meeting in Virginia, I would drive just to Ohio to pick up John and then turn north to avoid the hurricane. James and Brad, meanwhile, would travel a day behind, once the storm has passed.

After three days on the road, I finally arrived in Maine and as soon as everyone was settled in, we discussed where we would be hunting. John and I had decided to hunt with muzzleloaders, while James would be using a bow and Brad, a .308-caliber rifle. For me, the first outing came and went with the only action being a couple of birds and squirrels that played in the trees in front of my blind. James, however, had better luck as he took a shot at a bear just before dark. Upon first light the next day, we hit the woods to search for the presumably wounded bear, but unfortunately the only thing we found was mosquitoes. That evening, however, proved to be great for almost everybody as John, James and Brad all took nice bears. I even had a little more action in front of me – two raccoons that came to play.

We spent the early part of our third day fishing off the docks in front of our cabin until I had to head for the woods. Gary Sweeney, our head guide, decided to move me to another blind, but by the end of the day, I was wishing I was back in my original one where I could at least watch the raccoons. Finally my luck turned on our fourth day. John accompanied me to the blind, thinking he would videotape the hunt for me on my camera, and that maybe a little extra “mojo” wouldn’t hurt either. Gary dropped us off around 3 p.m. and by 3:40 we had a bear at the bait. As I took aim, John prepared the camera and said, “Just tell me when you are going to shoot,” to which my only response was “Now.” I fired my .50-caliber muzzleloader and the beast dropped in its tracks. After some high-fiving, we called Gary to pick us up and head back to watch the video. Only during the return ride to camp did John tell me from the rear seat of Gary’s pick-up, “Man, I’m sorry I didn’t get the button pushed to record the shot.” Naturally, the rest of the night was spent with everybody playfully picking on him.

(Editor’s Note: The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes recently helped sponsor several wounded veterans who went on a bear-hunting trip in Maine. The following is an account of the expedition written by Tony Covell, one of the CSAH’s national spokesmen, who lives near Traverse City, MI.)

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