USSA and DNR Law Enforcment Bear Hunt-Another trip to Turkey Creek.
Cresting the top of the hill I am thinking about how many times this makes. How many times have I driven into Turkey Creek for this event? Eleven years? It can’t be. Reaching the gate at the bottom of the hill I begin to see the trucks and trailers with ATV’s parked along the road. Some of the guys are already standing in groups on this chilly morning, catching up with friends and going over what it will take to make this day happen. A big day, a great day. A day we all look forward to every year.
On this early December morning in Monroe County West Virginia bear hunters and Natural Resources Police Officers (NRPO’s) with the Division of Natural Resources (DNR) are present for a bear hunt sponsored by the United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA). The USSA makes hunting and fishing and other outdoor experiences possible for thousands of young people with life threatening diseases and disabilities as well as wounded military veterans. Brigid O’Donoghue is the CEO and founder of USSA and she told me a little about USSA’s mission and goals. “The United Special Sportsman Alliance, Inc. is a nonprofit “dream-wish” granting charity that specializes in sending children and veterans with life threatening illnesses and disabilities on the outdoor adventure of their dreams! Announcements in the medical community are full of unexplained, miraculous remissions and recoveries of patients that remain upbeat and hopeful in their battle with disease and disability,” she said.
This bear hunt is done with the hounds and if you are not familiar with this a typical hunt would go something like this. The hunters take some of their dogs on a hike in hopes of “striking” the scent of a bear track. There are many variables here as the track can be old and the hounds may have a hard time following it or it can be fresh and they will quickly be chasing a bear. Even after the hounds are in full cry and on a fresh track the taking of the bear is not a sure thing. The bear may elude the dogs and go into rocks or a cave, (Monroe County has a lot of caves) or the bear may simply leave the country on a chase that may go for miles. If the bear is eventually treed the hunters come in for a shot and the hike to the tree is sometimes a long one.
So who are some of the people that make this dream hunt possible? (Now remember this is dangerous because we can’t name everybody and we may leave someone out. This endeavor is a huge team effort.) On the DNR Law Enforcement side you have Sgt. Andy Lyons. Sgt. Lyons is the guy that puts it all of this together for the NRPO’s, he has done this since the start of this very worthwhile event and he is good at it. Kish Justice from White Sulphur Springs West Virginia takes the lead on the bear hunter side of the team. If there is a more avid, impassioned bear hunter in the Appalachian Mountains than Kish, I don’t know who it is. Kish will be the first to tell you that raising, training, and keeping bear hounds is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle. Kish organizes things on the bear hunter side with the help of some of his teammates, Corey Dauwel, Bill Scott, and Chris Burns. (Remember I said that it is risky to name some as we can’t list all the members of the team. There were many others that helped on this event)
I got to spend more time around the two hunters at this event than I ever did before. Demetrius Moore is from Missouri and is an Army veteran that was injured in a vehicle accident while in the military. Israel Matos is a Marine Corp Veteran from Florida. Israel received severe injuries from the blast of a suicide bomber while in Afghanistan. It is very hard to put into words when you meet someone in the field in these situations and explain the bond you develop with them.
Israel, Demetrius and I seemed to hit it off from the start and it was so good to spend a day in the field with them. Like the bear hunters and the DNR Officers that day, I could share what I knew about the hunt, the dogs, and bear hunting in general. I got to show them around a little bit of my neck of the woods here in Monroe County West Virginia. They seemed very grateful for all that, and they seemed to have a great time. (I did too) They had both had a bear by nine o’clock that morning! It was a warm, beautiful, December day and I got to see the whole hunt, the whole experience, through the eyes of someone that had not done this before, enjoyed it immensely and are now new friends of mine. These guys must have thanked us a dozen times or more and all I could think about was how could we ever thank them for all the had done, endured, and sacrificed in service to our country!
There is never enough time or room here to express what a great experience this was. Thanks Sergeant Lyons and all of the DNR Officers for your presence and help, thanks to Kish Justice and all the bear hunters and their wonderful hounds. Thanks to Justice Family Farms for allowing the hunt to take place on their property, and thanks to all those behind the scenes that provided meals, transportation, and the dozens of other things it takes to make this happen.
And thank you United Special Sportsman Alliance for making this and dozens of other hunts and events happen. Next year I hope I am right back here in Turkey Creek with the hounds, the hunters and two new friends.