Hope for the Warriors, a national nonprofit veteran support program, recently hosted three multi-day therapeutic bear hunts along the Selway River in Lewiston, Idaho, for six combat-wounded veterans.
The hunts are part of Hope for the Warriors’ Outdoor Adventures program, which invites injured soldiers to participate in recreational activities that build their sense of self, camaraderie and connection to the outdoors.
“Hunting is a therapeutic avenue for many veterans,” Ken Sutherby, the Warriors’ Director of Outdoor Adventures and former U.S. Marine, said, according to Hunting Life magazine.
“Often, veterans are experiencing extreme social isolation as they assimilate to post-combat life, resulting in declining self-worth as they evaluate their current lifestyle compared to their former military life,” Sutherby said.
The hunting trip reminds wounded veterans that they are capable of independence and team leadership even in the midst of their mental and physical injuries.
In addition, the time spent with other veterans on the drive, around the campfire and during the hunt gives soldiers the opportunity to share and bond over the difficulties they face during re-entry to civilian life.
“I spent 11 and a half hours in a tree stand with no cell phone service or internet, so it allowed me to enjoy the peaceful outdoors reflecting on my deployments and those brothers that are no longer with us. I needed the time, being completely alone and just remembering,” said Raymond Soto, participating hunter and Army Master Sergeant.
After the hunt, the fresh bear meat became a source of food for the veterans and their families.
The Outdoor Adventures program was created in 2010, but by 2012 Hope for the Warriors saw the therapeutic needs of family members of wounded soldiers, as well. Some of the outdoor programs have since expanded to include spouses and children.
Hope for the Warriors also facilitates a wide range of support services – including scholarships, critical care coordination, annual races, and community development and engagement projects.
“With its never-ending distractions, life moves too fast, and spending time with other combat veterans in a peaceful quiet place like Idaho was what I needed,” Soto said.