Honoring our veterans with cast and blast
Honoring the men and women who serve as active-duty service members, as well as those who have served in the past, seems to be happening more and more around the state and the country. If you haven’t heard about any of these hunting or fishing adventures taking place, it’s because it is all low key and flying under the public radar. No one is looking for accolades or credit. However, when people do find out that it’s taking place, they want to be part of it. Often it is anonymous, donating a lunch/dinner or helping to provide behind-the-scenes services.
One example of that took place recently in Western New York when Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) brought in seven active-duty service members and veterans for three days of shotgun training, target shooting, a pheasant hunt and fishing on the lower Niagara River.
Steve Macdonald of New Cumberland, Pa. who served as the HAVA Event Coordinator, was impressed with the cast and blast gathering. “HAVA does lean toward shooting and hunting events, but we also do other events that support the primary goal of helping veterans get outdoors,” said Macdonald. “For example, the Lewiston event included a tour of Old Fort Niagara, a trip to the falls, and fishing on the Niagara River.”
“John Butcher of Lockport (one of the volunteers for the shooting instruction) suggested adding a tour of Old Fort Niagara and it was a big hit with the veterans,” said Macdonald. “They get to learn about the early exploration of North America that transitions into some military history, too, and as service members, they’ve expressed appreciation for learning more about how hard early life in the military was.”
“We have multiple events each year,” said Macdonald. “Concurrently with the New York event this year held the end of October, HAVA hosted a 3-day shooting event in Bandera, Texas where about 50 veterans per day got to shoot through multiple disciplines at numerous stations. The next event this year is in late November and is our biggest annual hunting event hosting 10 veterans in New Mexico on an elk hunt. Following that, five veterans will go duck and goose hunting in Arkansas in December and finally for 2021 two veterans will hunt Axis Deer in Texas next month.”
“Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) is a charity formed by the shooting sports industry in 2007. Much of our story is available on our website at Honoredveterans.org.”
HAVA hosts fund-raising events throughout the year to help support events like this one. And although many of the people and businesses supported these veterans with complimentary services, there are some expenses that need to be take care of. How was this one paid for?
Ashley Butcher of Lockport (another shooting instruction volunteer) coordinated the 10th Annual Clays for Heroes Shoot at Rochester Brooks Gun Club this past August 21. They had 124 Participants and raised $14,700. All proceeds were donated to HAVA which helped to fund the event held October 22-24 in Niagara County.
Marines, Sailors, and soldiers from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Recreational Therapy Program enjoyed the Western New York hospitality courtesy of the North Forest Rod and Gun Club in Lockport and the Fin, Feather and Fur Conservation Society (Three-F) in Lewiston.
After a Thursday evening dinner and a tour of Niagara Falls to kick things off, the shooting activities began with a morning of 5-Stand training and coaching at the North Forest club courtesy of Butcher and Butcher.
“These guys receive so much rifle and pistol training in the military, but shooting a sporting shotgun is a different game,” said John Butcher, a member at North Forest. “It’s amazing how quickly they pick up new and different shooting techniques, applying them to break clays.”
Ashley Butcher, one of the top FITASC Sporting Clays shooters in the country, enjoyed spending time with the service members and veterans. “I get to compete and live my life the way I do, thanks to what these guys have done. It’s truly my pleasure to spend time with them.”
“This is our third year partnering with HAVA to get the veterans shooting again and enjoying the outdoors,” said Dale Shank of Ransomville who organized the pheasant hunt at the Three-F Club through their popular pheasant program. “We want them to know that we appreciate what they did for our country, and I hope that breaking some clay targets and putting a few pheasants in their game bag helps. They deserve only the best and it was our pleasure to host these veterans.”
Saturday morning trap and skeet shooting instruction was followed up by a pheasant hunt in the afternoon. There were no less than 18 volunteers just at the Three-F Club that helped to make this all happen, not to mention the dogs needed to flush the birds. It was an incredible show of support.
Four charter captains were lined up for the Sunday morning “cast” portion of the program. Captains Larry Jones, Chris Kempf, Hans Mann, and Mark McGranahan had their boats ready to go when the veterans arrived. Bass, trout, and walleye were the three target species and they managed to catch fish for the guests to give them a taste of the area’s world class fishery.
On Sunday afternoon, there was a flintlock shooting demonstration with the Little Beards Re-enactors organized by Dave Lavery of Middleport and two volunteers, Dan Boyler and Bruce Hall. The veterans were even able to shoot one of the antique weapons. A good time was had by all.