The NWTF is proud to be working on various conservation projects with the Michigan Army National Guard on the 147,000-acre Camp Grayling Military Base. Conservation projects range from tree plantings to creating wildlife openings that benefit both wildlife and US Military operations. However, the NWTF Beaver Creek Chapter and Michigan State Chapter are proud to add a disabled veteran’s hunt to all the great conservation work the NWTF is accomplishing with Camp Grayling and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on the US’s largest National Guard base.
The inaugural disabled veterans hunt was led by NWTF’s Beaver Creek Chapter volunteers, NWTF R3 Coordinator Steve Sharp, NWTF District Biologist Ryan Boyer and Camp Grayling and MDNR staff. Like most NWTF mentored deer hunts, the event began with a thorough overview of how to hunt white-tailed deer, including where to place an ethical shot, safety protocol, how to track a deer and more.
“This event was much more than a mentored hunt,” Boyer said. “It was an outlet for these veterans to share their experiences in the military and join in camaraderie through the outdoors. This was an enriching experience for mentors and mentees alike.”
After the learning seminar, the veterans went hunting that evening and the following morning, harvesting multiple does and bucks.
“One veteran shot two deer and donated one of his to another veteran that wasn’t able to harvest one,” Boyer said. “The fellowship was resonant with this group. Our local chapter volunteers helped provide the meals, cooking a great dinner for everyone on the first night, and they ordered pizza the second, spending time and sharing stories over great meals long after both hunts had ended.”
The hunt at Camp Grayling not only illustrated how NWTF’s Hunting Heritage programs get folks involved in the outdoors, but at Camp Grayling, where deer have reached their carrying capacity, the hunt was also indicative of how hunting is used as a management tool.
“A large portion of the land included within and surrounding Camp Grayling is a part of the 20,000 acre Hanson Refuge with deed restrictions designating it as a game preserve during a time when deer and other wildlife populations were really struggling,” Boyer said. “Deer populations have since grown dramatically, and with these areas off-limits to hunting, the deer densities have grown rapidly and reached undesirable levels; so much so that they have exceeded their carrying capacity within areas of the refuge included within Camp Grayling. Hunting as a management tool helps thin out some of the deer for the greater good and overall health of the herd.”
NWTF chapters across the country host events just like the one at Camp Grayling through the Wheelin’ Sportsmen Program, which provides all people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and learn about conservation. With more than 50 million people with disabilities in the United States, NWTF’s Wheelin' Sportsmen fills a significant void for those seeking to get outdoors. In addition to hunting, Wheelin’ events include fishing, shooting sports, conservation field days and more.
“This was the inaugural event for what we are hoping will be an annual mentored hunt,” Boyer said. “We are incredibly thankful to Camp Grayling staff, MDNR and all of our sponsors for helping facilitate this event, but even more so, we are thankful to our nation’s veterans, and if not for their sacrifices, we would not have the freedom and opportunities we cherish in this country.”
In addition to Camp Grayling and MDNR, additional support was provided by Jay’s Sporting Goods, Safari Club International, Halstead Game Processing and Leashed Tracking Dog Services.