Wounded Warrior Project

Northeastern North Carolina is waterfowl country. And the small fishing and farming village of Engelhard could be considered the capital. Millions of migratory birds make a pitstop every year in the nearby fields, flooded impoundments and Lake Mattamuskeet. In fact, this part of North Carolina sees more wintering tundra swan, 65,000–75,000, than anywhere else on the East Coast. So when Steven Scarbrough, organizer of Combat Veterans Sporting Adventures in Fayetteville, called avid duck hunter Bill Warren to ask for a donation for wounded warriors, Warren had another idea. He suggested his hunt club host a duck hunt in Engelhard.

Since then the Great Ditch Road Hunt Club has held two successful duck hunts for the wounded warriors. The first hunt took place in January 2011 and involved five veterans—two from the Marine Corps and three from the Army—along with a boatload of ducks.

“We had two amputees and we had two that had been shot up pretty good with IEDs and other assorted injuries, but they never let their injuries stop them. They never were negative. They were always positive,” says Warren who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. “That hunt just put another positive in their lives, something they will remember. Like Jason, the Marine sniper who was missing a leg, shot a beautiful wood duck and he had it mounted. That wood duck will always be there and he will always remember the good times he had on that hunt.”

It didn’t take long for others outside the hunt club to champion the cause. After seeing the wounded warriors signs outside the clubhouse, the local community approached Warren and volunteered their services, which ranged from cooking meals and offering additional hunting spots to providing extra places to sleep.

“We had a phenomenal outpouring from the community toward these wounded warriors,” says Warren. “They just fell in love with them.”

To help supply the warriors with duck hunting gear, Warren called long-time friend and fellow veteran Wayne Decker at Big Rock Sports.

“From the very get-go, Wayne has been a big supporter of this hunt. He and Big Rock Sports have been a big promoter of the wounded warriors,” says Warren. “Big Rock Sports supplies them with different things from waders to ammunition to hats and things of that nature that these guys really appreciate. So instead of just having a little bit of a deal, we’re able to give them things that say thank you in a much bigger way with Big Rock Sports being there.”

Decker, the Senior Vice-President of Operations at Big Rock Sports says the partnership was tailor made for his company. “It’s not an in-expensive sport to get started in and through a fairly small donation of some product that we have available through our vast network, Big Rock Sports was able to give these men some great items that they can use again and again. In fact, we had a couple of warriors that came back this year after attending last year and had the saJosh Smith, ECU me gear and it was a little bit more worn which was good to see.”

The first hunt was such an overwhelming success that, with support from the local community and Big Rock Sports, the Great Ditch Road Hunt Club was able to more than double the size of the hunt in 2012. Twelve warriors, most of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, represented the U.S. Army Special Forces, 82nd Airborne, Special Ops and the Marine Corps. Only this year, there weren’t quite so many ducks.

“Down in Hyde County you’ve got to have the weather if you’re going to have the hunt,” explains Warren. The sunny skies and mild temperatures made for an enjoyable post-hunt pig-pickin’, but slow shooting. Still the warriors took a variety of ducks, including wood ducks, gadwalls, widgeons, ringnecks and teal, as well as one tundra swan.

The veterans taking part in this year’s hunt didn’t seem to mind the nice weather and lack of ducks, though. In fact, the slow shooting gave them an opportunity to get better acquainted with their fellow hunters and guides, many of whom were veterans themselves.

“It’s a great opportunity for some of the fellow servicemembers and marines out there. The camaraderie was great. We would get up in the morning pretty early and get out to the impoundments. It was you, another service member and a guide. You know over a two-hour period sitting in a duck blind you got to know them,” says Brandon Meng, a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corp and Platoon Sergeant in Wounded Warriors Battalion East. “To sit out there in the cool morning air and watch the sun come up and whether ducks are flying and gunpowder’s burning or not, it’s a great experience.”

Many of the soldiers and marines who took part in the wounded warrior hunt had prior hunting experience. But for most, including Meng, it was their first time sitting in a blind or pit, scanning the skies for incoming mallards and pintails. And by the end of the hunt, several new lifelong duck hunters had been minted.

“I got children that I’m bringing up to hunt along with my wife that’s never done it—she’s a city girl from Baltimore,” says Meng. “So it’s a great opportunity to experience some of this stuff and possibly pass on a family tradition that you can start.”

Scarbrough, Warren and everyone else involved with the Great Road Ditch Hunt Club are making it their priority to make sure the returning veterans who want to participate in outdoor sports are not forgotten.

“Before he might go home on leave and he might go elk hunting or he might go fishing. He might put on his trout waders and he might go in the stream, well now he doesn’t know if he can do it,” says Meng. “When we get out there with these organizations on these hunts, we’ll break them past that, whether I’ve got to carry him to the blind myself or put him in a lawnchair in the stream. Who says you gotta wear waders? We’ll sit you in a lawnchair. If you still have the passion to be in the outdoors, we’ll get you out there.”

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