Friday, December 9, 2011

Dandy Time in Del Rio

I am just back from a very successful six day event hosted by Burts Ranch and sponsored by the Mueller Family of Tomball, Texas.  Five wounded warriors joined us from Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), and Tomball, Texas.  Had a full house – eight Burts Ranch folks, six Mueller Family, five wounded warriors, three dogs, a very special guest I will discuss shortly, and me.

Our two Walter Reed guests, Nick and Zack, flew into San Antonio last Friday, thanks to Southwest Airlines’ generosity.  I picked them up and headed toward Burts Ranch just north of Del Rio.  Hank, his son, Drayson, and fellow wounded warrior Jeremiah, drove in from BAMC.  Jeremy drove in from Tomball.  We all made it there in time to enjoy a fantastic meal prepared by LaDonna and a secret weapon named Lole (short for Loleta).

Lole had a batch of family recipes that kept us smiling every time we sat down for a meal – perfect salsa, sweet corn bread, venison tamales, enchiladas, biscuits, eggs, and other stuff I couldn’t pronounce.  Bad news was, she wouldn’t share the recipes no matter how much I begged.  Not that I could cook any of it, but my wife, Mary Anne, sure knows her way around a kitchen.  I did get a jar of salsa to take home, so I had no complaints.

Nick got too close to his scope
Deer hunting started early Saturday morning.  By end of day, Jeremiah and Nick scored two beautiful bucks.  Nick had an additional memento to remember this hunt thanks to having his face too close to the scope when he fired.  He is the second Army officer named Nick to get a bloody brow and nose in the past two years at this same event.  Kyle Burts and I decided we will come up with a protective helmet with lieutenant bars on it for the next hunt.  Nick said he was going to tell everyone that the deer kicked him as he wrestled it down with his bare hands.  Good luck with that one.

Hank got his deer Sunday but unfortunately his son Drayson wasn’t in the stand with him because of a tummy ache.  He felt better later.  By Monday, everyone had at least one deer including Zack, our Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal guest, who had never hunted before.  Everyone except Jeremy, that is.  If you think he was getting abused, you are right.  Deer camp can be brutal.

Jeremy did get a good one later Monday and thought the pressure was off.  His guide, Jay, made a video of the shot.  Jeremy then launched into his version of a TV hunting show pro, describing the event and then following the blood trail to find his deer (which was only ten yards from where he shot it).  That video was the hit of the trip.  Nick tried to do a video after shooting his second deer, but didn’t have the chops for it.

Larry joins our team
Tuesday afternoon we were honored to have a special guest join us.  Larry Weishuhn, wildlife author and TV hunting expert known as Mr. Whitetail because he knows more about whitetail deer than anyone on the planet.  He is the guy who hunts with a 'scoped pistol when most of us need a rifle.  Larry had just returned home from Alaska that morning at 2 a.m. and still found time to come by to meet our wounded warriors.  He spent some time answering a lot of questions about whitetail deer, breeding programs, and hunting tips.  Although he could use the rest before heading to New Mexico, he spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with us.

Jeremy had been so abused by the rest of us, he was a little paranoid.  He recognized Larry as he walked up to the house and thought someone was punking him.  When it came time for the afternoon hunt, I sprang a little surprise on Jeremy that Kyle and I had agreed on that would put him right back in the pressure cooker. 

Jeremy gets to hunt with Larry
As we assembled at the barn to partner up and head out, I walked up to Jeremy and said, “OK.  Two rules while you are in the stand today.  You don’t audition and you don’t sing.”

He looked puzzled and said, “Huh? Why?”

“Because you are hunting with Larry.”

Dead silence (for the first time the entire trip).  Then, “You’re messing with me.”

We had to scrape him off the ceiling.

Jay and Larry got into the camo electric cart.  Jeremy climbed in the back facing the rest of us.  As they went off, all we could see was a huge grin fading into the distance.

He did get another deer.  Larry filmed it while Jay whispered in Jeremy’s ear, “Don’t miss!!”  Cold-blooded.

Larry joined our warriors for dinner.  He brought copies of his book and autographed a copy for each one.  In turn, they autographed a Burts Ranch camo hat and gave it to him.  Good trade.

Mueller Family and Burts Ranch do it right
I mentioned the Mueller Family in my last blog.  They have really been a blessing to our organization.  After raising $19,000 for us at their annual benefit BBQ cook-off, they wanted to see one of our events firsthand.  Billy, Tom, Kathy, and Glenny hunted with us over the weekend and, before leaving Sunday, were joined by Charlie and Bo, who stayed through Wednesday morning.

Their family sponsorship paid all the expenses for this event including food for the whole group, shoulder mounts of all the deer, processing all the meat, and delivery to Walter Reed, BAMC and Tomball.  Match that with the generosity of Burts Ranch to provide lodging and the chance to take trophy quality whitetails and you have a great example of teamwork, a common respect for our servicemen and women and patriotism demonstrated in actions, not words.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And Away We Go!!

Today we went live on our website.  After working for the past three months on the layout with Deb and Glenn from Wolf Run Internet Marketing and messaging with Paul from Rust Reviews, LLC, this is a very good day.  I must admit, I feel like a proud father seeing this site come alive.

Hopefully, you will look through this site and understand what we are about and why we feel so passionately about our mission.  The words explain who we are, but the images tell our story.  If you see a picture and say “Wow, I get it!” or it tugs at your heart, the picture was probably taken by Julia Robinson.  Julia is one of God’s angels sent to bring fresh eyes and an open mind to help us communicate our message when those of us who are too close to it can’t.  Thank you, Julia.

Tomorrow morning, I leave Houston to pick up two wounded warriors from Walter Reed flying into San Antonio, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, to head to a trophy whitetail deer hunt at Burts Ranch outside of Del Rio, Texas.  We will be joined by two WW’s from Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio and a retired Army Strong who now lives in Tomball, Texas.  This hunt is one of our favorites each year.  The great hunting and “you are family” environment are guaranteed to give our warriors a life-long memory.

I would like to use this hunt and the support we have received from Kyle Burts, his family and friends to illustrate an ideal partnership between PHO, a dedicated, patriotic host and a small town family with a passion for service and charity – the Mueller Family of Tomball.  Together, we are able to provide a very special gathering to a very deserving group of our service families.

Burts Ranch is owned by Kyle Burts and his parents.  Professionally, they operate Burts Construction in Tomball, but you can tell the ranch is where their hearts are.  Over the past several years, they have built a showcase of Texas whitetail deer where “management bucks” score between 125 and 140 (for the unschooled, that is BIG).  Their team at the ranch includes business and ranch employees and close friends who serve as hunting guides.

Kyle offered to host a hunt three years ago.  We sent several wounded warriors from Walter Reed.  Kyle also arranged for the hunting show “Drop Zone” to film the hunt.  There was an immediate bond between the Burts Ranch crew and our guests.  They still communicate to this day.

Last year, I accompanied four wounded from Walter Reed and their escort for the hunt - another great trip with new friends all around.  None of the warriors had ever been to Texas, so on the way down we stopped at the Frio River crossing to take a picture of the sign to honor George Strait’s song All My Exes Live in Texas.  After the hunt we had dinner at Pappasito’s Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio where they sampled a margarita/sangria drink called “The Wave.”

Mueller's Annual Benefit Cook-off Donation
is greatly appreciated

The Mueller Family of Tomball has done a BBQ Cook-off Competition/Fundraiser for the past twenty-five years.  What started as two brothers betting on who made the best brisket has grown into a fundraising event with over fifty teams competing.  Each year, they pick a different organization to receive the donation from the cook-off and auction.  Kyle convinced them in 2011 to designate Hunts For Heroes (our former organization) as the recipient of their collective donation.  They raised $19,000 for our cause.

Billy Hodges, the founder of Hunts For Heroes and current Vice President of Patriots and Heroes Outdoors, myself, and our wives attended the cook-off.  We were completely blown away by the outpouring of support and generosity shown by the fine people of Tomball.  The auction turned into a spirited duel for each item on the block.  One group pooled their money to win a rifle just so they could give it to a local wounded warrior who was attending with his family.  Upon receiving his gift, he asked the assembled crowd to pause and say a silent prayer for his “brothers-in-arms” who were still fighting for our freedom.  Not a dry eye in the place.

I will post pictures from this year’s hunt when I return.  Doubt I can beat the one that is on our web site entitled “He Ain’t Heavy” on our Mission Statement page.  That is Kyle Burts carrying a wounded warrior piggyback to get to a deer blind.  That same soldier insisted on personally dragging his trophy deer back to the truck after the hunt.  Kyle provided the propulsion.  A Patriot and his Hero.