Montana Wounded Warriors

Photo by Steve:

Silver Star Hunt 2019

The morning of November 15th was unusually warm with the wind blowing swiftly out of the southwest. I’m not sure I could even taste my coffee as I tried to contain my building excitement in anticipation of the hunt that would take place in the Ruby Valley of Southwest Montana.  Later that evening, conversation would involve Operations Order type details being discussed by myself and the three participating veterans with unimaginable excitement.  Details including an extremely early morning wake-up; one that would occur as the moon still lingered over the western horizon before its descent into the unknown.  Bags packed, rifles sighted and cleaned, kit doubled-checked, ‘were these men headed out on mission?!’ The way the three operated, every move calculated, reminded me as if they were an Infantry fire team prepping for a routine patrol.  Pre-Combat Inspections (PCIs), the norm for many who have been where we’ve been and done what we’ve done are not easily forgotten, engrained by years of training, still evident even on  days like today…especially on days like today. 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to hunt on the H Double C Ranch in Silver Star, MT.  In as much detail as I could, a feeble attempt was made to explain to all how awesome this hunt would be, but the words could never do this particular hunt justice as the 3 hunters would all agree that it was like living a dream come true. Many qualifying disabled veterans were invited to participate in this hunt. Many cancel at the last minute as life gets in the way. When I was invited on my first hunt, I wanted so badly to go, but didn’t want to go either, if that makes any sense. I felt as though someone more deserving should be given the chance. I feel extremely fortunate and said yes. These three hunters felt the same way as me, and if you’re by chance reading this, say yes to the hunt.  Matt Kemp retired after spending 23 years serving our country, with temporary stops in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan. Will Luhrsen retired as a 1SG with multiple deployments to Iraq, all with the Infantry.  Kevin Martin calls the beautiful Flathead Valley home and had the most deployments of the group, and he is a ground pounder through and through.  Confine 4 Infantry Soldiers in a house and it wasn’t 30 minutes before each one was giving someone a hard time.  You would’ve thought Will, Kevin, and Matt had known each other their whole lives.  Brothers in Arms is often talked about, but unexplainable if you haven’t walked in those boots. It’s a lifelong bond and anyone who’s worn the uniform just “gets it”.

Mark Hoyt was just back from checking his cattle when we pulled onto the H Double C.  It’s evident, Mark too can hardly hold back his excitement when the disabled veteran hunters arrive. The Hoyt family is extremely patriotic and looks forward to the hunters showing up each year.  This year would be no different. As we finished introductions, he led us to the guest house.  Pictures speak 1000 words, and I assure you, no hunter was sleeping on an old beat up army cot.  Mark was also kind enough to bring us sirloins and tri-tips from the cattle he raised for one of the evening meals. Talk about Montana hospitality – a place to hunt, a warm place to rest your bones, ANGUS BEEF!  It just doesn’t get any more Montana than that. The Hoyt family enjoys this hunt with the veterans so much, that each hunter has their own personal guide, consisting of the Hoyts themselves and their close friends.  Folks that know the ranch and appreciate the thrill of the hunt as much as Mark does.  Some of the guides come from as far away as Bozeman and Butte to help wherever they can.  They enjoy giving back and like seeing the smiles that accommodate a successful hunt.  Many people look at Soldiers and wonder why they do what they do, but not this family.  The Hoyts love meeting the Soldiers, hearing their stories, and sharing an easy laugh. The Hoyt’s deep appreciation for combat veterans, their service to our great nation, and their sacrifices is immeasurable in my honest opinion. 

On to the hunt! Kevin would be the first to fill his buck tag during the first evening hunt.  In this area, 90-110” bucks are common, but to hang your tag on a beautiful 147” whitetail buck is absolutely amazing!  Hanging on his wall now, he holds the record for the largest buck shot during the annual MT Wounded Warrior Hunt on this ranch.  Kevin would end up filling 3 more doe tags for a total of 4 whitetails during the trip. He also won the biggest buck award, a tradition started by Mark Boardman several years ago and one I feel needs to be kept alive today, one that earned Mr. Martin an awesome knife donated by a local business. 

Will would bag his buck later the next afternoon, during lunch of all times.  As we were hanging a doe Matt harvested that morning a buck decided to come see what all the fuss was about.  He came in broadside at 127 yards which made the situation way too tempting for Will.  With two deer already hanging, he had an itchy trigger finger and was ready to get one hanging as well.  Will wasted no time getting off a lethal shot on that buck.  He wasn’t too worried about how the antlers scored either, making sure we all knew “You don’t eat antlers!”  That buck scored close to 115 inches, and Will was all smiles.  He would also fill his B Tags over the course of the next few days. 

Matt was the last to fill his buck tag.   As he and his guide sat on a center pivot, overlooking a turnip field in the dimming hours Saturday evening, multiple targets of opportunity came out of the wood line.  First a couple two-point bucks and then some smaller three and four pointers.  Listening to Will’s advice, Matt says he’d have been happy with any of them, until, a ghost 5×5 appeared out of nowhere.  Completely content gulping turnips and surrounded by his girls, the deer that would soon find himself hanging on Matt’s wall, casually strolled broadside at about 300 yards.  Being an expert marksman but a true sportsman, Matt made sure to sail his first shot high, completely missing his mark; maybe a taste of buck fever, but surely to give the deer one more chance to live.  The second shot was on target and the deer tipped over without getting the opportunity to finish his last turnip meal.  Matt’s whitetail buck scored close to 130”.  This buck ended up having many additional points and was a beauty in the hunter’s eyes; a great buck that was anything but typical.  Matt went on to fill his remaining tags as well and is enjoying a freezer full of meat. 

Breakfast was simple, fast, and effective.  Cereal, toast, blue berry muffins, and amazing donuts from Butte, thanks to our friend Andrew the Great German. A powerful man with a thick accent and originally hailing from Germany and now living in Butte, MT.  The guys absolutely loved being around him, and you’re guaranteed to shoot a nice buck if you’re fortunate enough to have him as your guide.  The man has eyes of an eagle.  Second breakfast was always there too with eggs, bacon, and hash browns with coffee and orange juice.  Full bellies were a must on this trip.  The guys sat down with me on Saturday and helped me conduct an AAR (after action review) for the trip.  After refining this process, my goal is to make next year even better. 

While killing time waiting for the afternoon hunt, you could typically find one or two of the guys relaxing in the back corner room of the guest house.  Mark was telling me that every veteran that has stayed at that house ends up calling it their favorite place to relax when they’re not hunting.  I said nothing to the guys and found that this held true for this group of men too.  The room is encased in glass windows that allow for plenty of sunshine and ample views.  To set the stage a little better, the house sits a stone’s throw away from the Jefferson River in the heart of the Ruby Valley.  This side room faces directly up into the Tobacco Root Mountains, which has 43 peaks over 10,000 feet tall.  As you sit down, you feel small surrounded by the shear greatness in front of you and are immediately at peace with the world and everything just kind of melts away. This room is very healing for a weary soul. 

Whether it’s a sun-filled room, the river, the quietness of a hunting blind, or taking your rifle for a walk, this is where a Soldier can reset.  Things come a little more focused, when just days earlier, everything was a blur as disabled veterans try/struggle on a daily basis to integrate back into society.  Words escape me as I write this, because there aren’t enough adjectives to explain the serenity.  I’ll leave it at this…. War is hell and it leaves a heavy mark on us, some more than others and most are invisible.  But it’s a room like mentioned above, a beautiful afternoon hunt along the Jefferson River, a great American family sharing their time and resources, which makes every bit of our past sacrifices worth it. By the time this hunt was over, the mark that war had left on us was a little more faded, a little harder to see or feel.

Leaving and saying goodbye was hard for all, but we knew when we began, that the journey would come to an end.  The memories and friendships that were made that weekend will last forever. Before we parted ways, we gave Mark Hoyt the only appropriate gift we could give for a family that has given so much to us.  Mark received a 4×6 American flag that was flown over in Afghanistan accommodated by certificate signed by LTC Michael Beck, Battalion Commander of the 495th CSSB out of Kalispell, MT.  As it so happens, this Commander was also my Company Commander of Co B 1-163rd INF BN in Iraq in 2005.  He’s a science teacher in Great Falls, MT and one of the finest Officers I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving under.  After traveling across the globe and with stories of its own, that flag now flies on the H Double C Ranch, rippling on the same wind I felt that November day so long ago. – Adam J. Bell