Fort Peck Experience

Fort Peck Montana Wounded Warrior Mule Deer hunting experience, November 13th to 18th, 2014. I first want to start off by stating how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to participate in an event such as this. The reason I say this is because much of my life after the war has been filled with anger, rage, guilt and regret. I have always seen myself as one of the lucky ones who apart from aches, pains, minor cuts and bruises and the occasional piece of metal working its way out of my body I am “ok” and “fine”. I realize now that I was not fine. I was wounded by the things I saw and the things I was forced to do to survive, to come home to my wife and child.
Fast forward seven years after my deployments to 2011 and the turmoil I kept internalized I am now a ghost of a father and husband. Enter into my life the Vet Center and then VA Montana. I worked hard to repair the damage done by not recognizing my PTSD and physical injuries. My angel has always been my soul mate Jodi who has stood by me and brought me back from the brink. Her support and courage inspired me to further my healing by attending the Trauma Recovery Unit PTSD program at Fort Harrison VA Hospital. This program empowered me with the tools and skills necessary to further my healing.
While in the program I was introduced to the Montana Wounded Warrior outdoor programs. I contacted the program via email and soon was called to see if I could participate in the Fort Peck hunting trip. To me this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I have never seriously hunted or had the opportunity to learn from experienced guides on what to do. I could feel my anxiety rising and I began to question myself. I recognized this and saw the hunting trip as an opportunity to use the tools and skills given to me by the VA to help combat my PTSD symptoms.
With the determination to not be controlled by PTSD or limited by my physical injuries I traveled to Fort Peck from Billings and was excited and also very nervous. I located the Historic Fort Peck Hotel and was greeted by Linda Mann. Linda was gracious and friendly giving me the feeling that I was not staying in a hotel but at the home of a relative. After I was settled in I began to meet some of the other veterans and started to feel more at ease. I met the guide who was going to take me out to find a deer. His name is Dylan Curry. Dylan is a remarkable young man who is wise beyond his years and has more life experience in his pinky than most people his age.
The first day hunting was a great learning experience for me. We saw some deer and found a good area where they were travelling. I asked questions and was very comfortable hunting with Dylan and Charles. The second day was my day. Dylan guided me and Charles up to group of deer. Dylan made sure I was in a good position pointed out a Mule Deer buck and talked me through the shot. I fired one round and you could hear the bullet making contact. Dylan denies that he shouted “waap” after the bullet hit, I know I heard him. Several deer ran from the area where I had shot and Dylan was able to tell that none had been the one I was shooting at. We waited a few minutes and walked up to the area where the deer had been standing. I was cautiously containing my enthusiasm as I didn’t want to get my hopes up. The buck was lying on his left side at the exact angle I had last seen him. I let my excitement out at this point knowing that my shot was placed well and did not cause unnecessary injury or waste. The buck did not run and dropped right where I had shot him. Dylan field dressed the deer and we took turns dragging it to the road whole. I want acknowledge that 90% of the success for this hunt goes to Dylan and Charles. I was just an attentive pupil.
The third day was spent hunting for a deer for my hunting partner Charles. Charles stated that he had hunted and harvested deer before and he gave me the opportunity to have the first chance to harvest a deer. I am grateful to have had Charles as a hunting partner. Unfortunately my knee injuries began to catch up with me and I was finding it too painful to accompany Dylan and Charles on the hunts. I was able to wait with the vehicle and once Charles had harvested his deer, assist with the recovery of the deer to the truck.
With both Charles and I having harvested a deer we went to Treasure Trail Processing to have the deer processed. That is the beauty of the experience, I not only was able to see a part of the county and experience the hunt of a Mule Deer I am able to provide food for my family.
On day four Dylan, Charles, Kyle, Patrick, Hayden and I then went duck and goose hunting. Again I have never hunted duck and goose before and was excited for the experience. I had an awesome time learning how to set up decoys and how to wait in a blind. We laughed a lot during this hunt as we felt more and more comfortable with each other. It is amazing that the sense of humor shared by combat vets is so close regardless of MOS, branch of service or even age. We often feel judged by those who have not shared in our experiences. I felt at home in this environment.
Montana Wounded Warrior is also providing me with the opportunity to have a shoulder mount of the buck to remind me of the experience. When I feel down or feel the weight of the world on my shoulders I know that I can look at the mount and see that I can overcome the horrors of war and that I can live life to the fullest to honor my fallen friends. That I can define my life by my actions now and not allow my injuries nor my PTSD define who I am. I am taking from this experience the new friendships, new knowledge and knowing that I am capable of much more in life. Montana Wounded Warrior has given me an experience that I never would have done on my own and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Thank You Montana Wounded Warrior, Carl and Linda Mann, Jesse Mann, Dylan Curry, Charles, Patrick and Hayden. I also want to thank all those who have donated to this organization. Through your gifts you have given a Montana Wounded Warrior some peace, happiness and respite from the wars he has fought in, to include the constant war in his mind.
Jon Kristjanson