Spending six hours hunting for bison in a Polaris RZR in 7-degree temps and 20 mph winds may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but it fulfilled a lifelong dream for Matt Keil, a quadriplegic veteran who shot an 1,800-pound bison during a hunt organized by Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA). The hunt took place in February at Dismal River Outfitters, a 50,000-acre ranch in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills.
Matt Keil’s life changed forever February 24, 2007, when he was critically injured while on a mission with the 3rd Platoon Able Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Ft. Carson, Colorado – just six weeks after he married his wife, Tracy.
“I was on a rooftop in Ramadi, Iraq when an enemy sniper shot me in the neck,” Matt explained. “You tend to lose your identity when you have a catastrophic injury, and it’s really hard for someone like me to find opportunities because people are shy around me in a wheelchair. HAVA does an incredible job of getting military and likeminded people together. Hunting with people who have confidence in your abilities is a huge help in the healing process.”
Matt’s wish to hunt buffalo was forwarded to HAVA by his best friend and fellow disabled veteran, Nick Orchowski, and before long a surprise trip to Dismal River Outfitters in western Nebraska was organized. “I had no idea what we were hunting,” said Matt. “We were riding around in the UTV, sharing stories with John Howell, the owner of Dismal River Outfitters, when we crested a hill and saw this massive bison. I was speechless. I can’t thank HAVA, Dismal River Outfitters, and Hornady enough for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Matt hunted with a rifle that was mounted in a specially engineered mechanical shooting system, with a joystick that enables him to aim and fire. “I used Hornady Superformance 338 Winchester Magnum, 225 gr. InterBond ammunition, which is amazing,” said Matt. “The bison dropped with one shot.”
Organized in 2007 by enthusiasts and executives of the shooting sports industry, HAVA is a nonprofit organization that assists in the healing and re-integration of disabled combat veterans back into civilian life, through participation in outdoor events.
HAVA organizes three family day events, each drawing up to 500 participants, as well as approximately 20 hunts throughout the United States each year. All are designed to provide disabled veterans with opportunities to experience the healing power of nature, and instill confidence and a belief that joy and accomplishment are possible despite disabling injuries. Sponsors like Hornady® Manufacturing make the mission of HAVA possible.
Heath Gunns, Outreach Manager for HAVA, oversees locating veteran participants, finds hunt opportunities, and organizes the events that get veterans into the great outdoors. “Sponsorships from companies like Hornady allow HAVA to get these guys into the field,” he said. “The impact of that generosity is evident when you watch the healing power of nature upon our veteran participants. Our veteran heroes have sacrificed so much for our freedom, and we need to do everything possible to make their transition to civilian life as easy and fulfilling as possible. My involvement in Matt’s hunt was a complete honor and privilege.”
To learn more about HAVA, visit www.honordveterans.org.
Image courtesy Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA)