Army Sgt. Caitlyn VanDermeer’s wide grin said it all as she displayed one of the two deer she bagged on Saturday morning at Mark Twain State Park.
She was one of 11 soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood who participated in a special deer hunt for injured warriors over the weekend at the Cy Colburn Camp Area of the park.
VanDermeer grew up hunting with her father in various states, mostly Michigan. This was the first time she has had an opportunity to hunt in the last four or five years and the first time to hunt in Missouri. She was also one of the few service people to bag two deer before noon on Saturday.
“It’s awesome. It’s absolutely beautiful out here,” she said of the terrain as she recalled that sometimes when she hunted with her father she was bored. “But not here. There is so much activity and the area is so beautiful, it is hard to describe the feeling other than awesome.”
VanDermeer was one of the five soldiers and veterans who took two does during the first phase of the hunt on Saturday morning.
Jim Anderson of Perry was VanDermeer’s guide. Anderson teaches archery at the Perry Christian Academy. He takes youngsters from the academy, who might not otherwise have a chance, hunting every year.
“When I was asked to be a guide, I jumped at It,” he said. “Just like Caitlyn, these other soldiers are serving my country and I want to help them.”
All the hunters called the hunt a great experience.
David Huerta, California native, has been stationed at Fort Leonard Wood for the past three years. The experienced hunter has very high praise for the Missouri Conservation system.
“Not only does the Department of Conservation do a wonderful job with wildlife, the hunting rules and regulations are good and understandable. The rules of getting a hunting tag are easy to understand and the costs are reasonable. That’s not the case in all states since many have complex rules and regulations and costs to hunt are high,” Huerta said. “This is an awesome program especially in helping with curtailing the deer population. Not only is it great for the participants but it is great for area residents whose safety is jeopardized by a high deer population. It is also great for the deer because controlling the deer population helps assure they will be able to obtain adequate food.”
Area residents, such as Jackie Rodgers of Paris, served as one of the guides at the deer hunt for service members. Rodgers said he got involved in the hunt through his brother-in-law who works for the park service and who asked him if he would help out by being a guide.
“I feel it is a privilege to help out in any way I can. I also think it is a good opportunity to get vets who aren’t from Missouri and expose them to the hunting opportunities and wildlife available through the Missouri Wildlife Conservation program,” Rodgers said, adding that this is especially true of the serviceman, Austin Lyden, he was guiding.
Lyden was delighted with the hunt.
“We are receiving the royal treatment,” said Lyden, a four-year Army veteran from San Diego, Calif., who was experiencing his first hunting experience. “This is the perfect trip to go on. Everyone has been so accommodating and each day is full of surprises. I thought we might be taught how to hunt but it is more than that. They help each soldier and give them the best trip possible. They are teaching us the techniques of hunting, like how to read signs to see if there is any deer in the area or if they have been there and the behavioral patterns of deer and how to use that to be a better hunter. They are also teaching us proper hunting procedures to make sure everything is done legally and ethically.”
Shawn Bowen, formerly of Maryland but now a confirmed Missourian, was among the more experienced hunters. Bowen retired from the Army at Fort Leonard Wood in 1999. He soon went to work for the Department of Defense as a training developer. Not far away from his second retirement he emphasized he will remain at Ft. Leonard Wood because he loves Missouri.
Bowen, who due to a back injury, is unable to deer hunt by himself said, “this hunt is probably my only chance to deer hunt this year.”
“This is an awesome program, more than I ever thought it would be. A lot of people put in an awful lot of work before we ever got here. I thought we would just go hunting but not only do we have someone sitting in the blind with us to help if needed, we having people cooking for us,” Bowen said. “It’s just awesome and deeply appreciated.”