We hope you take time to remember our servicemen and -women who have served or continue to serve our country on this Veteran’s Day. Here’s our November cover story on some proud wounded warriors who experienced a moose hunt to remember:
The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
STORY BY TONY LEINGANG • PHOTOS BY OUTDOORS FOR OUR HEROES/SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL
The opening day of this year’s Alaska moose season brought with it the normal feelings of hopefulness, combined with the uncertainty of hunting a new area for a group of very deserving combat- disabled veteran hunters and supporting volunteers.
Four of the hunters had arrived from locations all over the United States, while the fifth was local to Alaska. All anticipated this to be a true bucket list experience.
After arriving the day before, the guys settled in at a camp near Delta Junction, which is 90-plus miles southeast of Fairbanks, set up by the Purple Heart Hunter Program. They spent time
carefully zeroing in rifles, getting a quick lay of the land and sharing stories of past hunts and experiences into the evening.
A big part of these experiences is always the friendship and camaraderie that develops during these hunts. PHHP host Richard Barth told the group that it can get crazy out there. He related an example of a group getting six bulls
in just a couple of days on a past hunt with his group. That seemed incredible for everyone, but it certainly set the stage for what quickly became as fast- paced and exciting a hunt as could be imagined for all involved.
THE WORK TO PRODUCE this opportunity began at the Safari Club International National Board meeting in August 2019, with a discussion between SCI Alaska Chapter Executive Director Louis Cusack and SCI Northwest Chapter Vice President Cody Scriver. A plan was launched with the goal of finding six successful permit applicants to sponsor for the 10th annual DM795 Alaska Governor’s Delta Junction moose hunt. The goal was to combine forces and work together to provide this once in a lifetime opportunity to those who had served and sacrificed so much for us all.
Cody also reached out to Jason Brown and Tony Leingang of Outdoors For Our Heroes, which specializes in veteran and wounded veteran hunts. OFOH stepped in and agreed they would do the groundwork to find appropriate disabled veterans who qualified as Purple Heart recipients with 100-percent disability status to be considered for the Alaska Purple Heart Program. SCI Northwest and SCI Alaska Chapters would assist and partner with OFOH on the financial costs and logistics during the hunt. The joint team worked together to select applicants and assist candidates in submitting for the DM795 permit. Once selected, the team worked together to manage the logistics of getting five moose hunters from multiple locations, their gear and everything necessary to ensure a successful hunt on location – streamlining everything to ensure the hunters could just focus on the fun and
challenges of taking down a prized Alaska moose. From arrival in Fairbanks to meat processing and delivery, the team’s goal for the hunters was to enjoy this experience fully without concern for any of the necessary logistics.
The three Purple Heart veterans selected by OFOH each have their own story in faithfully serving our country:
• Jonathon Harmon, Baltimore, Maryland: U.S. Army 82nd Airborne injured on June 7, 2012 in Afghanistan. He survived after stepping on a pressure plate IED with both legs amputated above the knee.
• Franz Ulrich Walkup, Nashville, Tennessee: U.S. Army 503rd Infantry Regiment and 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was injured on
September 29, 2012 in Afghanistan and survived multiple gunshot wounds resulting in partial leg amputation.
• Ryan Caldwell, Olympia, Washington: U.S. Army. He had multiple deployments, including Mogadishu, Somalia, the invasion of Haiti, and Bosnia. In 2004 he deployed to Iraq, where his team was attacked by a suicide car bomber and he survived multiple combat- related injuries.
Two Purple Heart veterans joined the OFOH group at camp, including Jim Sursely of Apopka, Florida. He is a past DAV national commander with the U.S. Army 196th Light Infantry Brigade, F Troop, 17th Armored Cavalry Division. He was injured on January 11, 1969 in Vietnam after stepping on a landmine, which took both legs and one arm. The other was Brady Jackson from North Pole, Alaska, who was injured in Afghanistan.
The Delta Junction DM795 permit area comprises Delta Junction, Fort Greely and the Donnelly Dome basin. The state of Alaska issues no more than six DM795 permits per year, which are available to Purple Heart recipients with a certified 100-percent service- connected disability.
This program was implemented in 2011 by Richard Barth, the Fort Greely environmental chief. Richard explained the need to maintain and mitigate the moose population within the 7,200-acre footprint of Fort Greely. The five hunters chosen for the hunt would be in for quite an adventure.
ON OPENING MORNING, EACH hunter teamed up with their support people and headed out to the field. Jon Harmon was first up with our primary guides and the provided UTVs. It seemed like no sooner than they had left camp, he had his bull down. This was in the first 20 minutes of hitting the woods! Immediately the banter began between the guys on who would prevail with the most impressive moose. For the others, they saw many animals, but there was no more action to be had quite yet. The first bull was
skinned and quartered that afternoon, giving the others a great opportunity to see firsthand just what was involved in processing such a massive animal.
After a meal, the other hunters set out for an evening hunt. Barely an hour in, Ryan Caldwell spotted a bull bedded down in the road. He made short work of taking his bull down within a few hundred yards. The others began to arrive and help Ryan begin the work of butchering his bull.
Jon Harmon, wearing his specially made “shorty” prosthetic legs, stumbled over some small brush and trees and fell over. Immediately he began laughing, with Franz right behind him. Franz and Jon were in rare form, telling jokes the whole way there.
Franz moved ahead and while looking back at Jon cracked to the rest of us that he looked like “Godzilla” smashing tiny trees back there. This set the mood for the rest of the time that night, with Jon and Franz providing endless comedy relief as Ryan’s bull No. 2 was processed.
Brady and Jim continued to hunt nearby, as there was still plenty of daylight to be had. About an hour into processing Ryan’s bull we heard gunshots not too far away. Sure enough, Brady had taken the third bull, even while there was still significant processing to do with Ryan’s animal.
The hard work of retrieving these massive creatures had begun. They spent many hours late into the night getting everything back to camp. Jim had also seen opportunities that night, but he would have to wait another day.
AMAZINGLY, THE SUCCESS CONTINUED the following day, with Franz dropping a nice
bull before 9 a.m. At this point we had four bulls to take care of in the first 26 hours! A ton of work ensued, with our support staff helping to clean, quarter and deliver meat to our local processor, Delta Meats. Just one more moose to go.
As evening progressed on what was still only day two, we got word that Jim had finally hit his bull. As he will tell you, this one took some doing. After what had been several clean kill shots, it still wouldn’t stay down. Several attempts to get close had it up and running. But with a bit more time and several more shots, guide Larry Martin helped put bull five down.
Now, working through the night and hoping to get a glimpse of the northern lights through the moonlight, the team took care of Jim’s bull. It was nearly 4:30 a.m. on day three now. All told, the guys had taken five great Alaska bull moose ranging from 48 to 59 inches.
An exhausted but extremely happy group had successfully filled all its tags. While the northern lights were not out for us to see very well, this was truly a “lights out” memorable Alaska moose hunting experience for all involved. ASJ
Editor’s notes: Interested in learning more about Outdoors For Our Heroes programs or know someone who qualifies and could benefit from a quality outdoor experience like this? Want to volunteer or donate? Please reach out to us at info@ outdoorsforourheroes.org or call (206) 571-0218. Find and like us on Facebook and check us out at outdoorsforourheroes.org.
The permit application period for the 2021 DM795 Delta Management moose permit hunt is Nov. 1-Dec. 15, 2020. Please see the following info about how to apply for this hunt: aksafariclub.org/sci-alaska- chapter-warriors.
HOW IT ALL CAME TOGETHER
In addition to our disabled veteran hunters, we want to acknowledge and thank the Alaska Department
of Fish and Game for its DM795 moose permit hunt, as well as PHHP founder Richard Barth and his volunteer support team members:
Larry Wayne Martin, Colton Davis Spradlin, Carey Breshears, and Josh Applegate from PHHP; Louis Cusack, SCI Alaska Chapter executive director; Cody Scriver, SCI Northwest vice president/hunt logistics; Jason Brown, OFOH president; Nick Leingang, OFOH pro staff; Jack Nickel, SCI Northwest photographer/ pro staff; Tony Leingang, OFOH vice president/field coordination; and Delta Meat and Sausage Company, ADFG and Global Rescue for their support in making this hunt a reality.
OFOH’s motto, “Gratitude for Sacrifice,” is really what these experiences are all about. Together with PHHP, SCI and our other partners, the goal is to continue finding opportunities like this to serve our disabled veteran community. Contributions to these groups will help ensure more combat disabled veterans have bucket list hunts available to them as well. ASJ