DISPUTANTA, VA (WWBT) - Just before sun up, on a cold crisp winter morning, deep in the woods of Disputanta - a few hundred deer hunters gathered with a singular mindset, they’re here to bag a big buck. But truthfully, there is a deeper purpose.
Wounded Warriors attended the 3rd Annual Freedom Hunt at the Bendall Hunt Club.
Some of the veterans were driven in pick-ups into the woods where they'll use track-chairs and wheelchairs with heavy duty treads. Others have no visible signs of impairment, but carry scars just as serious like retired Marine, Mike Doyle - who is legally blind.
He hunts with the help of his son-in-law, Jeff Seveland, who stands behind him, and guides the rifle. As complicated as it sounds, Doyle has taken deer, turkey and even a bear using this method. There was a time not so long ago, Doyle was convinced he'd never fire a rifle again.
“I started sellin' my guns, I felt sorry for myself, poor me, pity me...why me?" Wounded Warrior Doyle said.
Doyle served in the Marines for almost 20 years, but in the summer of 1992, doctors diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa. He was told the degenerative eye disease would eventually take his sight. He was declared legally blind and soon retired, feeling like his life was over.
Doyle credits an article in Field and Stream Magazine with turning his life around. It was about a sportsman in Alaska, who hunts bear.
“And the last paragraph was, and the amazing thing is - the hunter is totally blind. And the light bulb went on, and I said “if he can do it, I can do it,” Doyle said.
Seveland has seen his father-in-law climb out of the depths of despair, to become a bonafide sportsman, who does quite well with a rifle.
“To be here with fellow veterans, and to see their happiness and to see them out here and not feeling sorry for themselves - and not in the VA hospital, but be here and on a hunt, that's maybe my most joyful moment,” said Seveland.
A total of 36 deer were shot during the hunt, seven by veterans. Doyle and Seveland did not get one, but you won’t hear any complaints. This is therapy, not just for them - but also the other veterans who cross their path.