Sitting around a fire, 50 veterans traded jokes and stories and hunting tips. Their laughter brought some warmth to a chilly Saturday morning in El Reno.
These veterans were there for something other than campfire tales. They were there to hunt and to root out the scars brought back from war.
They were there for the fourth annual Honoring America's Heroes quail hunt. Fifty veterans are paired with 50 sponsors to hunt nearly 1,000 birds.
The outing allowed former service men and women to spend their day with some of the only people that can understand the tough return to civilian life.
“When they come back transitioning from military to civilian life is a real challenge for a lot of them, but these kinds of activities are the things they love to do,” Scotty Dee said.
Dee is the director of H.A.H. and also had the quail hunt on his ranch.
“There [are] 22 veterans that kill themselves every day. And getting them out of the house to talk once a it's stopping that stuff and one a day is too many,” Air Force veteran Chris Morgan said.
The organization puts on all kinds of outdoor and sporting events year round, as well as arranging honor guards for those killed overseas. And for the ones that come home, events like the hunt, are a chance to feel normal again.
“We [were] on dismounted combat patrol and one of my squad members stepped on a land mine connected to a secondary device and i was on the secondary device,” Rusty Dunagan said.
Dunagan served in Afghanistan. The explosion would cost him his left arm and both his legs. He hunts with a specialized wheelchair and shotgun designed to keep him out on the trail. For him, spending a day in the woods is a kind of therapy through brotherhood.
“It's healing. You've got guys driven from Tulsa and farther north for this hunt. If it wasn't therapeutic in some way they wouldn't drive this far,” he said.