The first Fort Loudoun State Park, Disabled Veterans Hunt took place on Monday. Six veterans from the Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit charity that provides support for veterans and their families, joined staff and volunteers before sunrise for breakfast and a quick briefing before heading to their hunting blinds.
Joe Pike, Monroe County wildlife officer and Justin Rexrode, Fort Loudoun park ranger, partnered to manage the hunt.
Anyone talking with these two men would quickly sense their dedication to this event. When asked why this hunt was planned, both Mr. Pike and Mr. Rexrode answered with the same statement, “It’s a way to give back”. Mr. Rexrode, has been a park ranger for over four years and with Fort Loudoun for over a year and Mr. Pike has been a wildlife officer for 28 years.
Both Mr. Pike and Mr. Rexrode guessed deer numbers in the park, a 1,200 acre island in the Tennessee River system, had increased. Mr. Pike said, “Management of the deer herd has to be looked at differently, because we’re on an island.” Mr. Rexrode knew of other veterans hunts taking place in state parks and was eager to provide another opportunity for veterans while managing the deer herd on the island. “The park is primarily a historic sight. This event allowed the park to be utilized in a different way and most importantly it gives us a chance to thank our veterans.”
Veterans ranged in age, branch of service and campaigns spanning the past six decades. Each shared glimpses of tremendous lives lived as they sat around the table eating lunch cooked by Freddy Kelly and Steve Massengill, TWRA employees. Veterans returned to their blinds after lunch and ended their day just after sunset. Two deer were harvested.
Volunteers supported the event in many ways. Lavette Pike, wildlife officer Joe Pike’s wife, shared a passion for the event with her husband. She hauled cooking supplies and sat up an entire outdoor kitchen. Veterans received a hot, homemade breakfast and coffee along with a loving smile from Lavette. Morgan’s Meat Processor in Madisonville donated processing. Cleveland State Community College students helped process deer and take biological data. Wildlife officers were on hand to help transport veterans and harvested deer.
TWRA staff and park staff were humbled and proud to provide this opportunity for such great men. Comradery, laughter, time outdoors and most importantly an opportunity to say thank you was the theme of the day. Rexrode and Pike look forward to providing this event in future years. For more information on the DAV visit dav.org.