Local program helps heal operational stress injuries in the great outdoors
The Cochrane-based organization, operated by volunteers, facilitates outdoor adventures like hunting.
“We’ve had a really great response from the veterans and first responder community,” said program founder Todd Hisey.
“In 2019, we put fifty guys through the program. Last year, we put over eighty through nationally, the bulk of which are here in Alberta. It’s just been growing each year.”
Hisey, a captain with the Princess Patricia’s who fought in both Bosnia and Afghanistan, was looking for a hands-on way to work through his own PTSD struggles following a return to civilian life. He found therapeutic value in bow hunting and turned it into a platform for others to address their own OSIs.
In the Veteran Hunters’ continued fundraising efforts (a link to donate is available on their website) the group has encountered hesitation from others regarding the use of firearms.
“The average person understands it, and medical practitioners are supportive of what we have,” Hisey noted.
“We have psychologists and others on the record and the operational stress injury clinic here in Calgary, the one in Edmonton, the one in Toronto promote what we’re doing and let the soldiers and first responders who they’re seeing know about what we’re doing, and encourage them to participate.”
Other sponsors and donors have stepped up too. And on March 25, the Veteran Hunters were presented funding through the province’s COVID-19 Community Funding program.
“Peter Guthrie, our MLA supporting our application went a long way,” said Hisey in front of Guthrie’s office.
“It affirms that our organization is moving in the right direction and we’re getting not only private but public support.”
He joined Guthrie for a photo in recognition of the contribution. The MLA recalled being introduced to Hisey in 2018.
“That was at a time when Todd was just taking this from inception and bringing it into reality,” said MLA Guthrie.
“I remember at the time I was amazed at the vision that he had for this. To be able to see where we are today, and that our government is able to recognize the kind of work that Todd has done here, I’m absolutely elated that we’ve been able to as a government take this to fruition.”
Hisey took the time to note other Veteran Hunters sponsors, including optics brand Vortex, the Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, local water hauler/well specialist Steelhead Ventures and Calgary industrial automation firm Tetranex.
Last year, the experiences of the group were captured on video and are being produced into a six-episode run on the Canadian specialty channel Sportsman Channel. They’re expected to air in the third quarter of this year, but the pilot could air as early as April 12.
“That was something that came late last summer,” he said show, which he described as an opportunity to spread the word about the Veteran Hunters.
“It’s interesting, it’s something that Sportsman Channel was getting a lot from social media, was that ‘Hey, we’d like to see more veterans on your network, especially Canadian veterans.’ It was right time, right place. We filmed five episodes, and we’ll have the sixth one with the pilot that will re-air in the fall.”
Currently, the organization’s focus is on finalizing a brand-new shooting range.
“We’re working through the application process to actually establish a private, permanent outdoor range that will allow veterans who come to hunt with us, one, to zero their rifles, but also two […] just to allow some of those veterans and first responders to practice with firearms and do some of the things that really they had a passion for doing when they were serving,” Hisey said.
“Just because we’re not in uniform anymore, doesn’t mean we still don’t like soldiering. We’re just at a stage in our lives where we have moved on to other things.”