The California Waterfowl Association, a statewide nonprofit organization, took 15 disabled and Purple Heart veterans duck hunting on Saturday to provide them with an exceptional outdoor recreation opportunity fitting those who served our nation.
The CWA’s local Veteran Hunt Program at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge is a joint effort with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
“I signed up, and luckily I was drawn for it,” said veteran Jeff Sibley, of Oakdale. “It was good hunting.”
Saturday was Sibley’s second duck hunt with CWA, although it was his first visit to Colusa.
Sibley served eight years with the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry, out of Camp Pendleton. He received the Purple Heart for a gunshot wound he received in Afghanistan.
Although most of the veterans participating in Saturday’s hunt are Purple Heart recipients, having been injured while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the opportunity was not restricted to just them.
“I really appreciate that Vietnam veterans were included,” said disabled veteran Steve Bennett, of Vallejo, who served in Nha Trang in 1966 during his first tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force, and Tan Son Nhut, near the city of Saigon, in 1967 during his second tour. “CWA runs this fantastic program. They really recognize us for something.”
Mike Peters, hunt coordinator for CWA, said the organization looks forward to this particular event, which was started at the Colusa Refuge just last year.
“It’s an opportunity to bring the outdoors to the veterans,” Peters said. “Most have been injured and received the Purple Heart or they are disabled. We focus this particular hunt on that community.”
Peters said the hunt is only made possible through the help of many volunteers, particularly the local hunting guides.
“The local community really stepped up,” he said. “We had a lot of guides, either one on one, or one for two veterans.”
Peters said in addition to the 15 to 18 volunteer guides, Tom Dermody, with Field of Dreams, provided special equipment to get the hunters into the fields.
“It’s a pretty great group of local individuals,” said Peters, who lives in Los Angeles. “They came out and did a great job.”
The hunters arrived in Colusa County on Friday, with Colusa Casino & Resort providing a private dinner and room accommodations at no cost to the veterans or the organizations involved.
“The Colusa Casino really did a great job,” he said. “They did the same for us last year.”
The event was also a great opportunity for the hunters out of the area to hunt public lands at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, one of six refuges in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which manages about 35,000 acres of wetlands and uplands in the Sacramento Valley for the public to enjoy activities like hiking, hunting, and bird watching.
Billy Bennett, of Roseville (no relation to Steve Bennett), who served with the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006, and sustained injury to his lungs, said it was a terrific event from start to finish.
“This was probably one of the best duck hunting experiences I ever had,” he said. “It was amazing. Our guides were great. I learned a lot.”
Although Bennett has been duck hunting five years, he said he only hunts once or twice a year, so he doesn’t have a lot of experience. But Colusa’s misty, low-pressure weather on Saturday morning made duck hunting pretty ideal, and almost all the hunters were able to bag their limits, coming back from the blinds with an assortment of mostly widgeon, spoony, and gadwall for eating.
Hunting guide John Rivera, of Williams, said the veterans in his group did very well on Saturday, and shot 14 ducks.
Rivera said as long as the CWA hosts the annual event, he will continue to volunteer.
“It’s giving back,” he said. “I tell my son that I could never walk a day in their shoes. We should honor them more.” ■
Editors Note: The article photo cutline was updated to reflect the omission of Navy veteran Rick Lawrence’s title, who served in the Gulf War and Iraq War.