Veterans: Maximize your hunting opportunities
My first deer season when I separated from the service found me 20’ up on a bench blind in Bertie County, North Carolina. My best friend in college kept a farm to hunt turkeys and the occasional whitetail. Because of my deployment and training schedule, it had been a handful of years since I hunted and when he gave me the invitation I didn’t hesitate. It was warmer than the deer season I remembered back home in Montana and the borrowed, old wooden rifle felt odd in my hands after the plastic of an M-16. We saw deer and I wish I could say that I filled a tag, but the truth was I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger.
Many seasons have passed since then and I continue to find myself in the woods or mountains much of my time. Over 40% of veterans are hunters; however, I have found that many are unaware of the excellent hunting afforded to them because of their service. Most of these hunts are over-the-counter (OTC) and nearly all the draws are random with no points. License costs are on par with resident prices. The most difficult obstacle is simply finding where these hunts are offered. The list below provides a huge jumpstart for any veteran looking to hunt more.
This is the most complete platform for all things hunting on United States Government and Department of Defense (US-DoD) installations. Using their map, you can quickly see what hunting, fishing and camping opportunities are available to veterans across the country. Access and license availability vary based on training tempo and based upon which class of guest you qualify. Active duty is generally given priority, followed by disabled veterans, honorably discharged veterans and then family. These limitations can greatly narrow the pool of hunters and leave the eagle-eyed sportsman with thousands of acres in minimally pressured areas virtually to themself. Through the iSportsman portal, veterans can set up an account and be verified when to purchase licenses, download base-specific regulations, important contact information for access and make reservations to hunt.
It can’t be stressed enough: Every facility has their own regulations and requirements and it is the responsibility of the hunter to ensure they are properly following them all. Active training areas could have unexploded ordinance or live fire.
Benevolent non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
We have some incredibly patriotic hunters who want to say thank you to those who have served in the military by sponsoring them on phenomenal adventures — many once-in-a-lifetime. It can be disarming and difficult for some of us to accept this gift; however, it honors your efforts to accept such generosity. Local rod and gun clubs often offer active duty discounted or gratis memberships for them to hunt and fish while stationed nearby. Statewide NGOs exist in every state — some with multiple groups like Wyoming’s Hunting with Heroes. Selfless sportsmen donate their own licenses won during the regular drawing. Moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison, elk and antelope have all been awarded to a disabled veteran. Some of these hunts take decades to build up the points required to draw — a sacrifice only another hunter can understand and appreciate.
Groups like Operation Phoenix Outdoors (OPO) act as clearing houses for outfitters and state agencies to award licenses. In 2022, OPO took dozens of veterans hunting for elk, deer and antelope. By utilizing their Facebook group, when an opportunity arises — sometimes last minute — those who are interested canput their name in the drawing. OPO completes the draw and forwards the lucky name back to the agency or business. An internet search can help you find an NGO close to you or national groups like the Sportsman’s Foundation for Military Families (SFMF) can direct you to local chapters. SFMF encourages healing for the whole family by requiring members other than the veteran to participate.
State wildlife agencies
A quick search of your state’s wildlife management agency will help you find what hunting benefits they extend to veterans. Many offer discounted licenses or entry into special draws. Often, Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) is a free hunting or fishing day, requiring no license. Montana’s Block Management Program grants veterans preference on reservations for the date or weekend. North Carolina will grant resident disabled veterans a lifetime hunting, inland and coastal fishing license for $117. New Mexico’s famed White Sands Missile Range has several draws for qualifying veterans to hunt oryx on the active testing range. Some programs are not listed in the regulations, so a call directly to the license department is very worthwhile to check on other veterans’ licensing and hunts. Also, some states (Maine) will grant a nonresident a comparable license if their home state reciprocates.
Also, you can check out an article GOHUNT wrote a few years ago that outlines several of these great opportunities across the west at the link below.
The brotherhood between those who have served runs deep and remains steadfast. We take care of our own and carry that into hunting. I have been particularly blessed by other veterans who prior to the hunt were complete strangers and afterward remain fast friends. This is in part to service we all gave, but also because we know that when we say show up on time, we really mean 15 minutes early. Try as we might, our military bearing and mindset will always remain a part of us. The Fallen Outdoors (TFO) connects hunters with each other in an informal, ad hoc manner via Facebook groups. Openings on hunts are offered with no expectation (or acceptance) of anything other than being a standup guy (or lady). I have met some great guys through TFO who have become reliable hunting buddies.
A few final thoughts for fellow veterans looking to spend more time afield:
- There are groups who have hunts that go unfilled. It can sometimes be hard to accept, but letting others serve you in this way is not just about you: it’s about all that we stand for and the great pride we have in our American lives.
- Veterans are a protected class and afforded special rights and privileges. Make sure you know what they are and how to utilize them.
- Some groups and programs require a VA rating to participate. If you don’t know what yours is or how to get one, contact the Disabled American Vets.
GOHUNT Gear Shop discount
If you need to pick up some hunting gear, look no further than the GOHUNT Gear Shop. Remember, as a huge thank you for your service, GOHUNT offers a military and first responder discount in their Gear Shop.