Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation

Wounded veterans enjoy hunting gators

Cindy Swirko

Josh Krueger and Aaron Houser enjoy hunting deer, but for the two Northerners who were wounded by explosives in Iraq, the anticipation of Saturday night’s hunt for alligators on Lake Lochloosa was almost too much.

“It’s the adventure of it, the whole thrill of it,” said Krueger, who is from Wisconsin. “It’s always fun to hunt something that will actually eat you.”

“Something that hunts back,” added Houser, who is from Indiana.

Houser and Krueger were among six veterans and Purple Heart recipients who got to hunt alligators Saturday night in a trip arranged by Wounded Warriors in Action and the United Sportsmen and Airboaters Alliance.

Wounded Warriors is a national nonprofit organization that provides free hunting and fishing trips across the country for Purple Heart recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in conjunction with local groups such as the United Sportsmen, said John McDaniel, the founder and president.

The goals of the organization are to increase self-reliance and self-confidence in participants, enable the veterans to enjoy the outdoors, promote spiritual healing and wellness and to instill a sense of belonging.

Wounded Warriors sponsors deer, duck and pheasant hunting trips in Wisconsin, New York, South Dakota, California and other states.

McDaniel said the alligator hunt — the second year it has been held — is the second-most requested after the Wisconsin hunt.

“We help heal the wounds that doctors can’t fix,” McDaniel said. “With alligators, they are hunting a dangerous animal here, and they are amped about it. They are in their element. People will go, ‘Why do you want to go hunting with them, they just came out of combat?’ The reality is that this is where they are comfortable. Being out here hunting a dangerous game animal is something that is very attractive to them.”

Florida’s alligator hunting season is currently under way. Members of the United Sportsmen received hunting permits for the veterans, club president Jerry Wetherington said.

The hunts were done from airboats, and several members of the group acted as guides. Members also showed the veterans how to skin and process the meat.

Before the hunt, the men were given instructions on hunting alligators, airboats and lessons in using harpoons and, in one case, a crossbow. They also received airboat rides and were treated to a barbecue with alliance members.

“We’re just proud to be able to help and do this,” Wetherington said. “Our airboat club partners with them, and everybody has had a real good experience with it. They really love it.”

The hunt was the first time the veterans had hunted alligators and, for some, the first time they had seen one.

Bill Colwell and Emil Walsh said after a spin around the lake in an airboat they were psyched.

“We saw some out there. I’ve seen them before, but never this close,” said Colwell, a Missouri native.

“I’m excited,” added Walsh, from Pennsylvania. “I can’t wait to get back out there.”