A good duck hunt is not always about bringing home a limit.
There is togetherness, camaraderie and a chance to get into the outdoors, breathe some fresh air and enjoy being alive.
To military veterans, those things mean even more.
The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization that serves veterans and military members who have been wounded or suffered physical or mental injuries as a result of their service on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Through a number of activities nationwide, the Wounded Warrior Project strives to raise awareness and public support for severely wounded servicemen and women.
The activities range from road races to motorcycle rallies to fishing tournaments. And recently the lineup has expanded to include duck hunting. Late last year the Wounded Warrior Project conducted its first duck hunt in Arkansas.
In cooperation with local VFW posts and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, 11 warriors, nine from Arkansas, took part in hunts near Biggers, at the Dave Donaldson and Rainey Brake WMAs as well as private farm duck pits.
The event, which took place Dec. 14-16, included a skeet shoot, duck dog demonstration, safety program, evening meal and banquet with speakers and a silent auction.
The event was such a success that another is planned for December.
“I already signed up,” said Army veteran Arthur Stokenbury, 37, of this year’s hunt.
Stokenbury, who volunteered for the Army when he was 17, suffered shrapnel wounds in the neck, shoulder and leg from a motor round while he was on duty in Sadr City, Iraq, in 2004. An infantry staff sergeant, he learned of the Wounded Warrior Project when he received the Order of the Purple Heart.
“It gives universality,” Stokenbury said of the project’s impact on veterans. “They know they are not alone in facing the issues in the veterans’ community.”
Stokenbury is a therapist for the Arkansas Department of Youth Services and is based in the Alexander/Bryant area. He hunted deer while growing up near Magnolia but it took last year’s Wounded Warrior hunt to make him a convert to duck hunting.
“I learned how to call a little bit,” he said. “I learned quite a bit.”
The day of the hunt was bright and clear and the temperatures were below freezing; not ideal, but a group of six bagged 36 ducks, with each man getting his six-duck limit. One veteran, whose wounds make it difficult to walk, shot the first of the hunt’s 36 ducks, getting his first mallard.
“He was grinning like a possum for the first 30 minutes or so,” said retired banker John Phillips, who helped organize the hunt. The other organizers were Randolph County VFW officer Mike Richardson and Tim Ries, who operates a guide service in northeast Arkansas.
The event, documented by a Montana film crew for the Sportsmen’s Channel, was the second local hunt the Wounded Warrior Project has hosted in Arkansas. A spring turkey hunt drew 21 veterans from six states, and after last year’s successful duck hunt, the project turned around and put on a fishing tournament at Lake Dardanelle.
“This hunt was to let Mother Nature help them heal from inside and get back to feeling like a whole person,” Phillips said.
Phillips recalled a tear-jerking thank you from one of the veterans, who told him “I just felt like one of the guys.”