My first glimpse of the group of real heros was from a hilltop as they followed the dogs into a weed-choked swale. Their hunter-orange vests and hats made their movements easy to follow from my distant vantage point. And when two pheasants flushed and flew in different directions, four shots rang out.
I fell in behind them as they worked the rest of that cover and then headed for another nearby field. The three hunters moved along quietly as the dogs made castes in front of them, their attention focused on the hunt and the possibility that more pheasants might explode upward in front of them at any instant.
My first impression was that these were men obviously enjoying the excitement of this hunt. Every aspect was serving to make their quest memorable, from the pleasant temperatures, gentle breezes and clear, blue skies to the efficiency of four well-trained and expertly-handled bird dogs.
Then, without warning, there was the classic point as one of the dogs locked on a bird. Two of the hunters moved up quickly on either side, and the cock pheasant exploded skyward. One shot, and the bird fell 25 yards away in a weed thicket. The dog raced in, located the downed bird, and retrieved it, bringing it directly to the hunter who fired the shot and placing it in his hand. Perfect! Just perfect!
These three men, American heros all, were participating in a quality upland bird hunt organized by Wounded Warriors In Action Foundation (WWIAF) and donated by Charlie Buisch, owner and operator of Whispering Pines Shooting Preserve in Lyons, NY. Each had been severely wounded in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and each was awarded the Purple Heart medal for his sacrifice.
The soldiers were Paul Fritzsche, Staff Sergeant, USA, from West Jordan, UT, Shawn Horsley, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, from Holly Ridge, NC, and Tony Wisyanski, Master Sergeant (Ret), USA, from Naples FL. All of them were severely wounded in battle, and all had spent a lot of time in recovery.
After the day’s hunting was over on Saturday, I had an opportunity to talk with each of these incredible men. Each was soft-spoken and humble as they spoke of their hunting activities and how exciting this hunt was. Tony said he enjoyed this pheasant hunting experience immensely. Shawn was equally impressed, and thought it was “pretty cool.” Paul told he he had lots of fun and he “enjoyed the great country” (on the preserve).
Their first activity upon arrival at Whispering Pines was a gun and hunting safety class, followed by shooting lots of rounds on a sporting clays course with shotguns donated by Jim Reisdorf, a WWIAF Associate. Then, after a hearty lunch, they took to the fields to hunt some pheasants. I managed to catch up to and follow them during this time.
While all of them had hunted before, none of them had ever hunted ringneck pheasants. This was a whole new experience. Paul had hunted deer, elk and birds in his native Utah. Shawn had hunted deer, rabbits and quail in North Carolina. And Tony had hunted deer in NC and Canada geese on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Tane Kehlenbeck, a long time employee of Kodak in Rochester and a hunter and guide at Whispering Pines, volunteered as a guide for the Saturday hunt. His two bird dogs were awesome, and accounted for their share of the birds in the bag for that day. He told me that this was “a great experience” for him personally. His broad smile served as proof of that statement.
John McDaniel, a familiar face from a similar WWIAF hunt that occurred last September at Whispering Pines, is the organizer and coordinator of WWIAF activities nation-wide. He lives in Apollo Beach, Florida, and is himself a veteran of Special Forces. And after talking with him extensively, I believe his every waking moment is spent on behalf of “his guys” and seeing that they get as many great outdoor opportunities as he can arrange and deliver.
The goals of the WWIAF are truly laudable. They want to: Increase Self-Reliance, Bolster Self-Confidence, Enjoy the Great Outdoors, Promote Spiritual Healing and Wellness, and Instill a Sense of Belonging to each vet that joins them for a hunting or fishing experience.
John also voiced his opinion on this hunt. To him, “it is a very humbling experience that is shared with real heros.” Each and every WWIAF hunting or fishing event could be considered a “trip of a lifetime.” But the wonderful part of this organization is that those trips are offered as an almost non-stop stream of opportunities.
Because the quality of each experience receives the most emphasis, the number of vets participating in any one event is generally limited to one to three individuals, with two being the most common number. And the various destinations read like a list of dream hunts and fishing trips, from trophy deer hunting in South Dakotaor elk hunting in Colorado to fishing for giant tarpon and SCUBA Diving in the Florida Keys. Accommodations range from first class hotels to stays at private hunting and fishing lodges. And transportation, more often than not, is on private jets with the use donated by various individuals and corporations. Saturday night these guys were treated to a game dinner that boasted such treats as pheasant stroganoff and may other entrees best described as a culinary delight. A lot of friends and neighbors stopped by to meet these three guys and enjoy the food with them. Jim reisdorf probably said it best with, “It was a memorable event.”
On Sunday the three soldiers returned to the preserve for more pheasant and chucker partridge hunting. And once again the guides and dogs performed well, allowing each of the hunters to have many shots at the flushing birds. So how did they do? They managed to take a total of 20 upland game birds over the two days of hunting. All of the bagged birds were cleaned and frozen, and they went home with the soldiers on Monday afternoon.
Whispering Pines is a first class hunting facility of rolling hills, classic swales, weedy thickets, woodlands, and crop and hay fields that is owned by Charlie and Carol Buisch. While memberships are encouraged, it is open to the public for day hunts by reservation. It is one of the most picturesque pieces of real estate I have ever had the pleasure of hunting. Buisch’s opinion of this hunt was simple and direct. According to him, these men gave a lot of themselves in their effort to preserve liberty and freedom for him and his country. He wanted to say thanks with more than just words. Donating a hunt, complete with lots of pheasants and the use of the entire hunting facility for several days, was his display of gratitude. Much of the logistics required to put a hunt such as this one together, such as travel and equipment, are donated by individuals and corporations. But there are other expenses that must also be covered. For this hunt, the “extra” costs amounted to nearly $2,000.00, which McDaniel is responsible for. And in this tight economy, donations are way down.
If any of my 93 semi-regular readers would like to donate to this worthy program, they can send their check to Wounded Worriers In Action Foundation, 6516 Dolphin Cove, Apollo Beach, FL 33572. If they include “Whispering Pines hunt” as a memo, their donation will be dedicated to paying for this hunt.
Len Lisenbee is an outdoor writer living in Rushville, NY and the Canandaigua Daily Messenger newspaper’s Outdoor Columnist.