When dove season officially kicks off each late summer, outdoor enthusiasts gather in fields throughout Kentucky to engage in the afternoon traditional hunts and for the past 20 years, the sounds of shotgun blasts in the Brown’s Crossroads Community bring to mind the sounds of battlefields.
Those two notions crossed last week when a host of friends gathered on the Springhaven Farm for the traditional dove season opening day hunt with more than 20 shooters enjoying an afternoon of hunting in the open fields.
What made last week’s hunt so special for a handful of the participants was the invitation that had gone out to them from property owner Steve Peddicord.
Among those enjoying last Wednesday afternoon’s dove hunt on the opening day for Kentucky’s season, were three shooters who face daily challenges due to having been wounded or injured while serving our country either in the armed forces, or as first responders.
The three special hunt participants were a part of the local Hope for Heroes project that is based out of Cumberland County, Kentucky and provides veterans and first responders who have been wounded and/or disabled with the opportunity to learn how to get back into the “great outdoors”.
Also participating in last week’s dove hunt as a part of the special invitation was Hope for Heroes Coordinator and founder, Mitch Serlin.
Peddicord introduced Serlin to the group of hunters gathered prior to the start of the afternoon activities just a few hundred yards from where the dove hunt would take place and before the group gathered to enjoy a pre-hunt picnic style meal.
Peddicord had been approached about hosting some of the disabled clients earlier by Kenny Mims, a local farmer who has worked closely with Serlin and the local Hope for Heroes chapter since it located near part of his own farm on the Clinton and Cumberland line.
“This is the 20th dove hunt and this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity and we’re really tickled to death just to have the opportunity to have the Hope for Heroes with us today and some of the soldiers to have the opportunity to hunt with us,” Peddicord said. “I’m really glad that Mitch and the soldiers got to join us today.”
Speaking to the gathering for a few moments prior to the meal to explain the Hope for Heroes project, Serlin gave a brief overview of why he decided to form the Hope for Heroes project, as well as laying out some of the goals of the program, before introducing the three guests he had brought with him.
Serlin explained that after serving in the military and being stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, he returned to his home in the New York Bronx where he retired after a 20 year career in law enforcement.
It was there that saw him being involved in nearly every aspect if the action side of being a policeman, from working a beat to being a member of the elite SWAT teams.
“When I retired I decided I wanted to start something to help disabled people who wanted to get out and be outdoors,” Serlin said, explaining his father-in-law had been disabled while serving, but was still living with the desire to return to the woods and be able to hunt, a passion he had held since his pre-disabilitating injury had occurred.
“He asked me ‘I want to go hunting’ – and I had no clue how to get someone in a wheelchair out into the woods,” Serlin noted, adding that through a trial an error process, he and his father-in-law finally figured out what worked best for his situation.
It was that success that inspired Serlin to form Hope for Heroes foundation and his dream of being able to educate others who had been injured while in service oriented jobs on how to be able to get back into the activity of hunting or fishing.
He added that depending on each individual situation, the process can be vastly different.
Always remembering the Kentucky area from his days of serving at Fort Campbell, Serlin settled on a piece of property just across the Clinton Cumberland line, in the Bear Creek Community to build his hunting lodge and surrounding hunting land in an effort to get Hope for Heroes started.
“So I started this foundation called Hope for Heroes and we are based out of Burkesville. I spend about eight months out of the year down here at Bear Creek Hill¯ Serlin noted. “We do hunting and fishing trips for the disabled. Not only military, but also police, fire and EMS. My motto is that if someone answered the call and was injured in the line of duty, he deserves the gratitude of this great nation.”
Serlin pointed out that the foundation spends a vast amount of time educating their clients, in addition to the time of actually getting them out into the field or on a fishing trip.
“We educate them and try to empower them to be able to get back out into the great outdoors,”Serlin said. “We show them the equipment they can get and how to use that equipment, we raise funds to get the equipment needed, marry it up to an individual and then we train them,”
He added that if there was a family member who was a caregiver, they were also included in the education process in a way to help them to learn how the equipment could be used.
Serlin noted that by bringing in the service injured and taking them on a hunting or fishing trip here, and teaching them how to accomplish the task themselves, then he has achieved the goal of being able to get that individual back into the woods or on the water when they get home as well.
“We feel that the hunting and fishing industry is losing a good group, especially with the military guys coming back, because a lot of them are hunters or fishermen, and they are sitting at home not knowing what they can and can’t do,” Serlin said. “We just want to get them back into the outdoors.”
It quickly became clear during the introductions of the three former soldiers accompanying Serlin on last week’s Hope for Heroes Foundation hunt that the participants not only don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves, but through the success of the program’s activities, they can accept their limitations and handicaps, and even make light of their situation to an extent.
Accompanying Serlin on Wednesday’s dove hunt and other activities were Adam Peacock, a former soldier who served several combat tours overseas, but wasn’t injured in a battle related activity.
Peacock was responding to his unit at Fort Campbell that was being pushed out to serve overseas, and while driving to the base, a woman collided with his vehicle, resulting in his losing a leg and leaving him to spend the rest of his life walking on crutches or in a wheelchair.
“We call him ‘tripod’ Serlin said with a laugh, as Peacock joined in the good natured fun, raising his two crutches in the air from his seated position. “Our organization does not preclude guys who are not Purple Hearts – if you served and you were injured, we’re here to help you.”
Just prior to heading out to the field for Wednesday’s dove hunt. Serlin helped Peacock unload the newest piece of equipment that the foundation had made possible, his new field wheelchair, an electric vehicle that utilized two large rubber tracks much like a bulldozer, that allowed him to head across fields without having to worry about having stability issues.
Racks in the back of the unit held his gun as he clipped along at a normal walking speed across the rough terrain where the group hunt was to begin.
Perry Thorington was another wounded veteran on last week’s dove hunt.
A combat veteran who suffers from a loss of memory issues, Thorington also suffered an injury that resulted in the loss of one eye.
“We call him ‘Popeye’, but just realize that he’s not really winking at you,” Serlin explained with a chuckle, prompting Thorington to light heartedly explain – “I’ve got to blink.”
Thorington noted how the program does in fact empower the participants, relating it to a recent event hosted at Trooper Island Camp that allowed several Heroes to fish from a kayak.
“I had never been in a kayak before and several others hadn’t either, but we were able to go out there and fish from those kayaks,” he said, pointing out that the experience also opened up yet another venue that was possible for enjoying an afternoon of fishing.
William Winburn, the third Hero in the group, was not only a wounded Hero with the group who had suffered an injury that cost him his thumb, but had also been working alongside Serlin in recent months as a mentor with the foundation, helping to rehabilitate others during initial experiences in the field or on the water.
Winburn, who is from Standford, Kentucky, has to use a strap when shooting a shotgun around his wrist because his lack of a thumb keeps him from being able to get a full grip around the shotgun fore stock.
He relayed his story about his first post-injury hunt alongside Ernie Brown, Junior / aka The Turtleman and his sidekick, Neal, when he went turkey hunting and didn’t realize the gun would kick up with the force that it does when it was being fired.
Winburn spotted a turkey near the end of the hunt and took aim and fired when the gun flew up and hit him in the face.
“Broke my nose, split my forehead, but I got the turkey, Winburn said. “I spotted the turkey and stupid me, I though ‘I’ll get him’ – well, I got him alright – I ended up with two black eyes, a busted forehead and a broke nose, but that turkey is sitting in my living room right now, mounted.”
Serlin also explained that while being able to get Heroes back into a hunting or fishing scenario is the main goal of his foundation it might not necessarily be the most important aspect of his program.
“We stress that it’s not always all about the hunt or the harvest, it’s about getting these Heroes to understand that there are other people suffering in the same ways they are suffering – they may have something similar or perhaps they will realize ‘maybe my case isn’t so bad after all’ ” he said.
He also pointed out how important it was to get the Heroes he works with out into situations just like Wednesday’s hunt, where they are allowed to interact with others who hunt or fish on a regular basis.
“They just get to enjoy the camaraderie and then they realize that people like Steve (Peddicord) and other people in this country who may have not served or may have not been wounded or whatever, but they care about the sacrifices they have made,” Serlin concluded. “Our whole premise is to get the guys out and to build them back up – give them a piece of their life back.”
Peddicord, before pointing the group to the field for a pre-hunt “fun shooting” competition or sorts, took just a couple of moments to remind all of the hunters about the importance of remembering those serving currently in the military branches, and also brought that message close to home for everyone at Wednesday’s hunt.
Peddicord mentioned that two young men who have been involved with his annual dove shoot for several years, weren’t able to be with them today because they were also both serving in the armed forces – Travis Mims, who was now stationed in Virginia and was working with Special Operations with the Navy, and Steve’s son, Thomas Peddicord who is in Djibouti, a small country on the north eastern coast of Africa.
“Those two, Travis and Thomas, have killed a lot of birds here and we’ll be glad to get them back to shoot with us again,” Peddicord said.
Before the actual dove hunt commenced, Serlin and the three Heroes, returned to the battlefield so to speak, taking part in a “fun shoot” competition that was designed by Mark Maupin, a Clinton County veterinarian and Civil War history buff.
Commemorating the 150th anniversary of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid through this part of Kentucky, including Burkesville, Marrowbone, Columbia and Lebanon, Maupin divided the hunters into two groups – North and South – and led them through a timed shooting event in which the teams used shotguns to shoot through four-inch hardwood poles.
Although Serlin, Peacock, Thorington and Winburn were split up for the event – two on each team, in the end, thanks to Serlin’s program, they, and everyone involved in Wednesday’s annual dove hunt were all winners – joining forces to get “back into the great outdoors.”
(To learn more about Serlin’s Hope for Heroes Foundation, or to volunteer or donate to the effort, visit the Foundation website at: http://www.heroeshope.org/)
Hope for Heroes founder Mitch Serlin, second from right, is flanked by three Heroes who participated in last week’s dove hunt on the Steve Peddicord farm, as they listened to safety reminders that were given to the 20 hunt participants prior to getting started. Shown above are, left to right, William Winburn, Adam “Tripod” Peacock, Serlin, and Perry “Popeye” Thorington.