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Field to stream

The Home with Heroes mission is basic — honor veterans through good, old-fashioned outdoor adventure. They host a half-dozen events throughout the year, like tuna expeditions and a 5k Run and Gun, but their crown jewel is an annual weekend jamboree that takes place when chinook run and pheasants take to the crisp autumn air. The canyon half light and golden meadows are idyllic backdrops for bringing vets together, and we jumped at the chance to tag along on what may be the best client recon mission of all  time.

Unbound by age or military branch, when vets get together the weekend feels more like an extended family reunion. Everyone kind of knows everyone, even if they don’t. The Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle cavalcade that escorts the vets are family too — some served, some didn’t. It doesn’t matter. They ride because they care. It’s all incredibly humbling.

If spending a few hours shooting trap with a 92-year-old WWII kamikaze survivor in a tank chair is your idea of a good time — and trust us, it is a good time — then step right up. Heaps of respect to Art for showing us youngsters how to put a clay pigeon out of its misery. And how to drift a chair around a dirt  track.

Morning and afternoon hunts gave everyone a fair shake at filling their game pocket with a pheasant or two, given they were a decent  shot.

Vets received first fruits. Forming lines they walked the fields, taking queues from dogs on point and anticipating brightly-colored skyward birds. At first, the sharper reflexes of seasoned huntsman bestowed them favor, but it didn’t take long for newcomers’ senses to quicken, closing the distance between the haves and  have-nots.

Days were punctuated by the types of things that make you question whether living in town is the worst decision you’ve ever made. At one point our Jeep was enveloped by several hundred cattle as we traveled down a gravel road. We inched our way through the herd, all the while hoping we weren’t doing something that might unwittingly anger a steer, or worse yet, make us look like city slickers. These types of moments felt like cinema, but cowboy nonchalance made it clear that for them, this was just another day at the  office.

More than half of the ranch’s 3,200 acres of rolling hills are draped in waist-high grass, the perfect screen for wild fowl. Two days of swirling winds made for an even greater challenge, the birds preferring to scramble under the flaxen cover rather than take flight. Left to our own instincts it might have been a problem, but with four Llewellin Setters and a retriever, it was an unfettered  joy.

Working a field with well-bred, well-trained dogs is more than enough fun to turn steadfast dog-haters into dog-owners. Even as the excitement settled, we’ve found ourselves debating the perfect bird dog. For a hypo-allergenic all-arounder, our friend Gary Lewis suggested a Pudelpointer.  Thoughts?

The Klickitat River cuts a deep seam between the ranch and Mt Adams as it riffles south toward the Columbia River. Alternating between fish and fowl, early mornings offered several days of productive chinook angling and for those brave enough, afternoon  swims.

The end of the weekend drew near and we invited Malia, one of the Parliament littles who’d recently passed her field exam, to join us for our final hunt. Equal parts nerves and excitement, she carried her bantam-sized Weatherby with the care it deserved, slowly gaining confidence as each bird took to the sky. It didn’t take long before the sound of beating wings lead to her first shot — and her first pheasant. By the time we squeezed every last drop of legal light out of the evening, she had two  more.

As the sun set on three days of clay pigeons, poker nights and country music, we knew the real story wasn’t about hooks nor bullets, but of camaraderie. It’s an honor to work with good folks doing great things and we have a feeling 2016 is going to be a big year for Home with  Heroes.

Many, many thanks to our vets, those that joined us that those that didn’t, as well as everyone who made this event possible, including Home with Heroes leadership and volunteers, all of the sponsors including McNett and SOG knives, local hunting and fishing guides, the Chiles family, Wilsonville Toyota, Carl and his team at Canyon Market, Jim Thurber, “Gunny” R. Lee Ermey and the entire community of Klickitat. We can’t say enough about Boone Rodriguez, whose photography is only surpassed by his friendship and willingness to get up early for  adventure.

Know a vet who you’d like to honor with an unforgettable outdoor experience? Head on over to Home with Heroes and nominate them for next year’s  exploits.

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