HUNTINGTON – Cecil Stroud grew up hunting deer. But for the last 10 years, he couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. War will do that to you, he’d say.
With encouragement from his wife and a little help from new friends with the Huntington County Veterans Services, Stroud figured it was finally time to pick up a weapon again and head to the deer woods.
Stroud, a Muncie resident, joined 10 fellow disabled veterans for a special deer hunt Nov. 23, hosted by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Huntington County Veterans at the Kil-So-Quah State Recreation Area outside Huntington.
It was the first time Stroud chased whitetail deer since before he left for Iraq in 2004.
“I grew up hunting, I hunted every year,” Stroud said. “When I came home (from Iraq) in 2005, I didn’t want to pick up a rifle up, a shotgun up, anything. War ain’t no ... joke.”
Wearing a chemical suit in desert camouflage with a blaze orange vest, Stroud thought of his time in Iraq and the rocket that sent him home in 2005.
“I survived a rocket attack,” He said. “I survived the impact. I was about 50 meters away from a 122-millimeter rocket that went off. I wound up getting medevaced three days after it happened.
“I popped up positive bigger than life for PTSD. They looked at me like, and this was 11 months over there, they were like, ‘Sergeant, your war is done.’ I’m like, (no), I’ve got people back there I’ve got to get through the breakdown and (re-mobilization). They said no, your war’s done.”
After receiving initial treatment in Germany, Stroud shipped back to the U.S. and got treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2005. He retired from the Army in 2007. While he believes his country could do more in the way of treatment for its veterans, Stroud said he now finds treatment and relaxation participating in outdoor pursuits.
John Minton lives in Huntington County and served in the Army as an artilleryman from 1969 to 1971. He harvested a buck a few days before, but with a doe tag still in his pocket, he jumped at the chance to participate in the special hunt in its third year.
“I was hoping, but you never know,” Minton said. “You’ve just got to enjoy it.
“There are about 12 hunters every year. Last year, I don’t think anybody seen a deer. The first year, I think there were three or four killed. In fact, I haven’t seen a deer in the three hunts yet.”
Not seeing any deer doesn’t bother Minton so much. He understands its public hunting land and he’s got other land to hunt. The real benefit to him is helping to keep the veterans hunt going for those guys who would struggle otherwise to get in the woods.
“It’s a good deal,” Minton said. “If there is somebody more handicapped than me, I’ll let them go hunt. For some of those guys, something like (going out hunting) would be almost impossible to do on their own.”
While the area is public hunting ground, Jeff Reed tried to tip the odds in the veterans’ favor. As property manager of J.E. Roush Lake, he got permission to allow the veterans to hunt with firearms in the Kil-So-Quah section, which is normally reserved for archers only.
“We use that area to hunt, but we’ve got to get special permission because it’s a bow-only area,” Reed said. “We close that off the day before the opening of the firearms season to hunting. So we put them over there in hopes that they can harvest a deer or two.”
Reed was instrumental in bringing the special hunt to Huntington County. The DNR held a disabled veterans special hunt in southern Indiana years ago. When he learned the department was looking for another place to start one, Reed volunteered.
Reed and his fellow Roush Lake co-workers scouted the area for deer signs and set two-man ground blinds in multiple locations in the week leading up to the special hunt.
While the harvest numbers haven’t been where they want, things are starting to look up. Reed said Brandon Long, a veteran from Fort Wayne, had a buck within gun range. Unfortunately for Long, he chose to bow hunt and did not get a shot.
For Stroud, no amount of fidgeting, body English or sheer will that he could conjure brought a deer in front of his blind. But it didn’t matter.
His hunt was about climbing back on the horse.