Moffat County opens up hunting opportunities to veterans

Program has helped more than 70 former soldiers

U.S. Navy veterans Elmer Beights and Sydney Medina hold up their pronghorn antelope bucks harvested during their participation in the Veterans Hunt Program through the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System. The pair of former soldiers traveled to Northwest Colorado in August to hunt on the Bord Gulch Ranch property, with many other Moffat County individuals, groups and businesses pitching in to give the vets a good time as a means of recreation therapy.

U.S. Navy veterans Elmer Beights and Sydney Medina hold up their pronghorn antelope bucks harvested during their participation in the Veterans Hunt Program through the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System. The pair of former soldiers traveled to Northwest Colorado in August to hunt on the Bord Gulch Ranch property, with many other Moffat County individuals, groups and businesses pitching in to give the vets a good time as a means of recreation therapy.

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They’ve seen some of the toughest conditions the world has to offer in one of the most thankless jobs. They’ve made some significant sacrifices in their lives, and Northwest Colorado was glad to step up and do something to pay them back for their service.

The Veterans Hunt Program through the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System recently gave two former soldiers the chance to experience the splendor of Moffat County’s favorite pastime.

Former United States Navy personnel Elmer Beights and Sydney Medina, both of Grand Junction, went on a guided hunt during August’s antelope season on the Bord Gulch Ranch, a trip that allowed the program to honor a new array of vets with its first World War II-era and female participants, respectively.

“We have a lot of veterans who feel like they can’t go hunting or do anything because of a disability and this gives them the opportunity to go, and they find out there are still ways to participate, and it’s a positive program,” said Matt Lucas, recreation therapy supervisor for GJVHCS, noting the project has benefited more than 70 vets in the last 10 years as the only such program in the nation available directly through the Veterans Administration office, first starting in Craig in 2009.

Beights’ Navy career began in June 1943 in the South Pacific, and eventually moved to the Reserves, finishing his time in the military as a radarman, first class. At 90 years young, he felt his age might be a hindrance despite having hunted in the region many times before, though pronghorn was a new challenge.

“I’ve been around this world for a long time, and I’ve never had an experience like this, it was just beyond reality,” he said. “I don’t think I could hack an elk hunt, but this was just great.”

Beights noted Ray Owens’ expertise in guiding hunters on the property.

“It’s a pretty fair-sized ranch, and I never would have found my way out of there myself, but he knew where he was every minute of the time,” he laughed.

Hunting any animal was an altogether new activity for Medina, a third-generation soldier, part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom from 2004 to 2006.

“I kind of found the recreation department by accident, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity,” she said.

Medina’s firearms training had previously been limited to handguns, and she finished her hunter’s safety class and rifle training with little time to spare before the trip.

“It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m a mother of three kids, and they all want to go now too,” she said.

Medina’s time in the Navy was not an easy one — while serving, she was going through a divorce and had to choose between continuing with her career or keeping custody of her children, eventually receiving an honorable discharge.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has been a struggle for her since her release, and it was only recently that Medina sought out new ways to handle it by stepping out of her comfort zone. Bonding with someone from the Greatest Generation like Beights was an honor, she said.

“I felt really comfortable going with other veterans and so extremely grateful to find out that there were donors willing to do all this,” Medina said.

Lucas thanked the many people and businesses in the area who have pitched in throughout the years to make the hunt enjoyable, including the Bord Gulch Ranch, the Gilliland family, Safari Club International Yampa Valley Chapter, Big Cat Taxidermy and Mountain Man Taxidermy, among others who have contributed their time and effort.

“The Craig community has been great for this hunt program,” he said.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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