For Nick Transtrum, a pronghorn hunt earlier this fall was a victory in several ways.
While hunting on a ranch near Medicine Bow, Transtrum had a successful shot from more than 600 yards.
“That was pretty exciting,” he said. “It was a beautiful antelope.”
He also watched his friend and fellow military veteran Layne Morris fill his tag by harvesting his first antelope.
But even better, Transtrum said, was spending a few days during a glorious Wyoming fall with people who donated their time to support Transtrum and other veterans dealing with injuries and combat stress.
“It’s really a boost to have friends … who will reach out and wrap their arms around these veterans and encourage them to get back out and enjoy life and enjoy the freedoms that these guys fought for,” he said.
Transtrum, who is from Blackfoot, Idaho, participated in his pronghorn hunt through a Casper-based program called Hunting with Heroes.
The program, founded by Dan Currah and Colton Sasser, is in its fourth hunting season. Currah is a Vietnam veteran, while Sasser served in Afghanistan. Sasser suffered a series of severe injuries and lost a leg when an armored vehicle he was driving was hit by an explosive device in 2012.
Currah said he and Sasser decided to take a few disabled veterans hunting in Wyoming because Sasser encountered some bragging about Texas hunting during his rehabilitation in that state. Then, they discovered the Wyoming Game and Fish Department allows big game license holders to donate their tag to injured veterans, even non-residents, at no cost to the recipient.
“That’s where we started, getting licenses donated,” Currah said.
During their first year, they arranged hunts for a dozen disabled veterans. To qualify for a donated license, a veteran must have a 50-percent disability rating or greater.
The following year, they took more than 50 veterans hunting, and the year after, it was 137. This year, Currah said, they’ll take almost 180 veterans hunting at 22 locations around the state. They’ve facilitated hunts for veterans of all conflicts, from Afghanistan to Vietnam to World War II.
“It’s amazing to us,” he said.
First-time hunters are usually taken on pronghorn hunts, where the organization has a 100-percent success rate. Hunting with Heroes also receives deer and elk tags, and even received a couple for bighorn sheep.
Sometimes they take groups of a dozen or so hunters out at a time, while on other occasions, one or two veterans will go with a host. About half the veterans are Wyoming residents.
Initially, Currah and Sasser thought they were offering just a hunting experience, but Currah said he’s learned the program provides an opportunity for a greater effect. Between the camaraderie of spending time with fellow disabled veterans to time spent outdoors, support from volunteers and the hunt itself, Hunting with Heroes creates an environment that’s hard to replicate in daily life.
“It’s therapeutic as heck,” Currah said.
Transtrum and Morris were hosted in Laramie by Gary Scarpelli, who then took them to a ranch near Medicine Bow. One hunter used a landowner tag, while the other used a tag donated by Scarpelli’s wife.
Scarpelli said he decided to be part of the effort as a way to say thank you.
“We do it because we want to pay them back for everything they’ve done,” he said.
They went with Theron Ritzman, a friend of the Scarpelli family and a National Guard member stationed in Cheyenne. Transtrum discovered he and Ritzman both flew Black Hawk helicopters in combat. Transtrum injured his back during a hard landing in Iraq.
Their ranch host, a World War II veteran, also had flying experience.
“Three aviation guys in a truck out antelope hunting had plenty to talk about,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
After their successful hunt, Transtrum and Morris processed their pronghorn with Scarpelli, then did a little sightseeing before heading home.
“We had a blast,” he said.
Currah said the all-volunteer organization relies on support from landowners, hunters and hosts to provide the experience free of charge.
“There’s no other state doing what Wyoming’s doing,” he said.