Three wounded veterans got the chance of a lifetime after being awarded authorization to hunt oryx on White Sands Missile Range last year as part of a special drawing by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for injured military service members.
The effort, initially presented by Patrick Morrow to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the Game Commission, took five years in the making.
"Despite many obstacles the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish was able to make these hunts possible," said Gilbert Villegas, Wildlife Biologist/WSMR Hunt Administrator ECO, Inc. at WSMR. "We would like to acknowledge the Department and our servicemen for their service and sacrifices for our country."
Villegas said WSMR provided escort and logistical support to ensure the hunters and guests had a safe and quality hunt.
Two of the veterans came out to hunt Dec. 7, 2016. The third hunter will be coming later in January.
Robert Apodaca, from Rio Rancho, New Mexico, said he found out about the hunt through an email from the NMDGF and put in for the hunt via their website.
Apodaca, an Army veteran who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 on an 18-month deployment, was injured by an IED, tearing his shoulder, causing temporary paralysis on his left side with nerve damage on his shoulder and back. The accident also shattered his face, requiring three facial surgeries.
Apodaca said having the hunting experience was great. "Everything about it was great," he said.
Apodaca said he appreciated everything Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife of New Mexico, a nonprofit organization, did for him and all the help he got from Villegas.
"They did everything to make the hunt a lot smoother so that it didn't affect my injuries."
Apodaca said his father was able to accompany him. "I can't tell you how much it meant. It meant a lot, it was a stress reliever."
Apodaca said he appreciated that he didn't have to do a lot of walking. He said these hunts are very important for veterans. "I can't stress enough how important they are."
Apodaca said he hopes the program continues so that vets can benefit from the stress relief and wherever they are in their life it gives them a chance to get away.
Apodaca said Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife of New Mexico also mounted the oryx for him and processed the meat for free.
"They took care of everything. I wouldn't have been able to afford having it mounted," he said.
Apodaca, who is married and has four children, said an event like this is important especially since he is on a set income and physically limited.
Tiger Espinoza, vice president and board member with Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife of New Mexico, said the organization sponsored the veterans hunt and paid for expenses to include licensing fees, gas, hotel, snacks and offered to pay for meat processing fees and to mount the oryx.
Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife of New Mexico is a nonprofit organization that does a lot of habitat restoration type of work and wildlife conservation work.
Espinoza said a big part of what they do is help New Mexico veterans and youth, to include 4H groups and shooting sports.
He said all the money raised by the organization stays in New Mexico. Over the past seven to eight years they've taken over 40 veterans to hunts in New Mexico.
Espinosa said he enjoys helping out veterans. He said his grandfather was a World War II veteran and he respects the military.
"We would not be here in the U.S. today with the freedoms we have if it wasn't for our veterans."
"We have the means to be able to raise the money to show our appreciation to the veterans for the services they sacrificed for each and every one of us," he said. "This is our way of showing our appreciation to them to help them go on a hunting adventure and have an experience they will never forget."
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish offers these special oryx hunts for injured servicemen and women.
For more information visit http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/special-oryx-hunts-available-injured-servicemen-women/.
To qualify applicants must be active-duty or veterans of the U.S. military and must have a disability rating of 50 percent or greater in accordance with U.S. Veteran's Administration guidelines for receiving disabled veteran benefits. Applicants (except NMDGF Disabled Veteran card holders) are required to provide proof of eligibility prior to the application deadline.
The drawing is open to resident and non-resident eligible applicants who do not hold a current-year oryx license. Applications will be accepted only through the department's online license system by clicking Injured Military Oryx Hunts in the main menu. Successful applicants will be notified by the department and must buy the appropriate license(s) and pay White Sands Missile Range's access fee.