Vets bond over unique big-game hunting opportunity

by nathan oster

Among the veterans who are gathering this week for the third deer hunt coordinated by the nonprofit Banded Brigade Outdoors is Mark Kuhl. A veteran of the Persian Gulf War, Kuhl is visiting Greybull for the third time.

While he hunted the first year, the last two times he’s come in a support role, just to be around other veterans.

“It’s not about the hunt,” he said Monday, as hunters were returning from the field for dinner at the Scott Good residence on Greybull River Road. “It’s about the guys, getting back into other veterans and their lives.

“A lot of them come back and find themselves out of place, with all civilians and where nobody understands black humor. It’s like going 100 miles and hour with your hair on fire, to sitting at a desk behind a computer. It’s hard. So this is a good release for these guys.”

Kuhl, 46, appeared in a photograph that ran in the Greybull Standard in the fall of 2014, during the first Banded Brigade Outdoors hunt. One of the veterans he met that year is now a “really cool success story,” Kuhl said.

This veteran had shut people out and simply wanted to be by himself. “He’d let himself go and didn’t care,” said Kuhl. “Frankly, I don’t know how his wife got him to come here, but it turned out to be the best thing he ever did.”

Kuhl became emotional as he recounted how this veteran’s wife called him, while he was en route back to Kallispel, Mont., and shared how her husband’s life had been change by his time spent with other veterans.

“He’s turned it around now and moved from where he was, to getting of his life. He’s the most easy-to-understand success story. But he truly went from thinking he’s going to commit suicide to kicking tail in life.”

The first BBO hunt brought just four veterans to the area. That was in 2014.

The next year, there were 13.

No hunt was held last year, but BBO is back this year with a group of six hunters. Three are from Texas, while the others are from Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

All of them got buck and doe tags, free of charge, from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and are hunting private land during the day with help from local guides and headquartering at night at the “Good Compound.”

As of Monday, they were about halfway to filling their tags, with three bucks and two does hanging in a cooler in the Greybull area.

One of the hunters is Darin Larsen, of Gresham, Ore. For 24 years, he was active duty in the Army. He served in Iraq, and at 52, he’s “the senior guy” in this year’s group. Now he teaches junior ROTC in Oregon.

“It’s been awesome so far,” he said. “I’ve done lots of things in my life, but this is really therapeutic, being around guys who walked the same dirt and did some of the same things I did. When everybody met up for the first time, there was some feeling each other out. But it didn’t take long. That first night, we were cutting it up pretty good in here.”

It’s that camaraderie with the guys that he misses the most about being in the service.

Kuhl agreed.

“The bigger picture of this whole thing is right back here, sitting around at 1 in the morning jabbing each other and picking on each other. Stupid stuff we did in the military. This is where all the connecting occurs. Guys start talking stupid stories, but then the serious stories start coming out and guys get things off their chests. It’s a really good release.”


Banded Brigade Outdoors

Lance Efird, with Banded Brigade Outdoors, has also been a part of every Greybull hunt.

He recalls an initial reluctance on his part when BBO was contacted by Joe Stephens, of Bellingham, Wash, about a deer hunt he was considering in Greybull, Wyo. “We always approach those things very guardedly,” said Efird. “We always want to make sure our events are done with the right heart, and the right mindset.

“We aren’t a very public organization, we don’t like the ‘Look at us and what we’re doing’ thing. That’s not why we do what we do. We do it for the vets and with any type of public involvement or media presence, we always clear it with our vets before we OK it.”

Bottom line is, the first year went very well, and set the stage for the last two hunts. In fact, a film crew was here in the fall of 2015, filing footage for an episode of Grateful Nation that aired in the summer of 2016.

BBO puts on six or seven different events a year — there are waterfowl hunts along the Texas coast and in Oklahoma, boar hunts in California, and deer hunts in Texas. But this is the only event in Wyoming.

To get a license donated by the state, hunters must have a disability of more than 50 percent.

But BBO doesn’t make that a requirement of their hunts. “We are open to anyone who is currently serving or who has served in the past,” said Efird. “They don’t have to be disabled, and we’ve had Vietnam and Korean vets attend events with Iraqi and Afghanistan vets.”

Like Kuhl and Larsen, Efird believes in the cause, saying he’s seen “lifelong friendship formed at our events” and that they are successful because BBO treats the veterans like they would “a buddy at hunting camp.

All three of the men expressed appreciation for the community’s outpouring of support — from the landowners who let them hunt to the guides who take them out, and from those who donate money to the restaurants and private individuals that bring them food every night.

Efird said vets don’t incur a single expense during the week — everything is paid for either by BBO or the community.

“We still can’t get over it,” said Efird. “The town of Greybull has adopted BBO like no other. The vets haven’t had to purchase food for any of the meals. There’ve been full meals prepped and delivered to the lodge, or individuals have gone and purchased groceries and drinks and had them waiting for us when we got here. It’s unbelievable.”

He also credited Good, who opens up his house to the veterans.

Efird, who lives an hour north of Houston, said BBO plans to continue coming to Greybull “as long as the town will have us.” This particular group of hunters will hunt through Friday and start heading for home on Saturday.