On Monday, a group of 24 disabled veterans will be celebrating the annual holiday in their honor in an especially unique way.
Thanks to a partnership between a the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and a number of local sponsors, veterans will get the chance to participate in a "Wheelin' Sportsmen's" Veterans Day pheasant hunt.
According to Kristen Giger, project biologist for the federation's "Beanfields" project being done in conjunction with the ANF, "the 'Wheelin Sportsmen's' program helps those with disabilities get out and enjoy the great outdoors."
Hunters will meet at the Starbrick fire hall. Beginning at 9 a.m., groups of eight hunters at a time will be driven to the "Beanfields" project area to participate in a hour-and-a-half hunt. Three groups in total will be taken out to hunt, with a tentative return time for the final group of 4 p.m.
When the veterans are not hunting, master wood carver Robbie Anderson will be at the fire hall teaching carving.
A number of prizes will be raffled as well.
According to ANF spokesperson Kathy Mohney, the "Beanfields", near Irvine, "is a 120-acre grasslands restoration project."
The project is being undertaken through a stewardship agreement between the ANF, the PGC and the NWTF in which the federation is utilizing a 2010, 183-acre black cherry harvest to implement approximately $1.3 million worth of habitat work.
"Cooperation from all three parties makes restoration projects like this a success," Mohney said. "Given today's economy and the budget cuts that everyone is experiencing, partnerships are more crucial now than ever before if we are to maintain quality wildlife habitat on public lands here and elsewhere."
The NWTF is involved in similar agreements with national forests across the country.
"We came up with this idea some time ago," Giger said. "We at the NWTF felt that this area offered a great opportunity to hold a 'Wheelin' event on one of our habitat enhancement sites. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been instrumental in much of our restoration work. Additionally, some of those men volunteered their time to help out with this event. The idea is to showcase the partnerships and the work while saluting the heroes who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms, including the ability for us to hunt and fish."
According to Giger and Mohney, the NWTF, PGC and ANF aren't the only partners involved in making the hunt a reality.
Pheasants Forever is supplying dogs and handlers for the day. Ed Burris, Warren County director of Veterans Affairs, and the Erie Vets Center helped find participants. Mike Bleech also helped locate interested veterans and Jones Chevrolet is providing transportation between the fire hall and the "Beanfields".
"Several veterans' organizations and local businesses stepped up to sponsor this event," Giger said.
Mohney agreed, saying, "Without financial backing from the community, an event like this could not take place."
"The mission statement of the NWTF is, 'The conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of our hunting heritage.' This event really embodies that whole concept," Giger said. "I could not think of a better way to spend Veterans Day than to be surrounded by the true American heroes enjoying God's country."
"It's our way of showcasing the habitat work we have completed," Mohney said, "while saying a very sincere and heartfelt thank you to the veterans who have sacrificed so much to defend our rights to hunt and fish."