Hunting For Healing

Katy Steinmetz describes an outing for returning veterans:

Then they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a long plank, loaded their guns, and waited in silence for the snow geese to appear. Though seven men sat in the blind on that February morning, the hunting trip was really for just three of them: combat-wounded veterans invited by Freedom Hunters, one of dozens of non-profit groups across the U.S. who believe that hunting can be therapeutic for returning troops. …

The three men say that hunting reminds them of the camaraderie and ritual that defined their time in the service. On the ground in Maryland, they became a makeshift platoon. “You’re replicating the training, the kind of thing that you love to do,” Corbett says, “almost like that guard duty that every sailor and soldier and Marine goes through.” Lamke calls the long stretches of quiet in the goose blind “shared solitude” because he knows he’s with other veterans who feel like they’re at a listening post again. “Even if we never say a word to each other,” Lamke says, “we’re always looking out for each other.”

But it’s not without its dangers:

Military psychiatric experts say that mental health issues make hunting a dangerous hobby for some veterans. “Watching [an animal] die may trigger a lot of intense emotions and impulses,” says Nash. “And having a loaded gun in your hand when you’re feeling intense emotions is probably not a good thing.” Ritchie warns that the smell of gunpowder or ring of shots might trigger flashbacks and that veterans who have had suicidal or homicidal thoughts shouldn’t be going afield. Freedom Hunters tries to screen for potential problems by asking veterans basic questions about hunting experience and combat injuries. But they do not outright ask if a potential hunter has suicidal tendencies or known flashback triggers.