Chance to hunt in rural Orleans provides respite for wounded veterans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 November 2015 at 12:00 am

The Warrior House in West Shelby on Salt Works Road hosted six veterans from Thursday through Sunday for hunting and fellowship. These three include, from left: Albert Gonzalez from Theresa, near Fort Drum in northern New York; Shannon Girard from Lafayette, La.; and Shane Weyant from Holidaysburg, Pa.

SHELBY – Shannon Girard, 40, says he “slept like a baby” over the weekend on a hunting retreat for wounded veterans.

That is a big deal for Girard and the other veterans, who may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and constant physical pain.

Girard was deployed as a medic to Iraq in 2004-05. The Lafayette, Louisiana resident said the hunting getaway is a perfect way for veterans to calm their nerves and bodies, while connecting with others in the military.

“The best therapy is bringing people together,” Girard said on Saturday after a morning of bow-hunting.

He arrived on Thursday to the Warrior House on Salt Works Road in West Shelby. The house is owned by Peter Zeliff Jr. He has opened the house and his property for veterans to go hunting. Zeliff has assembled a team of volunteers to provide the veterans with food, and also to serve as guides while they pursue geese, pheasants and deer.

“You can decompress when you come out here and be in nature and see the beautiful sunrises and sunsets,” Girard said.

He was on the first hunting trip through the Warrior House in September, when 13 soldiers came together to hunt, with five referred through Chappy’s Outdoors and eight from Operation Injured Soldier. Girard heard about the Warrior House through Chappy’s Outdoors.

Provided photo – Brian Crane of Lancaster holds a goose he shot while hunting on Saturday morning.

Girard was flown up from Louisiana, with his expenses all covered. Girard said being in rural West Shelby was a stark contrast from what he expected when he boarded the plane to head to New York.

“Just being here it’s a whole different world,” he said. “Everyone thinks New York is a city, but there is a countryside. It’s beautiful.”

Brian Crane, 35, of Lancaster didn’t have to go to far to get to the Warrior House. Crane arrived to the site on Thursday night with his father, Rodney Crane of Conesus in Livingston County.

The younger Crane has a lower-back injury from his military service. He enjoys hunting, especially with his father. The two say it is increasingly difficult to find land to hunt as fields are posted or bought for development.

On Saturday morning, Crane shot his first goose.

“It gets you away from the stresses of life,” he said.

Crane heard about the Warrior House through Ed Spence. They were in the same unit together. Spence, 45, of the Town of Alabama in Genesee County was injured while training in 2007. He suffered four herniated discs in his back.

Ed Spence of Genesee County has become a leader with Operation Injured Soldier.

He was in bed and a wheelchair after the accident. An invitation to go fishing and then hunting in Michigan helped get him out of a funk.

“It gave me my life back,” Spence said.

He used to work full-time as a firefighter in paramedic for the City of Batavia. He is now the volunteer director for Operation Injured Soldier in the Northeast Region.

He has the connections to wounded veterans and will refer them to the Warrior House. Spence said there are so many wounded veterans that the Warrior House could be busy every weekend. He knows of only one other place like the Warrior House in the country: Brave Heart Estates in Michigan. The sites welcome veterans to come hunt.

Tim Wolcott of Albion volunteered as a guide for the hunters this past weekend. Wolcott, 48, served in the Army from 1987 to 1991. He enjoyed meeting the veterans at the Warrior House, staying up late telling stories and getting up at 4 a.m.

“We’ve had a lot of laughs,” Wolcott said. “It’s about making new friends. It’s not about killing animals. It’s about bringing people together.”

Photo courtesy of Thom Jennings – Tim Wolcott serves as a hunting guide for veterans through the Warrior House.

Wolcott said the Warrior House “will definitely grow.” He said there are plans for a rifle range and hunting trips for kids who lost a parent to war.

“These are kids who don’t have someone to take them hunting,” Wolcott said.

Sue Zeliff said she her husband Pete Jr. are thankful for the support in developing the Warrior House. She was busy Saturday preparing lunch and serving the veterans their meals.

“We’re very fortunate we can give back to the people who have given so much,” she said.