Veteran Hunters has been awarded a $50,000 grant through the province's COVID-19 Community Funding program that will allow them to continue to provide opportunities for veterans and first responders suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"That's a huge affirmation of what we're doing as an organization and that we're going in the right direction," says founder Todd Hisey.
"We've been able to help a lot of veterans and first responders. In the last couple of years, we've put over 130 guys through hunts and other activities through the organization, not just in Alberta, but across the country."
While the hunts aren't exclusively for Alberta veterans, it's here the money stays.
"All the dollars are going to stay here in Alberta, so not only are we going to be helping veterans, but we're also going to help Alberta's economy by flowing the money back into the economy and help everyday Albertans."
He says last year was particularly challenging for outfitters, some of whom rely heavily upon guiding foreign hunters.
Hisey says 100 per cent of last year's participants were able to view big game in their natural habitat, and that was a win in itself.
"Whether they're successful in harvesting an animal is not really the point. It's the experience of getting out there and connecting with other veterans and first responders, guys who have been where you are in your PTSD journey."
While other veterans also volunteered to lead hunts last season, Hisey personally lead elk bow hunting trips for 25 straight days last September. He admits he was worn out by the end of it, but it was worth it.
"I know better, but that's the core army guy in me. We don't quit, we keep pushing forward. Sometimes it's hard to say no when you're running an organization that helps other guys, and I personally benefit my PTSD by serving and helping former soldiers."
He salutes Cochrane area ranchers and landowners who have allowed them access to land.
"We've had some great partnerships with some of the local ranchers and other landowners. It's been warm and welcoming in the Cochrane area, and it's fantastic to be able to bring the guys here to the Cochrane area and be able to put them on big game.
"On some of these properties that we have access to, in a matter of a few hours, you'll see everything from deer, to large elk herds, to moose moving through. So it's really fascinating, especially when we have the opportunity to bring guys here from Ontario and give them a chance to see an elk for the first time. That's incredible."
He appreciates the ongoing interest of local Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.
"It's great. It's a relationship that started a couple of years ago at the Grand Valley Safari Club dinner. To continue that dialogue each year, and have the support is just awesome, especially in this last year."
Fundraising has been challenging through the pandemic. Their fundraising dinners haven't been possible, and some sponsors are having a tough go. Still, they do continue to enjoy corporate sponsorship from Vortex and Bass Pro Shops Cabela's Outdoor Fund.
Guthrie says he first met Hisey when he was formulating the idea of creating Veteran Hunters. He's followed their work since.
"To be able to meet Todd and be able to help in some small way to make this move forward just makes me feel great," says Guthrie.
He salutes Hisey and the grassroots organization.
"Each one, when they get together to go out on these hunts, they know what each other has gone through in the field and overseas. That camaraderie brings them together. It's a tight-knit group that they have, and they can bond in doing this."
"Todd stated himself this is something that helps him with his PTSD by being out there and supporting others. I think it's absolutely amazing that he's able to do that. He recognizes what it means to these other veterans."
"It's very exciting for Alberta to step forward to recognize this young organization, and, hopefully, this is the beginning of many more in years to come."
You can find out more about Veteran Hunters here.