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Jimmy V’s Pronghorn

“Angie,” I said, “I need a favor. I have a good buddy who did a couple of combat tours in Vietnam who is having some issues. He’s a great guy with a huge heart, but the last year has been really tough on him. He loves to bowhunt and is a really good shooter. Can you squeeze us in for a pronghorn hunt this August?”

Angie Denny didn’t hesitate. “Of course, we can,” she said. “Let me get back to you with some dates.”

I’ve known Angie and Scott Denny for nearly 20 years and have hunted with them several times. They bought Wyoming’s Table Mountain Outfitters (www.tablemountainoutfitters.com) back in 1996 when it was a lot like them – young and struggling. Just before that, the pair met a Montana outfitter on a skiing trip.

When Scott found out that you could maybe make a living as a hunting guide, he was, as Angie said, “Beside himself.” The pair owned a small contracting business in Washington state, where Angie was a marketing coordinator for a local health district. It was always Scott’s dream to be able to hunt for a living, so he went to guide school and got a job with Table Mountain Outfitters shortly thereafter.

“Scott came home and said, ‘We need to buy this business!’,” Angie remembered. “So, we decided, what do we have to lose? We moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1999 while I was pregnant with our first child, our daughter KinleeJo; our son, Keedin, came along in 2000. We’ve never looked back.”

Today TMO successfully guides somewhere around 100 archers annually for black bears and cougar behind hounds in Idaho; and cougar, pronghorn, mule deer and elk in Wyoming, as well as many, many more firearms hunters. They lease over 200,000 acres of private land in Wyoming and hunt nearly 1.2 million public land acres in Idaho, though they hunt some Wyoming public and Idaho private ground as well.

They’ll tell you that, if your goal is a top-end SCI record book animal, they’re not the outfitter for you. But if your goal is a great hunting trip with excellent guides, good food and an inordinately high success rate on quality animals, that’s what they do. Their 2019 archery pronghorn hunt is a prime example. They had 69 clients, and 68 killed bucks with their bows. The one that didn’t take a buck home missed. One lady in my camp missed five shots at bucks before finally connecting. In three days!

My Friend Jim

I first met Jim Velasquez back in the 1980s, when I was the editor of a national bowhunting magazine and he owned Sagittarius Quivers, which he and a partner bought in 1980. He had that company for nearly 25 years, including when he went to work for what was then a hot new archery company, Browning Archery, in 1993.

I had moved to Alaska by then and part of my freelance gig was being part of the Browning Archery Pro Staff. That’s when Jim and I really became close. He left Browning in 1997 and his wife Molly told him he should open his own archery shop. So, he did, in La Mesa, CA, selling it a year later, when he went to work for another new up-and-coming bow company, BowTech, for which I was then also a pro staffer. He worked for them until his wife passed away unexpectedly.

That was the start of some struggling times for Jim. Fortunately, a young man he’d known since he was a kid, Bruce Marshall, opened his own archery pro shop, The Bow ‘N’ Arrow Shop, in Lakeside, California and he asked Jim to come work for him. He’s been there ever since.

Somewhere along the way Jim, a very humble man, told me about his military service. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1967, leaving in 1971. He served two combat tours in Vietnam as an aerial gunner, primarily on the old AC-130, which for those of you too young to remember, was a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground attack variant of the legendary C-130 Hercules transport airplane and a Godsend to ground pounders through Southeast Asia. During his second tour Jim also spent 40 days on assignment to Air America, the CIA’s secret little operation, where his aircraft was shot down and he was severely wounded, almost losing one leg.

Over the years Jim has dedicated a lot of his time and energies to helping other veterans. The Bow ‘N’ Arrow Shop is located close to both Coronado Beach, where NSWG-3, or SEAL Team 3, is based, as well as Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

“One thing we do,” he told me on our pronghorn hunt, “is provide discount sales to both active-duty military and veterans, help them set up and shoot their bows right, etc. We’re close to the SEAL team base, and we get tons of the team members in that hunt and shoot. We’ve built a camaraderie with both the teams and the Marines from Camp Pendleton.”

Jim has also taken a couple of local veterans out hunting on nearby public lands, including those who have some PTSD issues. “It’s just a way to give back,” he said. The truth is, the word is out among the local military establishment that if you want to take up archery and bowhunting, go see Jim Velasquez.

The Call

Like a lot of veterans, Jim doesn’t share his combat experiences with a lot of people. But over the years, we’ve talked about it a lot, and become very close friends. So, when he called me up last year and said, “Bob, I’m having some real problems. Can we talk?” I was worried. His personal life was not going well, the physical aches and pains were back – and so were some of the dreams. It got to the point where I was worried he might go to that dark place from which many veterans never come back and so we talked a couple of times a week for a couple of months.

During all this time I knew what needed to be done. Jim has always been a giver, the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it and never ask anything in return. I’d watched him take care of the outdoor media and manufacturers for decades, never asking anything from them. That’s when I called Angie and arranged the one thing I knew would help pick up Jimmy’s spirits – a pronghorn hunt.

Away We Go!

Jimmy drove up from California, picking me up at the Denver airport, and we made the five-hour drive north to the Denny’s pronghorn camp just outside Douglas, Wyoming. I was shooting a new PSE Evoke 35 compound bow and Jim had his favorite recurve, a Stalker Stick Bow with 48 lbs. draw weight at 27 ½ inches, Victory CarbonTrad arrows and Cutthroat broadhead. I don’t know how he can shoot his recurve as well as he does; I can’t hit the broadside of a barn at 10 yards with one. But when we practiced on the Denny’s 3D range prior to hunting I saw Jimmy consistently plunk the kill zone at 35 yards.

“The key is, you have to shoot the right draw weight and not too much, like a lot of novices do,” he told me. “Also, it is a lot more difficult to really get a recurve tuned perfectly to your arrows and broadhead and it takes a lot more practice than when using a compound bow. I first shot traditional gear as a kid in Boy Scouts, but after the military I shot compounds because that’s what you had to do as part of the industry. Then, about 10 years ago, I started shooting traditional bows again and just really love it.”


So, recurve in hand, the Denny’s son, Keedin, took Jim to a remote waterhole, where an elevated stand had been placed up in an old windmill. While that was going on, Scott, Angie and I went off on a spot and stalk adventure that resulted in my taking a nice buck about noon on day one.

Jimmy saw some game but got no shots. So, the next morning it was right back to the windmill, which doesn’t look like much at first glance, but is one of those little oasis honey holes that always seems to pay off. Sure enough, about 11 a.m., here came a buck and doe to get a drink. At 27 yards the buck gave Jim a broadside look, and he put his broadhead through both its lungs.

Epilogue

All that afternoon and the next day, Jim and I boned out pronghorn bucks. Some of the other hunters didn’t want their meat, but Jimmy did and he left with a couple extra for his freezer. Then we made the drive back to Denver, where he dropped me off for my flight, then headed back to SoCal.

A couple of weeks later I got a call. “Bob,” he said, “I just want to tell you that trip was the best medicine I could have ever had. All my friends tell me, Jim, since you went hunting, you’re back to being your old self. You’re smiling, you’re laughing again, you’re not dark. It’s just what I needed.”

Scott and Angie Denny have long been big supporters of our veterans, and without them this hunt would not have been possible. They understand that many of our veterans have “moments” where they relive the dark times that have produced challenges that altered the trajectory of their lives in ways only God knows.

Jim and I still talk once a week, but now it’s about the future, not the past. And about how, for folks like us, there’s no better medicine than going hunting, sharing camp with family and friends and acknowledging that, in America, thanks to our veterans – some who not only served, but gave all — we are able to head afield and watch the sun rise, blessed to be free men and live our lives as we choose.

SCI Veteran’s Committee

Did you know that Safari Club International has always been a big supporter of military veterans? SCI’s Veteran’s Committee is a is a group of dedicated SCI volunteers who devote their time and expertise to helping honor and support veterans of all generations.

The committee’s flagship event is the SCIF Breakfast Honoring Veterans at the annual convention, where members can purchase a ticket and all veterans eat for free. The committee holds conference calls and meetings throughout the year to plan the breakfast, and they work with longtime donors who support the Veterans Program to donate items for the breakfast auction.

The funds raised are earmarked exclusively for the Veterans Program to honor those who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom.  A cornerstone of this vital program is to provide disabled veterans with assistance in getting outdoors and enjoying recreation, comradery and often a bountiful harvest of fresh game and fish. In addition, many individual SCI chapters offer support for veterans, including hunting opportunities.

“We don’t interact with the individual chapters’ veteran efforts but have them submit their activities/program results and they are recognized at the breakfast,” said Veterans Committee Chairman Gary Gearheart. “We don’t have the funds to directly sponsor any activities at the chapter level. However, we do offer a donated hunt to a wounded warrior submitted by the chapters.  The winner is selected by a subcommittee from those nominated. We also offer donated hunts/fishing trips that are auctioned off during the breakfast.  By convention rules we can offer three live auction items and three raffle items.”

Want to get involved? More information can be found at www.ShowSCI.org.–Bob Robb

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