New state law allows transfer of big-game tags to disabled vets
PHOENIX – First exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War left Dale Lewis with heart problems. Then came a recent series of strokes that robbed him of the use of one arm and limited the mobility in his legs.
The prospect of returning to his lifelong passion of hunting appeared bleak, but Lewis said he knew he’d hunt again. And he did, bagging an antelope in mid-September while his son, Kelly, and a friend propped him up.
“I felt real good,” Lewis said. “I haven’t been out in a long time,”
The 69-year-old was able to experience the adrenaline of hunting once more with a big-game tag donated under a new state law created to help veterans disabled during their service.
His son, Kelly, said Lewis suffered a massive intake of Agent Orange as a Marine in Vietnam that caused many of his health issues today. Receiving a big-game tag through the organization Wounded Warriors Outdoors improved Lewis’ outlook during a difficult time, his son said.
“I would never in a hundred years thought this would happen, because he’s very disabled,” Kelly Lewis said. “I think the hunting helped a lot. There’s a lot of things he hears and wishes he could do; then we got to go because of the tag donation. It was like he was a little boy. I’ve never seen a more excited man in my life.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission proposed the change in legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, and approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the Legislature.
Nora Fascenelli, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the idea behind the law is that many of those drawn for big-game tags wind up not being able to use them.
“Rather than having it go to waste, they could transfer it,” she said.
To donate a tag, hunters can contact the two veterans organizations Game and Fish has approved so far – the other is American Hero Adventures – and fill out an affidavit stating that the transfer is voluntary.
To participate, a group must be nonprofit and help disabled veterans.
Wounded Warriors Outdoors, which takes disabled veterans out to hunt, has received seven donated tags so far, according to Eddy Corona, one of its leaders.
“It’s going to get crazy. This is just the beginning,” Corona said. “We’re trying to ramp up now to get ready for next year.”
A week before he was scheduled to go hunting, Lewis was admitted to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Prescott. But that didn’t stop him.
When doctors allowed him to go home to have dinner with family in Prescott, Lewis and his son went to a friend’s private lot and managed to harvest an antelope. With Lewis in his motorized wheelchair, his companions spotted the antelope and then helped him line up his shot.
“And I shot him. My heart is still fluttering,” he said.
Kelly Lewis said he and his father have been hunting together for decades, but his father would almost always let the children take down the animal.
“It meant more to him to see me successful than him being successful,” Kelly Lewis said. “Now, I got to give this to him.”