In the early morning hours Monday, Barry Coulter donned camouflage for the first time in four years.
The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve veteran spent most of his 75 years hunting, and he continued heading into the woods to call turkey even after a staph infection took his left leg six years ago.
But then the antibiotic-resistant infection claimed his right leg and left him in a wheelchair, keeping him out of the brush and away from the stillness of the forest.
Coulter was one of 25 wounded veterans selected for a two-day deer hunt at the Enterprise South Nature Park this week. Hunters are scheduled to spend this morning and early evening culling the overpopulated deer at the Hamilton County site.
He spotted a six-point buck within shooting distance but couldn't get a good angle before the animal scooted away.
After that a few smaller deer emerged from the kudzu, but they weren't big enough for him to shoot.
A muzzle-load hunter by choice, he took a shotgun into the forest for the first time ever on a deer hunt. Coulter didn't bag a deer Monday but had plans to be back out early this morning for another chance, he said.
Ben Layton, big game biologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said talk of reserving one of the two annual hunts at the recreation area for veterans began in March.
Once resources agency officials approved the hunt and got the go-ahead from the Hamilton County Commission, the Chattanooga area chapter of Safari Club International co-sponsored the event by finding local veterans to fill out the roster of soldiers from the U.S. Army at Fort Campbell, Ky., who were invited by TWRA for the hunt.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Taylor, a wounded veteran himself, works with the fort's Healing Outside of a Hospital program that works to get recovering soldiers back to activities they performed before their injuries.
Taylor, who has an abdominal injury that weakens his core strength, hunts with a crossbow that has a hand crank, which pulls the bowstring back.
The crank can be operated with a handheld drill so amputees can notch an arrow and fire with the squeeze of a trigger.
Local Safari Club spokesman Bill Swann said the organization saw setting up the hunt for veterans as a small chance to show its gratitude.
"We can't begin to thank them for what they've done for us," he said.
Local Tennessee Army National Guard veteran Chuck Waddell served seven years, including an Iraq deployment in which he broke his leg weeks before he was scheduled to head home.
Waddell hit a deer with his muzzle loader just before the lunch break and was headed back out to track the animal after finishing a meal of venison, chicken and mashed potatoes.
The 43-year-old Signal Mountain resident said the opportunity for veterans meant a lot to him.
"For the Guard soldiers it just seems like once you get out, things just sort of disappear," he said. "It's nice to know you're appreciated."
Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...