Blackbuck hunt for a hero

Kevin Holamon | Brownwood Bulletin kevin.holamon@brownwoodbulletin.com
Thomas Henderson took this blackbuck antelope on his Hunt for Heroes with the Heart of Texas Chapter Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, sponsored by the J.W. Wildlife Co.

24 year old Thomas Henderson, of Kaufman, has been an outdoorsman practically all of his life. Hunting, fishing, and camping are definitely nothing new to him, nor to Brandy, his new fiancée. 

“The first time I went hunting was a couple of weeks after potty training,” Henderson said.

He’d even hunted exotics before, including axis and fallow deer. But, he never hunted blackbuck antelope. Now, thanks to the Heart of Texas Chapter of the Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, Hunt for Heroes, and J.W. Wildlife Co., he can add that to his list of trophies.

Thomas’s dad was on a camping trip in Brown County, last summer, and met Travis Allen, one of the local Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens. That meeting ultimately led to an introduction to Larry Hart, Youth and Disabled Hunters Director of the Brownwood BADF. After all of the arrangements were confirmed, Thomas’s dad gave him the news.

Originally, the plan was for Thomas's dad to accompany his son on the hunt. But, between the planning and the hunting stages Thomas's life took a significant turn, when he became engaged to Brandy. Thomas was asked if she was an outdoors person, as well, to which he replied, "She is! And she is just amazing."

“A couple of weeks before the hunt, my dad told me he wasn’t going to go, so that it would just be me and her,” Thomas said, “I thought that was pretty cool of him.”

Before getting to the hunt, though, meet the hero.

Thomas served as a Navy Corpsman for four years and three months. After Naval Hospital Corps School at Great Lakes, Ill. and additional specialized training in North Carolina, he was attached to the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines at Camp Lejeune. 

In January of 2010, Thomas deployed to the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan, where his colleagues referred to him as Doc Hendo. After completing his final assignment and with only two weeks left on his tour, another assignment arose. Because of Lima Company's loss of Corpsmen to injury, volunteers were requested. Thomas stepped up.

"I decided I'd rather be doing something other than just sitting around for two weeks," Thomas said.

On July 4, while out on foot patrol, the company stopped at a compound where Thomas treated a couple of injured people, one of whom was later found out to be a hostile. As they returned to patrol, the hostile remotely detonated an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).

According to the letter Thomas's dad submitted to Hunt for Heroes, "In the confusion, my son Thomas thought that his Sergeant was the one that was hit and he tried to get up to him and render aid. After the third try, he came to the realization that it was him that took the main impact of the explosion."

Thomas's numerous injuries included an above the knee amputation of his right leg, nerve damage over the left side of his body with 50 percent loss of mobility of his left arm and hand, and moderate traumatic brain injury. His injuries resulted in eight months hospitalization and years of rehabilitation and recovery.

Thomas's dad concluded his letter with "He has had a long journey on his road to recovery and their will always be issues for him to contend with throughout his life, But my son has proved to me that he is one Hell of a man and has taken this as a challenge to move forward and accept other challenges and goals in life. His attitude and demeanor throughout this has been nothing less than amazing."

Larry Hart wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment. 

"This was probably one of the most exciting hunts I've been on with BADF," he said.

Hart described the events leading up to Thomas's hunt.

"We were at the Good Samaritan Deer Project drawing for the UTV and Travis Allen asked me if we were still doing the Hunts for Heroes."

Allen told Hart about his chance meeting with Thomas's dad and gave him the telephone number. The call precipitated the heart-warming letter from a proud father.

"We'd met Chris Wright of J.W. Wildlife, when they had donated a blind for last year's banquet," Hart added, "They have a place at Holder and wanted to sponsor a Hunt for Heroes."

When he called the owners, there was no hesitation. It's what they do. According to Hart, the company has hosted hundreds of such hunts.

Hart said the J.W. Wildlife Co. ranch is specifically set up to cater to the disabled hunter, including the lodging.

It was getting late in the afternoon, when the group set out to hunt, Friday evening. After sighting in Thomas's personal rifle, he, Hart and Wright drove the UTV to the blind.

"We scared away a lot of animals getting into the blind," Hart said, "There were wildebeest, scimitar horned oryx, and mouflon sheep."

After a brief time in the blind and darkness falling, they mounted the UTV and drove until they happened upon a group of blackbuck antelope. Deciding the opportunity was right, the trio set out on a stalk. Hart saw a dry tank ahead, so they made their way to it. 

"Thomas struggled, but he crawled up to the top of dam," Hart said, "about 140 yards from the animals."

"There were four really nice bucks in the group," Thomas said, "and the biggest was separated from the herd."

Hart said Thomas made a great shot on a great animal. He explained that the Safari Club International's minimum medal score for this species is 54 inches, for Bronze level. The Gold medal minimum is 64 7/8 inches. Thomas's blackbuck measured 66 1/8 inches. That's a lot of horn. Hart characterized it as the equivalent of a 175 inch whitetail.

Although Thomas's hunting adventure concluded with his first hunt on the first day, he and Brandy remained at the ranch through the weekend. The extra time allowed for a lot of picture taking of a lot of different animals. 

The J.W. Wildlife Co. provided the lodging and prepared the meals for group.

Thomas said, "The hosts and the hospitality were great. They are just really nice people. He added, "The atmosphere was very laid back, but a lot of fun."

The BADF Hunts for Heroes are incredible gifts to those who selflessly serve their country and would not be possible without the generous support from donors and sponsors. Hart expressed his appreciation to them all, including Amie Bain of Lonestar Taxidermy, who provided the taxidermy services for the last two Hunts for Heroes. For more information on the Heart of Texas Chapter of Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, visit their Facebook page. Their annual fundraiser and banquet will be held May 17 at the Brownwood Coliseum, so watch the Brownwood Bulletin and Central Texas Outdoors (www.centraltxoutdoors.com) for updates.