South Texas Nilgai For Barnes & Wounded Veterans

October 28, 2014

I was introduced to Tom & Mike Snyder of Trinity Oaks (TO) by Blake Barnett, a mutual friend. Blake is an outdoor TV producer and cameraman who produces shows for Larry Weishuhn and Matt Hughes. He is also on the Trinity Oaks board. As Tom spoke to me about the activities Trinity Oaks was involved in, I literally couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself "there is no way all of this is getting done by these guys who have full time jobs to boot." Well, after close to two years with them now, believe me: it is ALL happening. It is incredible, and it is all about giving back.

Tom explained that he and little brother "Mikey" grew up in less than fortunate circumstances in Harlingen, Texas. Hunting and fishing were the brothers’ passions from the time they were kids. Tom made himself a promise at a young age that if he ever “made it”, he would make sure that youth who wanted to hunt but couldn't, due to circumstances beyond their control, would have the opportunity to do so. Trinity Oaks was founded with this principle in mind; but it has grown into so much more.

Today, Trinity Oaks is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that facilitates hunting, fishing, and outdoor experiences for our nation’s war heroes, as well as providing all-expense-paid dream trips for terminally ill children. It mentors school groups, underprivileged youth, and physically challenged kids, sharing with them the traditions of hunting and fishing. Trinity Oaks operates a private meat processing facility and averages a monthly donation of 2,500 pounds of wild game to local charities.

My husband, Thad, and I traveled to Harlingen the beginning of October to stay at Horn, Fin & Feather on the El Sauz Ranch and hunt the Yturria Ranch for Nilgai. We arrived just prior to Trinity Oaks hosting nine wounded veteran sportsmen from the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC). We were there to do a little hunting and see first-hand the effort Trinity Oaks puts into an event such as this. I was fortunate enough to take this mature, trophy bull with one shot from a 375 H&H loaded with a 300 grain TSX in VOR-TX Safari ammunition.

Jessica Brooks-Stevens with her trophy bull Nilgai, guide and Trinity Oaks board member "Mikey" Snyder.

During this week-long Heroes’ Celebration, the vets were treated to trophy Nilgai hunting and bay fishing excursions. Not to mention fabulous feasts that were fit for kings and some hang time with celebrities Matt Hughes, Larry Weishuhn and Jim Zumbo.

This is not the first event of this type put on by Trinity Oaks. In April, they hosted their first annual all women’s veteran group for six women warriors. Every year, the nonprofit hosts several Heroes’ Celebrations, with event budgets of around $40,000. David Lewis, a Trinity Oaks Advisory Board Member says, “It takes a lot of fundraising and dedicated Trinity Oaks volunteers to make each event an experience of a lifetime!” The total budget includes the cost of transportation and week-long accommodations, all animal trophy fees, game meat processing, gourmet meals, fishing charters, taxidermy, and top of the line equipment and gear for the hunters.

Tom Snyder, Founder of Trinity Oaks states, "It is just our way of showing appreciation to these heroes and supporting them through what could be very difficult times."

On October 14, the group of veterans was welcomed by an impressive escort of 325 motorcycles, from riding clubs in San Antonio and The Valley, as they made their way from San Antonio to Port Mansfield. A couple of the motorcycle riders who participated in the escort were in tears telling Snyder that they really appreciated how the nonprofit is honoring these war heroes. “It meant so much knowing these soldiers were being honored instead of being spit on” said one Vietnam veteran rider, describing his personal homecoming experiences in the 1960s.

After a big meal for all volunteers, the veteran sportsmen were outfitted with optics, gear, and specialized clothing so they will “have everything they need to hunt for the rest of their lives" says Snyder. After the hunt, "we mount the trophies for the soldiers and all the game meat is processed for their families."

Through adaptive methods, such as Trinity Oaks' Action Trackchair (a customized, all-terrain wheelchair on tracks) veterans can move beyond physical limitations to enjoy hunting and fishing with increased mobility and independence. Trinity Oaks recently invested in one of these $12,000 wheelchairs and was a recipient of a second one as a donation only days before the event.

Trinity Oaks’ Action Trackchairs allow veterans to enjoy hunting and fishing with fewer limitations.

Trinity Oaks understands that not all injuries are physical and often host veterans who are dealing with PTSD and other mental traumas. For most warriors, simply being outdoors and participating in the great sports of hunting and fishing is the best form of therapy. Bill Callahan, a veteran of the Vietnam War and bound to a wheelchair said, “This is amazing, this event is truly from the heart." He never dreamed he would be able to attend an event like this, he continued, “It will really help both old vets [from Vietnam] and the recent heroes with the healing process."

The eight combat-injured heroes each harvested a nice bull nilgai. They were thrilled to say the least!

From left to right, Blake Barnett – TO Advisory Board Member and cameraman, Tom Snyder – TO Founder, Mike Snyder – TO Advisory Board Member and Guide, Chris Bryde – Veteran and hunter, and Larry Weishuhn – TO Spokesman and Guide.

Watch this YouTube video below to learn more about Trinity Oaks:

Be sure to “like” Trinity Oaks on Facebook. 

You may also wish to visit Trinity Oaks' donor page by clicking on their logo below to make a contribution and assist with funds for the wonderful acts of giving they engage in. What an excellent way to give during this holiday season!