Antone Ranch, located 15 miles east of Mitchell, hosted members of the Purple Heart Outdoors Tour (PHOT) on a five-day elk hunt that concluded on Veterans Day, with both hunters filling their tags and their bags with meat to take home to their families. The event was organized by Antone Outdoor Adventures manager, Brandon Davis, who said, “We get to do a lot of things with a lot of different people, and this one is definitely meaningful.”

The Purple Heart Outdoors Tour is a non-profit organization that exists to connect active-duty members of the Special Operations community with once in a lifetime outdoor adventures. It’s the second event that the Antone Ranch has put on for the Purple Heart Outdoors Tour this year – several members of the organization were invited to fish on the ranch’s five lakes which hold trophy rainbow trout back in the spring – but Davis said, “I hope this is the second event of many more”.

For Paul Johnsen, a retired New York firefighter who volunteers his time to organize and host the soldiers on adventures across the U.S., the PHOT is a way to give back to those who have served. “I do it because what of what happened to us on the 11th,” Johnsen says. “I lost 343 firemen and 12 guys from my firehouse. 12 out of 25 died, and we never had a chance to do anything about it. And these guys have been doing it for the past 14 years everyday, day in, day out. In my opinion, you can never do enough for these guys, you can never repay what they do.”

The owners of the Antone Ranch, Jim and Jan Bisenius, see partnering with the PHOT as a small way that their family and the staff at the ranch can show appreciation for those who have served and are still serving. “People like Jim, they have the means, but they do it because they want to do it, they do it from the heart,” said Johnsen.

The hunt took place on the ranch’s 36,000 acres and adjacent property leased by the Antone Ranch from neighbor and local rancher, Jim-Bob Collins. Rob Shoup, an active-duty Army Ranger with over fourteen years in service, was the first to fill his tag on the Collins ranch with a 6×6 bull elk. Atop a ridge overlooking the ranch, Shoup stalked in on the bull with Antone Ranch manager Jason Davis. Shoup recalled his excitement as he sat within 300 yards of the bull, waiting for the right shot for nearly two hours. “Never in a million years would I have thought a hunt like this would happen,” Shoup said.

Fellow Ranger, Tyson Crosby, explained how the PHOT has impacted him, by saying that, “It changed my life, to go out there and start to hunt with the tour. I needed it. And I didn’t know that I needed it. I think at that point, I’d deployed 12 times. Like I said, it was fun and I don’t regret that. But I needed something away from the Army and doing work to clear my own head.” On the last full day to hunt, Crosby and head-guide Brandon Davis scoured the Antone’s many hillsides and draws for the right bull. It wasn’t long before the radio on the hip of every ranch hand crackled with the news that Tyson had his bull down.

But even though Crosby and Shoup had completed their hunt, the adventure kept going. The group pulled on waders and had the chance to fly-fish for rainbow trout. “There is so much stuff to do out here”, Crosby said, “I don’t know where we would’ve fit in anything else, I mean honestly, it was fun overload for me.” Even though the fishing trip wasn’t planned, Shoup noted how the ranch was ready for most anything, “We’ve never seen a place where you can literally show up with the clothes on your back and do it all.”

Johnsen hopes that adventures like this one can keep happening, but acknowledged that “Without the landowners and the people who give us what they can to make this happen, we’d have no place to go”. Ranch owner Jim Bisenius commented by saying, “Each group that we bring out here is truly a blessing to us, to be able to share this spectacular place with others brings us all so much joy. I’d encourage landowners around the country to consider doing something like this, you won’t regret it.”

Reflecting back on the week of adventure, he said, “All the trips that I go on, when I bring these guys I bring out here, what I get out of it is watching them, the smiles on their faces, that’s why I keep doing it.” he says.“As long as I am able, I will be doing whatever I can to get these guys outdoors.”

For more information about the Purple Heart Outdoors Tour or learn about how you can support the organization, contact Lt. Dan Hammack (U.S. Army Retired) at 229-881-5044 or Paul Johnsen (FDNY Retired) at 917-494-6170.

If you’d like to learn about ways you can support the PHOT in Central Oregon and surrounding areas, contact Brandon Davis at [email protected].