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Soldier gets dream pheasant hunt

Gary Gardner of Warsaw has faced all kinds of horrors during 25 years of military service.

"I did four tours in Iraq, three in Afghanistan, and earlier was involved in the Persian Gulf and 9-11," Gardner said after being selected as one of four recipients nationally to participate in an all-expenses-paid, four-day pheasant hunting trip to Dakota Hunting Farms in South Dakota near Aberdeen.

Each year, Safari Club International awards hunts to deserving recipients in the Wounded Warriors program. This year, SCI contacted Bob Keicher with the WNY and Central NY Chapter of SCI to select an area military veteran who had been wounded while in service to his or her country.

Keicher contacted State Sen. Patrick Gallivan for help in making the selection and he contacted the Wyoming County Veterans Service Agency in Warsaw.

"The choice did not take minutes," said Deputy Director William Wilkinson at the service agency.

Gardner was invited to a meeting of county supervisors held Tuesday afternoon at the Wyoming County Fair in Pike. The first item on the agenda was Gallivan and Keicher presenting Gardner with this special hunt.

Gardner was in awe of the presentation. "I just don't know what I'll do on this trip," he said, bewildered by the gratitude and attention paid to him that afternoon.

Continuing in an active/reserve status, Gardner expressed feelings similar to soldiers from Fort Drum who recently came to Western New York to fish and recreate in the Wounded Warriors program.

He will be flown to South Dakota to meet with three other fellow veterans to enjoy hunting with an outfitter set up with more than 20,000 acres of open land along the James River and next to Sand Lake Refuge.

Gardner will be able to see and hunt pheasant cover and population numbers akin to pheasant hunts Warsaw and Western New York hunters enjoyed in this area some 40 years ago.

After the ceremony, Gardner was focused on thanking Keicher, Gallivan, Wilkinson, Director Gary Cousins and all attending, rather than keying on this dream hunt.

Keicher then announced that the WNY SCI chapter has also selected Mark O'Brien of Marilla as a recipient of a rifle hunt during the newly opened rifle big-game season at a site in Wyoming County.

"Mark will be able to hunt as long as he likes until he gets a deer," Keicher said of the hunt. O'Brien lost both legs and much of his right arm on duty in 2004.

Details of these presentations and the Wounded Warriors Program will be offered during the monthly SCI chapter meeting open to all at Michael's Banquet Facility in Hamburg on Sept. 7.