North Santa Rosa

Forest Service gets veterans back to the outdoors

MILTON, Fla. – The Florida Forest Service’s Blackwater District is hosting its fourth season of Operation Outdoor Freedom – an event-based platform that allows wounded veterans a chance to reconnect with the outdoors, nature and themselves through hunting, fishing and other activities. This year, there are plans for whitetail deer hunts in November and January as well as an offshore fishing trip in the spring.

With no state budget money earmarked for this program, Forest Service staff is holding a fund raising raffle in order to support the program and generate he money needed to host more than a dozen wounded veterans for the planned events.

“We have to be 100% self-sufficient as far as the money for this goes,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, OOF coordinator and Public Information Officer for the district. “We have been very fortunate to find some great partners and sponsors to make it possible and the public support through the raffles has been tremendous. This area is a military area so there’s a lot of willingness to help.”

The raffle is for a pair of guns from Scott’s Outdoors in Jay. Tickets cost $20 and currently are available at all local Forest Service offices as well as many local businesses. This year’s items in the raffle are a Kimber Micro Carry in .380 or a Tikka T3 Lite with a camo stock and stainless barrel in 7-08.. The drawing will be held October 14, winners need not be present. Tickets also can be purchased by mailing a check to Operation Outdoor Freedom Raffle, 11650 Munson Highway, Milton FL 32570. Please make checks payable to “Friends of the Florida State Forest.”

FFS personnel have been taking these heroes on hunting and fishing trips, eco tours and other outings for several years now including two previous guided hunting weekends on Blackwater River State Forest and three planned hunts on the forest this season.

“We’re very proud to be able to have this program to Blackwater,” Zwierzchowskisaid. “It started down in central Florida and has really grown. There are dozens of events statewide and we’re starting to grow our program here to include more opportunities for the veterans.”

Championed by Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam H. Putnam in 2011, Operation Outdoor Freedom provides unique hunting opportunities for wounded veterans on Florida’s state forests. These areas are fully equipped to accommodate the needs of our heroes, providing an opportunity for recreation and rehabilitation that is not available through any other state program.

The events are tailored to veterans with all forms of disabilities and every element has been geared to make the experience enjoyable for the participants in order to help foster camaraderie and reconnect veterans to the outdoors.

Wheelchair accessible shooting houses are made from timber grown, harvested and milled on Blackwater River State Forest. Food plots are prepared ahead of time with grant money from the National Wild Turkey Federation and the hunters enjoy their stay for the guided deer hunt at the event headquarters at Adventures Unlimited.

While past fund raisers have done well, Zwierzchowski knows that cannot guarantee future success and said the OOF program is always looking for new support and sponsors.

“We always operate on a tight budget with these events but we’re thankful for the support we do generate,” he said. “While the hunts are in the fall and winter, we try to keep looking for new opportunities year round.”

For more information on the Operation Outdoor Freedom Blackwater events, call (850) 983-5310. For more information on events throughout the state or for participation information, visit

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages 37 state forests on more than 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting 26 million acres of homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire.

Posted by on Oct 2 2015. Filed under Announcements, Events, Local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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