Stalking alligators in a swamp is not the only way veterans can bond and heal during outdoor adventures in Florida. In May, the Legislature passed a bill designating certain portions of state forests hunting areas for injured active-duty military members and veterans. So far, there are six forests slated to host hunts-- Lake Wales Ridge in Polk County, Withlacoochee in the Hernando and Sumter county areas, Welaka near Orlando, Lake Talquin in Leon County, and the Twin Rivers and Big Shoals forests along the Suwannee River.
Local sponsors and volunteers will donate all the supplies and materials, such as special hunting blinds that can accommodate wheelchairs. The Jacksonville-based nonprofit Wounded Warriors Project will bring veterans to the events, and Forest Service employees will make sure things run smoothly.
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The state hosted one hunt for wounded soldiers last year, Karels says, but is now looking to expand the program. Legislation designating special hunting areas is a first step. So far, nine hunts have been planned for this fall and spring, according to the state Department of Agriculture.