Shift in perspective motivates Cody Hirt to give back
Cody Hirt lumbered out of his truck, thoughts churning about the upcoming hunt. How was he going to help take a group of veterans—wounded veterans—out to hunt in the rolling hills of Mason, Texas? Cody dropped the tailgate and began pulling out his gear. Uncertainty and a little guilt came along with the action. He was a healthy, average guy who had never served in the military; could he find some common ground with these vets?
“Do you need a hand with your baggage?” Cody glanced up at the man coming over to meet him. “Sure,” he replied. Stopping in front of Cody, the man handed him his prosthetic arm. “Here you go. I hope that helps.”
Cody stared at the object in his hands, stunned. As understanding dawned, he laughed, feeling the trip’s roiling uncertainties slip away. The weekend’s activities were starting to look like any other hunting trip. Little did Cody know that this particular trip would redefine his life.
A West Texas Farm Boy
As a child, Cody spent days under the unforgiving Texas sun, surrounded by miles of mesquite trees and cotton fields. “I grew up out in west Texas on a little farming ranch, in an area called St. Lawrence. You won’t find it on a map,” Cody says.
Aside from the physical distance from everyday conveniences—the nearest grocery store was an hour away—the land’s calming allure beckoned to Cody. He began, at the age of four, to discover nature’s wonders as his dad and grandpa taught him how to hunt.
Cody spent hours learning the fundamentals of hunting. Embedded within those skills was a deeper well of wisdom that flowed into all aspects of life. “Hunting’s not just about the killing of an animal; that’s one percent of it,” Cody explains. “It’s about respecting the land and learning about animals, nature, and yourself. Getting out there and going through hard conditions and tough times and getting through it. It’s you versus the world out there.”
And when the sun dipped below the horizon, Cody and his family would gather around the campfire, sharing stories as the flames dispelled the cool night air. Cody listened as his dad and grandpa passed down their life lessons, and he cherished the deepening bonds of family and brotherhood formed around the campfire.
A Campfire Epiphany
Years later, in 2007, as the first day of the Mason, Texas, hunt came to a close, Cody, his brother-in-law Wes Higgins, and the six wounded veterans they took hunting relaxed around a crackling fire. Cody smiled at the satisfaction on Wes’s face—this hunt was the fulfillment of a promise Wes had made to his buddies back in Iraq when talk of hunting took their minds off the stress of being in a war zone. Now they were together again, sharing stories and a few jokes. Cody listened to the music of the campfire, but what drew his attention was the young man next to him.
Only nineteen years old—a kid in Cody’s eyes—he seemed barely old enough to make his mark on the world, but he had. On the eighth day of his deployment in Iraq, his convoy of trucks hit an IED (improvised explosive device). The blast tore off both legs, but rather than wait for help, the young man dragged himself over to his friends’ truck, wanting to pull them to safety. As this young man humbly relayed his story, Cody was struck with a profound thought.
“His outlook on life was more positive than mine. It wasn’t that I was negative; it was just that my perspective was wrong. I thought I had a bad day when my email was slow,” Cody explains. “His bad day was: He got blown up, lost two legs, and died three times on the way to the hospital.”
Cody marveled at the attitude this young man and his fellow soldiers exuded. Humble and self-sacrificing, these six men had every right to be bitter and angry about their catastrophic injuries, but they chose to see the blessings behind the wounds. Surviving the worst, they came to appreciate life and, in so doing, strove to be better men.
Cody wanted to be a better man, too. These men fought for the freedom of a nation, fought for him. Cody made a decision that night: No longer would he only talk about the ideals of service and sacrifice. “It was time for me to start making a difference in this world, sacrificing whatever I needed to in order to change people’s perspectives on life the way mine had been changed,” says Cody.
It was time to give back to those who served this country.
What began as one hunt for a group of veterans became a life mission for Cody. He and Wes founded Veteran Outdoors, a nonprofit organization staffed entirely by volunteers, that surprises wounded veterans with their dream hunting or fishing trips. Cody took the knowledge that his dad and grandpa passed down to him and created an avenue to serve these brave heroes.
Leading up to a trip, Cody and his team coordinate a private flight or other means of transportation, arrange a stay on a private ranch, and put together a variety of hunting gear for the veteran. Donors provide all the services and equipment. Once the veterans reach their destination, the pace of the trip and whether they spend their time hunting or just hanging out is up to them. “It’s 100 percent about these guys,” says Cody.
Since 2008, Veteran Outdoors has taken about 150 veterans on twenty to forty-five trips each year. From spear fishing in Mexican waters to black bear hunting in Alaska, VO has traversed North America and looks to one day go on safari in Africa.
For Cody, the last six years have been filled with planning, hard work, and sacrifice. He wouldn’t have it any other way. “I get everything out of it. Veteran Outdoors combines my passions: giving, hunting, and appreciating people,” Cody says. One night in Mason, Texas, forever changed his perspective on life, inspiring him not only to serve, but also to appreciate those around him. It’s a life lesson Cody hopes to one day pass along to his children around the campfire.
To learn more about Veteran Outdoors, please visit www.veteran-outdoors.com. You can also watch past episodes of Veteran Outdoors, featured on The Sportsman Channel. Stay connected on their Facebook page for details about their upcoming 3rd season (2014).