Kevin Olech and Dan Hammack with Kevin’s buck
by Kevin Olech, edited by Rich Fletcher
As long as I can remember, hunting has been a way of life for me and my brothers. We heard hunting stories and tales from as far back as I can remember. In my home town, the first day of deer season was a holiday. There was no school that day and it was something you looked forward to like Christmas. I received my first rifle on my 12th birthday – a Remington model 7600 in 30-06. My dad taught me to shoot and scout for deer at a young age. I enrolled in a hunter safety course and began hunting at the age of 12.
We mostly hunted as a family, my older brother Bob, my younger brother Ryan, Dad and me. We never really had a great deal of luck bagging the big bucks, but we sure had fun as a family getting out and enjoying nature. We would always end up at my Grandfather’s house at the end of the day to tell stories and wait for my uncle to tell us about his day in the woods.
My Grandfather would share stories from when he was a young hunter back in his day. He couldn’t get around the woods anymore, but that didn’t stop him from telling his stories or taking us to the rifle range to practice with our deer rifles. I looked forward to hunting season every year from age twelve until the time I joined the Marine Corps, at twenty-two.
It was April of 2001 when I left home for Marine Corp Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. I had no idea of what to expect and learned quickly that it was important to keep a low profile while doing as I was told. By July of 2001, I graduated boot camp moving on to basic infantry training in Camp Pendleton, California. Camp Pendleton became my home base for the remainder of my tour.
The type of infantry training I underwent gave me two options and eventually I was selected to be an antitank assultman. I received intense training in demolitions and identifying enemy armored vehicles and trained for two years before I tried out for the scout sniper platoon in Okinawa Japan. It consisted of a two-week selection process that gave the participants the opportunity to drop out on demand. In other words, you could quit any time you wanted. We started with about 65 marines and ended up after of two weeks with about 20. The two-week hell session focused on sleep deprivation and physical training. When the two weeks had passed, scout sniper training began.
It was difficult. I was known as what was called a PIG (professionally instructed gunner). A PIG is considered the lowest form of life in the sniper community. We were treated poorly and were constantly learning and practicing our field work, stalking and shooting. We trained about 12 to 13 hours a day in the hopes of being one of the few who would be selected to attend sniper school. I was in the platoon for about 6 months when I got the news that I was one of the three chosen to attend sniper school, which was conducted at Camp Pendleton and lasted about 12 weeks.
My group at sniper school stared with about 40 students and graduated with 14. Students would be dropped when scores fell below a minimum success rate in stalking, shooting, field testing and book work. Upon graduation from sniper school I was deployed to Ar Ramadi,Iraq in short order and spent almost a year in conducting primarily night operations which included ambushes, recon patrols, and IUD prevention. I was injured by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade and received wounds to my legs, knees, and upper torso.
My service time ended shortly after returning to the states. One night, I was talking on the phone with my brother and he was telling me about the Purple Heart Tour deer hunt and I, jokingly, told him to put a word in for me. He called me back a week later saying someone had backed out and they had room for one more participant. I contacted Dan Hammack, the gentleman who runs the Purple Heart Tour, and expressed by interest. Shortly thereafter, he gave me the green light to participate.
The hunt took place in August of 2009, on the Rao and Fields ranches in Northern California. We arrived on a Friday and were met at the San Francisco airport by VFW Post 7265 volunteers, Denise Sughayar and Rich Fletcher who is also a volunteer for the Mule Deer Foundation.
We were taken from San Francisco airport to our hotel where we were soon greeted by a local VFW motorcycle club called the Warriors Watch Riders, led by Fred “Spiker” Schau. This group of vets shows their support for VETS by greeting local servicemen returning from deployment and other ceremonial events. They escorted us to the Rao Ranch where we were greeted by hosts, Robert and Linda Rao, along with many other supporters and local landowners. We were very impressed by the show of support.
Following the ceremony and dinner, we made our plans for the next day. I would be hunting the Fields ranch with my guide and owner Russ Fields, Dan Hammack (Founder of the Purple Heart Tour), Sparky (cameraman and owner of M2D Camo Company – an awesome camo pattern) and Ed Shield of Deer Valley Ranch located in Canada.
We headed out at first light and drove the countryside glassing for bucks. We spotted a few bucks early, but they were sketchy and didn’t stick around for us to get a shot or even a good look. We saw numerous deer, a lot of small bucks and doe’s and a few shooter bucks that didn’t present a shot. It was about 7:30 AM on the first day when Russ decided we should head out on foot over a large hill and glass for deer on the other side. We headed over the ridge and Russ spotted a buck heading into a draw about a mile away.
As we headed towards the draw, Russ came up with a plan. Sparky and I would head to the right of the bottom and Russ and Dan would head to the left and try to spook the deer up and out of the draw and onto the open hillside for me to take a shot. Sparky and I set up and waited for about 15 minutes before we heard some leaves crunching and saw a shooter buck heading up the hillside in front of us.
The deer was standing broadside about 100 yards in front of us when I heard Sparky say, “Don’t shoot, the camera’s not ready.”
I couldn’t believe it 100 yards and broadside. Now the deer was behind a large tree and Sparky said, “When he clears the tree, take him.”
The deer came out probably about 175 yards away moving at a slow trot up the hill when I squeezed off. The bullet hit the deer hard and he dropped right in his tracks. For me, this was the best and most rewarding hunt I have ever been on. I had more help then I could have imagined.
Russ knew exactly where the deer would come out and Sparky knew where to set up for filming. Everything went as planned except I would have preferred the 100- yard broadside shot instead of the 175-yard running shot, but I guess it worked out better this way.
The highlight of the hunt for me had to be the footage of my brother’s hunt that Sparky also filmed. Ryan had a nice 130-class blacktail at 40 yards. BOOM all you see is dirt fly up and the deer running, BOOM the shot’s no where near the deer and the deer continues to run, BOOM the bullet impacts a large rock and in slow motion you can see birds leaving their perches and flying away. BOOM and you could only see antlers disappearing over the hill top. I know we’ve all missed over the years, but honestly how many of us have missed on film. The footage is priceless and we all had a good laugh sitting around camp giving him a hard time as only a group of hunters can.
I can’t even begin to thank everyone enough for this hunt. This is by far the highlight of my hunting career. I met some really great people on this hunt, and had a rare opportunity to hunt with my brother again. I treasure this experience and will remember it always.
I’d like to thank all those who contributed, but especially the key organizers and sponsors: Robert and Linda Rao, Russ Fields, Dan Hammack, Sparky Sparks of M2D Camo, the Warrior Watch Riders, VFW Post 7265, the Livermore-Pleasanton Rod and Gun, Tom Dermody, California Deer Association, Rich Fletcher and the Mule Deer Foundation.
Rich’s note: Not long after the hunt, Austin and Ryan returned to the war in Afganistan. Both have been involved heavy action.
Kevin’s story will be published in MDF magazine in an upcoming issue.