- ABOUT US
Guests at Bowman Lodge are referred for invitations and selected according to a number of factors, including need, combat experience, and disability.
Photo by PAUL BOWMAN JR.
At the Bowman Lodge, owners Paul and Britani Bowman invite disabled veterans to enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience.
By SHEILAH BRIGHT
Down a country road near Morris in Okmulgee County is a five-star hunting lodge overlooking 1,100 acres of hardwood forest and grassy plains speckled by fifteen stocked ponds. Those who fish and hunt here call it paradise, but it takes a certain sacrifice to gain access.
You must have served your country. You must have paid a price.
The Bowman Lodge at Lone Tree Ranch gives disabled veterans from across the United States a chance to enjoy outdoor recreation and all the camaraderie that comes with it. For many, it will be the first time since their injury that they have fired a gun or had the chance to fish and hunt.
“Many veterans grew up hunting and fishing, and their injuries often take that away from them,” says lodge owner and founder Paul Bowman Jr., a former Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm and volunteers as a reserve officer for the Broken Arrow Police Department. “The lodge is able to reconnect people to the outdoors.”
Paul and his wife Britani, who live in Tulsa, designed the 8,000-square-foot lodge with comfort, accessibility, and fun in mind. Four suites and guide quarters allow each veteran and a guest to enjoy free, all-inclusive hunting retreats throughout the year. The Bowmans coordinate the invitation-only guest list with military transition units, and all transportation is complimentary. The hunts are funded by the Talley Bowman Foundation, named for Britani’s late father, William Talley II, a former Naval nuclear submarine officer.
When the Bowmans purchased the land in 2006, they were expecting to use it as a rustic getaway. During a turkey hunt at the ranch, Paul and his friend Greg Horneber felt the pull to do more.
“It seemed like there was something else that we needed to do with this place,” says Paul. “It was just too beautiful not to share, and the idea of sharing it with disabled vets grew.”
Horneber is an expert in therapeutic recreation and a clinical manager at the Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation system in the Oklahoma City area. An avid sportsman born without his left hand, he understood the adaptability issues necessary to make the project successful. He volunteered his expertise, helped with the lodge’s custom design, and offered his services as a guide.
“We have the capabilities of taking everyone from someone who is blind to someone who has no use of his arms or legs,” says Horneber. “Being able to provide a world-class hunting experience to those that gave so much for our country is priceless.”
It was Horneber who patiently encouraged Sergeant Geza Horvath to fire off two rounds of ammunition in eight seconds during the lodge’s first season in January 2011. Horvath, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a 2008 convoy explosion in Iraq, had not shot a gun since that day.
“When the invitation came, I was real hesitant,” says Horvath, who lives in Skiatook. “My wife, Jodi, said, ‘You’re doing this. We’re going.’ I don’t go out much since I came back. It’s tough. But I went, and from the moment we got there, everyone was so hospitable, and I was beyond nervous.”
It wasn’t an easy expedition for either Horvath or Horneber. Yet even when the shots missed and the deer bounded away, both men felt that they had accomplished their mission.
On another hunt, Gunnery Sargeant Michael Wittrock, a sixteen-year Marine Corps Reserve veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, helped guide Corporal Matt Bradford, the lodge’s first blind, double-amputee guest. With the help of a digital rifle and a mini-LCD screen, the veterans combined their skills to spot a deer.
“The deer showed up, and almost everything after that went wrong,” says Wittrock. “Despite the issues with getting the equipment turned on and getting him sighted in on the game, he ended up getting the deer in one shot. In all of my years of hunting, I have never experienced anything like it.”
Although only about half of guests take home a trophy, the lodge’s success is marked by much more.
Some veterans claim the ranch-style food as a favorite, while others favor the campfire or poker-table chats. Cigars, beer, and jovial putdowns make a stay at Bowman Lodge seem like a reunion.
On the last night of every hunt, guests leave the lodge and wander down a paved trail to a spot about a mile away. They carry ammo cans filled with rum punch and a few cigars. The lodge’s buffalo herd looms in the distance as the Warrior’s Walk commences.
At the end of the walk, the group rings the bell and toasts the day. This signifies and honors the journey of life for a wounded veteran. Sometimes, people cry. Sometimes, they crack jokes. Often, there are moments when even nature seems to grow quiet and respect the silence.
“Sitting around the campfire, some people tell war stories and some people get quiet, but you can tell that this was more than just a hunt,” says Horvath.
“So much of what goes on here is not about hunting at all,” Paul says. “I call it the vortex—a powerful connection, a bond.”
Get There: Bowman Lodge is located approximately eight miles southeast of Morris. Special permits allow whitetail deer hunts throughout the year. Although not open to the public, the lodge hosts a skeet shoot each spring to raise money for the Talley Bowman Foundation. Interested teams can contact Paul Bowman Jr. at (918) 619-5113 or bowmanlodge.org