PORTLAND, Ore. — On a cool, cloudy Sunday morning in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, three hunters sat waiting for the ducks to fly in.
Admittedly, their luck had taken a turn for the worse.
"I think 30 minutes into this we shot two ducks out of the air so that was a pretty tremendous way to start the day," Andrew Gritzbaugh said. "And then it's been kind quiet, you know, since then."
On this hunt though, one day before Veterans Day, the quiet wasn't so bad.
"It's conducive to a lot of good storytelling," Justin Boardman said.
Boardman, an active-duty Green Beret, is the national prostaff manager for The Fallen Outdoors, a nonprofit run by volunteers who organize hunting and fishing trips for veterans.
Gritzbaugh, who served in the 101st Airborne division and the 162nd Oregon Guard, had found the idea intimidating.
"I've never gone myself and partially because there's a high barrier to entry," he said. "You’ve got to know where to go. You've got to know what to do. So, I've thought about it for a long time but never actually tried."
Sunday's trip lowered that barrier.
Gritzbaugh, Navy veteran Sam Davis and Boardman were three of 20 veterans and active-duty service members who came out that morning, as part of the second annual Veterans Hunt.
"To be out here and share this together, you can't ask for anything more," Davis said. "It gives you time to just decompress and really appreciate what God provides us."
The decompression and the conversations that facilitate it are key to The Fallen Outdoors' mission.
Statistics show 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide every day and military suicides surged this year to a record high among active-duty troops.
Boardman said he's all too familiar with how life in the military can impact a person's mental health.
It's why he loves his role with The Fallen Outdoors.
"Something as simple as coming out here is saving lives. 100%. No doubt about it," Boardman said. "I've personally taken people that have told me that they were on the edge and going fishing or going hunting completely changed the thoughts that they had. If I can help somebody from going through something like that, then I'll do it until the day I die."