Veterans organization planning summer trap league

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Steven James, founder of Veterans In the Outdoors (or V.I.T.O.) grew up hunting and fishing with his dad and friends, leading to a love of the outdoors and outdoors sportsmanship that would provide a foundation for his future ventures into combining his passions with his United States Military Veteran status to form the organization in 2017. He began combining the two lifestyles while stationed in Colorado with the 4th Infantry Division. “It was kind of a dream spot because we were right at the base of the mountains, so we had Forrest Service land as far as we wanted to go,” James says. “On the weekends, just to get away I would take the other guys in my unit and we would go out there to hunt and fish if they weren’t on staff duty or anything like that. We would just hang out and have a fire, and we started noticing that everyone’s morale was high, everyone was in a good mood.” Morale can often be a struggle in the Army, James notes, as training comes with physical suffering which can lead to mental health struggles and oftentimes depression. “We were in Infantry, so it was a little different than other jobs, but I would have meetings with our Brigade Commander and our Command Sergeant Major as to why everyone was doing so well, and we just saw that it was working,” he said.

When James returned to his home state of Minnesota, he spent time at the Montevideo Legion and VFW, chatting with local community members and area Veterans. He began making connections with Veterans and families of Veterans which led to hunting and fishing trips in which he took Veterans along with him. Then, a tragic incident in which one of the soldiers stationed with him in Colorado committed suicide right before Veteran’s Day got James thinking about how he may be able to do more. “I sat there in a deer stand looking through his Facebook and realized he hadn’t been living life outdoors - he hadn't been going in the mountains or doing anything like that. He’d kind of shut down and his family situation changed a lot and I realized what I did then in Colorado and what I was doing now on the side just for fun I could actually put a purpose to and a cause behind. I could get the community more involved with watching that suicide rate with veterans in the area and helping with PTSD in Vets and that sparked me to build this non-profit,” James says.

Since that original idea, he has built a website, created merchandise, and held several events to raise funds for the organization to bring Veterans in the local area into the outdoors. Some of the activities that have been held include using the organizations fishing boat to do fishing trips, a Warrior Weekend in the fall for duck hunting, ice fishing in the winter, and a range day. The organization also raises pheasants as a fundraiser, selling the processed birds as well as using them for V.I.T.O.’s own pheasant hunts. Last year, James introduced a new event that would go throughout a portion of the summer, a Trap League held each Wednesday evening for six weeks at the Mills Creek Gun Range. “I know a lot of the guys that help run the Mills Creek Gun Range and it’s always come down to what can we do for each other since firearms and Military go hand in hand. They’ve always mentioned a trap league and so I thought why not have one,” James says. 

With everything happening last year during the COVID-19 pandemic shut-downs, James was uncertain whether they would be able to hold the trap league, but close to the start date, they decided to hold the weekly event. “We had a great turnout! We had a lot of fun and it was run very well between me and my staff and the individuals at the gun range it went smoothly and was very safe,” James says. This year, he hopes to have an even better turnout for the league. Due to ammunition shortages, this year will be a 25 round session rather than the usual 50 round session. The event is open to the public and James says he encourages Veterans to get involved as well. The league begins June 16th and runs for six weeks with prizes at the end after the scores are tallied. Earplugs and safety glasses are provided, and James says it’s recommended participants bring their own firearm, but there will be a variety on hand for those who do not have their own. Participants are also required to bring their own ammunition. There’s no limit to the number of people who can participate. Sign-up is as easy as showing up on the first day of the league. 

If anyone is interested in volunteering with V.I.T.O., James says the easiest way to do so is by contacting him. “Just get ahold of me and let me know what you’re good at - if you’re a good duck hunter or an expert on Lac Qui Parle or any of the other lakes in the area, or if you have a boat and want to take somebody out with you, let me know. Even if it’s as simple as helping hand out shirts,” he says. Anyone looking to recommend a Veteran to the organization can do so by contacting James to ask for a contact card or by stopping by any of the organization's booths at events to fill one out. “The last year was really tough with businesses not able to help out as much, but we were still able to put on a few key events,” James says. “So I owe a big thank you to those who helped, not just financially but even just to get the word out.” To learn more about the organization and how to find their upcoming events, visit their Veteran’s In the Outdoors page on Facebook or Instagram.