August 30th, 2008 began as many other days had for Corporal Jonathon Rist.
He was on his second combat tour. His first tour earned him a Purple Heart but the thought of leaving a job undone and his many friends behind made him work hard toward recovery so he could return to the battlefield. His first tour had him in Iraq, this time he was in Afghanistan. He was exemplifying the Marine Corp motto, Semper Fidelis. Always faithful: faithful to his country, his mission, and his fellow Marines.
As he had done so many times in the past, Jonathon woke up, ate his traditional Marine Corp breakfast, checked and double checked his equipment, and joined his fellow Marines for a foot patrol through a well traveled, but enemy occupied zone. This was nothing out of the ordinary for a combat Marine.
But then it happened. Unknown to Corporal Rist, the Taliban had carefully concealed a pressure plate used to detonate a land mine under the road they were walking. The 1.5 second built in delay allowed him to take about one step over the device before it detonated. Suddenly a deafening blast, an intense wave of heat, and Jonathon was catapulted 30 feet into the air. He hit the ground without ever losing consciousness. Chaos continued as his fellow Marines rushed to his aid while others set a defensive perimeter.
Jonathon said that despite the pain, he didn’t really know how bad he was injured. He was mad, very mad. He knew he was hurt bad enough that he would not be able to continue his patrol and even angrier at whomever placed the landmine in his path. He wanted revenge. As he was being loaded on to the helicopter that arrived to transport him back to a base hospital he was able for the first time to sit up and see the extent of his injuries. He was horrified to see he had lost both his legs from the thigh down. He then fell into unconsciousness and didn’t wake up again until days later in a hospital.
Fast forward twelve months. Jonathon was now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center being treated for his injuries and undergoing rehabilitation. He longed to return to the woods. This Tennessee native grew up hunting and fishing and was determined to one day enjoy the activities he loved so much. One day the phone rang and Jonathon was asked if he would be interested in going on a bear hunt with other wounded warriors in northernmost Maine with Smoldering Lake Outfitters. He didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.
Thompson Center Arms and Smoldering Lake Outfitters (SLO) have a long relationship and worked together to provide this opportunity for these much deserving heroes. Located in Bridgewater, Maine, SLO is a premier destination for those seeking the best in accommodations, food, and service while pursuing the area’s plentiful black bear, moose, waterfowl, and upland game opportunities. Jonathon and the others arrived on September 6th ready to take full advantage of all SLO and the area had to offer. A ride down to the lodge’s rifle range allowed Jonathon and the guys to pick from the assortment of firearms that Thompson Center provided for the hunt. Jonathon quickly gravitated toward a Pro- Hunter rifle in 460 S&W with a Katahdin length barrel. Shooting from sticks placed in front of his wheelchair Jonathon quickly proved that he could shoot a rifle. No surprise considering every Marine is rifleman.
On the first night of the hunt a giant black came to visit Jonathon and his hunting partner, Thompson Center’s own Brandon Gullison. With light fading and nerves rattled the result was a shot that clearly missed the mark and an unscathed bear that lived to see another day. Many hunters are often so rattled after a miss like this on a large bear that they mentally handicap themselves the rest of the hunt. Not Jonathon. He simply shrugged off the miss as a lesson learned. Undaunted, he was determined to get his bear.
The next night was uneventful for Jonathon but certainly not disappointing. Raccoons, fishers, and other wildlife kept him entertained. Jonathon also chose to hunt without a guide. This speaks volumes about this young Marine. Confined to a wheelchair, enclosed in pop-up blind, far from anywhere in the big Maine woods, and hunting a potentially dangerous animal like a black bear with a single shot rifle would be too much for many people to ever think of attempting.
The third afternoon would test his confidence. Having listened to his guides, Jonathon knew a bear was close by, recognizing certain sounds and the behavior of the raccoons and other small animals taking advantage of the free meal the bait bag offered them. He sat patiently, listening and looking for the bear he knew was close.
Then he saw it. A big black shape moving slowly through the woods slowly revealed itself to be a mature bear. As it approached the bait Jonathon readied his Pro Hunter and waited until the bear provided him with a clear, broadside shot. After what seemed like an eternity the bear turned and posed almost as if he knew what was coming.
Remembering what he was taught at his Parris Island boot camp, Jonathon took a deep breath, relaxed, aimed in, slowly took up what little slack there is in the excellent Pro-Hunter trigger, and squeezed off the shot. The big slug quickly covered the 50-yard distance and slammed into the side of the bear. There would be no tracking this brute; it went down at the shot.
An excited call to the guides began a flurry of activity. Text messages went out to the other hunters and guides mobilized to help get both Jonathon and the bear out of the woods. The other hunters were anxious for the evening to draw to a close so they could get out of the woods, see Jonathon’s trophy, and congratulate him on his accomplishment. The employees at the check station, local residents, and Game Wardens were all equally impressed at the good luck and resolve he exhibited. Of course the mature, 200-plus pound bear was certainly not far from the center of attention.
After the hunt Jonathon talked about his injuries, his service, and the long road in rehab he has yet to travel. He spoke like a true Marine. Jonathon insists that his injuries have only made him a stronger and more determined person. He refuses to let his circumstances handicap him and keep him from enjoying the activities he has loved all of his life. The old saying, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” is the motto he lives by today. He is incredibly proud of his service to his country and does not regret his situation in the least. Jonathon added how he wishes more people would take the opportunity to get to know other wounded warriors and learn from their sacrifice, their devotion to duty, and their commitment to something bigger than themselves.
Many other individuals, organizations, and companies such as Bowtech, Nikon, Streamlight, Realtree, H&K Firearms and Wildlife Interactive, further contributed resources to help make this trip possible and certainly unforgettable.