Wounded Warrior Rex Jones III, from Athens, Tenn., was selected for a special December hunt on a Texas ranch, sponsored by the Chattanooga chapter of the Safari Club International. (Photo: Contributed)

When you speak with Rex Jones III, it is very clear he is a military man. Nearly every sentence begins or ends with a respectful “sir.”

Talk with Rex long enough, and it becomes very clear that he has the same respect for the outdoors and wildlife. However, this 28-year-old man has traveled a hard road in recent years.

It began when he graduated from McMinn County High School in 2003 and immediately enlisted in the Army. Following basic training at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, he shipped out, serving in the DMZ between North and South Korea while also training to be an airborne reconnaissance marksman. From there, it was on to Iraq for 18 months … until Feb 28, 2005. He obviously has vivid memories of the exact day and time when two 155 mm artillery rounds, rigged as an IED, exploded five feet from his unarmored Humvee.

“Immediately after the explosion, they opened up on us with small arms fire,” Rex said.

He took several bullets to the legs after having already been raked by shrapnel from the IED.

“I had to stay in Iraq for two weeks,” he said. “At that particular time it wasn’t safe to fly out because of heavy RPG fire. They finally got me out to Germany and then on to Walter Reed Hospital.”

Overall, Rex spent more than nine months in various hospitals and rehabilitation facilities before the Army retired him on a medical disability … and it was back home to Athens.

“I'm mobile,” said Rex by telephone. “But I have to take it easy. I have disabilities, but it doesn't have to limit me.”

It was early last year when Rex, who had been an avid hunter and outdoorsman all his life, heard about a special program sponsored by the Safari Club International (SCI) from a Veterans Affairs representative. Rex’s name had been submitted for a special Wounded Warrior hunt, sponsored by the Chattanooga Chapter of SCI.

A few months later he got a call from Keith Watson, president of the Chattanooga chapter of the SCI, and learned he had been selected for what he calls “the hunt of a lifetime.” The next thing Rex knew, he was on a plane bound for an all-expenses paid hunt on the Record Buck Ranch in the aptly named Utopia, Texas. He was outfitted with a brand new 30.06 rifle and a Leupold/Redfield scope and binoculars … all donated by SCI.

Writing about the climax of his hunt, the skilled marksman said, “My breathing was heavy with excitement.  I took my three deep breaths for control, and on the third breath, I exhaled and held it at the same time gradually pulling the trigger.  I continued to slowly squeeze the trigger until the rifle fired the shot that would hopefully make my trip complete.”

The shot, of course, went true. Rex took an 8-point buck that scored 141 and weighed 213 pounds.

It was Jose Ortega y Gasset in “Meditations on Hunting” who wrote, "One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted. If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.”

Rex says that is exactly what this hunt was all about for him.

“The hunting part was great, of course,” he said. “But the experience to see nature and all the variety of wildlife on this ranch ... sitting back watching their behavior ... stuff like that was just breathtaking. People don’t take time to notice these things. To be able to just sit back, enjoy the experience and see all that was just spectacular.”

Watson said, “Record Buck Ranch was amazing. They upgraded Rex’s hunt for no charge; they wouldn’t accept tips. They even insisted Rex’s brother accompany him on the hunt, take a management deer. I can’t say enough good things about the way Record Buck Ranch handled this hunt.”

Back home in Athens, Rex is looking ahead. He’s been taking classes at Lee University but hopes to enroll at UTK and get a wildlife management degree.

But he says he’ll carry the memory of an amazing hunt for a lifetime.

“I want to thank everyone who helped make a dream come true for an Iraqi wounded soldier,” he said. “The trip was definitely the trip of a lifetime!”

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.