Gunnison pheasant hunt providers cameraderie for veterans
Five years ago, a Gunnison man wanted to find a way to support veterans through camaraderie and the great outdoors, and so he started a tradition that is making an impact on everyone involved.
Justen Mellor, Gunnison councilman and founder of United We March, a veteran support organization, organized a day of pheasant hunting for his veteran friends.
“It just kind of started as a gathering of groups of these veterans together to get to know each other,” Mellor told the Messenger. “These guys are all amazing to me. We call them heroes but they’re not invincible. They have their own struggles too and at the hunt all these guys from different walks of like get to meet, communicate and laugh and be outside. The setting is a big part of it. The outdoors are stress-free. It’s nature therapy. Plus, we’re rural folks, and we love to hunt and fish and it becomes a way to get them together.”
The first year saw about five veterans come to enjoy the hunt. All the costs of the hunt, including ammunition and food were covered by Mellor and United We March. This year, more than 20 veterans came to participate in the hunt, and well as some law enforcement officers.
The group met on Saturday, Nov. 14 at the South Farm Pheasant Ranch in Fayette for the recent hunt, but Mellor says he also holds them at Pig’s Hunting Club in Gunnison as well.
After meeting in the morning, the group held a flag ceremony and sang the national anthem. Then the hunters will introduce themselves and share what they are willing to share. It could be something about their service or their family, but in general it’s just a way to get everyone talking.
“It’s pretty powerful to hear them,” Mellor says. “You want to hear their stories, and it’s good for them to get them out. They start connecting, and realize there is still camaraderie and brotherhood. That they are not alone, and they have support.”
Then they divide up into groups to begin the hunt. From here, Mellor says it increasingly becomes a good time for everyone as they warm up to each other, shoot, miss and give each a hard time along the way. They eat lunch together—this year it was donated by Subway in Salina. After the day’s hunt is done, they dress and divvy up the meat between everyone to take home to their families.
Mellor says the veterans always come up and tell him how much they enjoyed the hunt and that he needs to keep it going. Along the way, Mellor says he has seen participants dealing with a struggle in their lives, and the positive connections they build at the hunts make a difference. He says he has seen veterans come back year after year, with less of a burden on their minds and more positivity about life.
And they don’t just say they want to come back, Mellor says. They want to help and become involved in the process of supporting other veterans.
“Their help just makes it that much better,” Mellor says. “In life, you can’t do anything well alone. In the first year, it was mostly on me, but this year was especially different because I have more people than ever to help share the load this year with help. It was overwhelming and it shows much everybody cares about veterans.”
Mellor says Jason Fowles and Sanpete County Commissioners donated the birds to hunt this year, and Evan Mitchell helped with the purchase of ammunition. He also says the Bartholomew family, as always, were a big help.
“It’s really a group effort now,” Mellor says. “The core of it all is just getting these great people together to make friends and get contact. The funniest thing about it is they give each other so much crap. They become really tight, and they understand each other from what they’ve been through. They never even knew each other, but after that they did.”