Robby Amerson knows what a hunting trip can do for people. He knows what such trips have done for him.
He understands how the combination of reflective time spent alone in the dappled light of the deep woods and the focus of the hunt followed by camaraderie around a campfire can heal wounds salves can’t touch.
That’s why just seven days after a hunting accident took his left leg below the knee, he was back in the woods on crutches.
For the past two years, Amerson and friends have organized free hunts for military veterans in state-owned wildlife management areas across Georgia. This year will be their biggest event so far.
From Friday through Monday, Southeastern Veterans Hunt will hold a free hunt at Clarks Hill WMA for veterans and one guest each. Their biggest event will be Nov. 3-5 at Tuckahoe WMA for veterans and their families. Another quality buck only hunt is planned for Nov. 10-12 at Di-Lane WMA.
Amerson, a lifelong resident of Columbia County, has been hunting since he was 13.
“My dad got me into it,” he said.
Growing up it was mostly deer hunting, but every now and then he went squirrel hunting with his grandfather.
“The thing I love the most, it’s not necessarily seeing a deer, it’s just being there,” Amerson said. “You get to watch nature at its best. … Everything’s quiet in the woods and you’re able to just sit there and listen.”
When he turned 16 and was able to drive he started exploring wildlife management areas.
On Nov. 26, 2001, Amerson was at a hunting club with his brother and a friend trying out his brother’s new muzzleloader when his world changed forever.
It was the end of the day. They were all coming out of the woods when Amerson tripped and fell.
“I hadn’t taken the (firing) cap off of the gun,” he said. “When it hit the ground it went off and hit me in shin. It kind of felt like somebody set my leg on fire. I remember jumping up and trying to run. We were right there by the truck. I remember taking a step and going straight down. Later I saw where there was just a piece of skin in the front. It had taken everything off.”
He went into the hospital on a Friday, and the following Saturday he was in the woods on crutches.
“My family made me get out and get back on the horse,” he said. “I didn’t shoot that time, but being in the woods, it kind of comforted me. I think I saw three doe, but I couldn’t bring myself to shoot. It was several, several weeks before I was able to pull a trigger on a gun because it scared me so bad.”
It was after Christmas before he was shooting at targets again and by the next hunting season, he was back. Just a few years later he started taking other people hunting, at first just one or two at a time.
A few years ago, Amerson heard about an opportunity for veterans to win a chance to go on an all-expenses-paid hunt.
“We got to thinking about it and decided to organize one that anyone could go to,” he said. “We put it on Facebook and it just blew up. That first year we had 75 people show up.”
The first group hunt was at Yuchi WMA in Burke County.
“They came from all over the state,” he said. “It was a mixture of older veterans and young guys. Some just wanted to get outdoors and didn’t have anybody to go with. So we’ve started building this network so maybe next time they have a buddy to go with.
“A lot of veterans may not have a place to hunt, but the state of Georgia has all this land they can use. They may not know how to hunt WMAs, and so I try to teach them to get off the beaten path.”
Amerson said he and his friends spend a lot of time scouting the areas and marking trails so that the guys who come out are not going near other hunters.
“We have had a couple of wheelchair hunters and so I’ll clean paths so that we can get them in there to blinds,” he said. “I don’t hunt on these trips. I’m out there scouting for somebody else. … If you’re there when someone does shoot a deer they get overwhelmed with excitement and they can hardly breathe and that’s what gets me.”
Amerson said he enjoys serving veterans in this way.
“We have a good time. We eat together and hang out around the fire and if we kill a deer, that’s a bonus,” he said. “I can’t relate with them in the war aspect or being overseas. But I can get a few of them together.”
The first couple of years, Amerson said, he and a couple of friends paid for just about everything out of their own pockets. This year they have recruited a number of sponsors.
“This year it’s turning out to be a pretty big deal,” Amerson said. “We have three 3-day hunts planned. The Sept. 23 to 25 hunt is actually a rifle hunt during bow season that DNR puts on at Clarks Hill WMA.”
Amerson said he expects the biggest turnout to be at the Tuckahoe WMA hunt in Screven County Nov. 3-5.
“There’s no participation limit,” he said. “The more the merrier.”
Amerson said his group, Southeastern Veteran Hunts, plans to give away a muzzle loading rifle and at least two Ohio hunts, one is a guided spring turkey hunt and another is a late season deer hunt.
Amerson’s group’s third hunt of the season will be held Nov. 10 through Nov. 12 at 8,100 acre Di-Lane Plantation WMA in Burke County.
Anyone interested can contact Amerson on Facebook at Southeastern Veteran Hunts or call (706) 993-0897.
“If it doesn’t look like you can make one of those hunts, give me a call anyway,” he said. “I’m always looking for a buddy to take with me.”