Freedom Hunters now has a local chapter

Freedom Hunters now has a local chapter

“I was combat-wounded and kinda messed up when I got out.”

That’s how Brady Melear started his story on how he got involved with Freedom Hunters, a 501(c) nonprofit organization that strives to provide outdoor adventures for veterans, active duty, Gold Star families and children of deployed. As he was being medically discharged from the Army, where he had served for 10 years, he was asked what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He said, “I want to take veterans outdoors.” That was in 2014.

Melear tried other organizations before he found Freedom Hunters, but they just didn’t click with him. Now Freedom Hunters is a passion that both he and his wife, Jessica, share.

His wife spent 13 years active in the Coast Guard and is now in the reserves. They also have full-time jobs and sons who are 13, 11 and 11 months.

Melear is an outreach coordinator for the organization. They have had six events this year including a pheasant hunt on Oct. 31 at Elsaan Outfitting near New Castle.

“Jessica raised over $3,000 for that event,” Melear said. “Vets just have to show up; we take care of everything else. She cooked, and we had 27 volunteers and veterans enjoy the day.”

Melear said this is a cause that is close to both of their hearts. “It helps me as much as it does the people who come. It’s therapeutic for everyone. You see people come, and they are shy, quiet, standing alone, and a few hours later, they are laughing and having fun. And a few days later, you find yourself in a group message with guys talking like they have known each other since kindergarten. It’s a pretty cool experience,” he said.

Melear said any veteran, active duty, Gold Star family member or child of a deployed service member is welcome to apply for an adventure. “Go to the website and apply. And this puts them in our date base so outreach coordinators from all over the country can find them if they have an event they might be interested in,” he said.

The website is www.freedomhunters.org. “Everything is paid for — their room, food, ammo. They just need to get there,” Melear said.

Melear said he has taken people on adventures that have post traumatic stress disorder, are double amputees or any number of other injuries. But the adventures are for anyone.

“Sometimes, even vets that aren’t visibly injured still need to be around others who understand. Not all injuries are visible. We want everyone to come and have fun,” Melear said.

They can choose a wide variety of hunting experiences such as deer, turkey, duck or coon. Lake Erie fishing trips also are popular choices. “But we don’t want people to think they have to hunt. We have some that just want to target shoot, and that’s great. It’s whatever they want to do,” Melear said.

One of their biggest challenges is finding landowners who would be willing to let them hunt on their land. “Many are worried about liability issues. But landowners are never responsible for anything that may happen. Everyone signs waivers, and Freedom Hunters has insurance to cover anything. We just need more places to take our veterans,” Melear said.

Melear said he is willing to talk to any landowner and explain more about the program. “We just need more places,” he said.

Another challenge is funding. Everything they do is made possible by donations.

“I want people to know that anything they donate is tax-deductible and that their donations go 110% to our veterans and military families. Jessica and I always put in money for events too. We don’t get paid for this; all donations help the families we serve,” Melear said.

Melear said he also is looking for local veterans and active-duty service members who might be interested in an outdoor adventure or to volunteer at an event. “Military have their own language. Being around others who understand can be a huge relief and release to the people who are participating,” he said.

Anyone who would like to volunteer, donate or talk to Melear about the possible use of land can email him at melear@freedomhunters.org.

“It’s just amazing to see their smiles, hear them laughing and having a good time. It helps me as much as it does them — maybe even more,” Melear said.