USMC GySgt Jeremy A. Rash, takes aim on the rifle range, one of seven hunter skill’s challenges presented to participants of this year’s Purple Heart Quail Hunt at Southern Wilderness Plantation in Edison. The hunter’s skill challenge was held at the plantation as a way for visiting servicemen to have fun while getting to know each other the day before Saturday’s quail hunt. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
EDISON — Various members of the U.S. Military Special Forces gathered in Edison this weekend for some much needed rest and relaxation at the annual Purple Heart Quail Hunt at Southern Wilderness Plantation.
The hunt, which kicks off the annual Purple Heart Outdoor Tour, is designed to bring together members of different branches of the armed services to enjoy a weekend of south Georgia quail hunting and southern hospitality.
“This is a great opportunity for these guys to relax and meet guys from other branches of service and experience the hospitality of southwest Georgia,” said Dan Hammack, a retired Army Green Beret and owner of Southern Wilderness Plantation. “This is something these guys remember as they go through their careers. They meet new people and expand their networks while having some fun.”
Roughly 40 servicemen attended this year’s hunt, the majority of whom are on active duty and represented a cross section of the armed services special forces groups from bases throughout the country. Present were members of Marine Special Forces, Army Green Berets, Army Rangers and members of the Army Rangers Traning Brigade.
According to Hammack, invitees to the hunt were chosen by their superiors and had to meet certain criteria, including being officers, being on active duty since 9/11 and having been awarded a Purple Heart or other valor citation.
“These are top of the line warriors,” Hammack said. “These are top of the line guys who deserve to get away and have some fun.”
As part of the fun, in addition to Saturday’s quail hunt, organizers had some special events set up on Friday to mark the beginning the weekend; a hunter’s skill challenge and a shotgun demonstration conducted by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit from Fort Benning.
After a late lunch of lobster, fish, shrimp and barbecue prepared by members of the New York Fire Department, guests were taken by hunting buggy to a shooting range on the Southern Wilderness Plantation, where the real fun began.
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Weeks and Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond, on hand representing the marksmanship team, kicked things off, demonstrating their shotgun skills in a series of trick shots.
After addressing the crowd, Richmond thanked them for the opportunity to be a part of the event and explained why being able to attend events like this was important to the marksmanship team.
“One thing that we were asked to do when we came down here is demonstrate a little bit of our shotgun talent that we do across the country in an event like this,” Richmond said. “This is one of the ways at the marksmanship unit that we can connect America’s people with America’s Army and most of us here, with the crowd being veterans, we look forward to y’all helping us out, harassing us if we miss, cheering us a little if you see something you like and we’ll do our best to try to awe you.”
As the day’s shooter, Richmond not only entertained them, but managed to awe the crowd with his shotgun shooting ability, while his teammate Weeks, also a decorated shooter, assisted him and kept the crowd entertained with his comical banter.
Weeks, who served as the head coach for the USA Shooting Team during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, laughingly encouraged the audience to boo or cheer while he gave Richmond increasingly difficult tricks to perform.
“Normally Josh and I both trade off and we both shoot, but we decided for this, Josh would shoot, so that will make my job a whole lot easier,” Weeks said. “I get to talk and make fun of Josh. As you’ll see as the show goes on I try to make things more difficult for him because I do like when the crowd boos against him. My job in this whole thing is to make him miss, your job is to make sure that you recognize that he did miss and that you let him know that he missed.”
Despite all of his efforts to make Richmond miss, Weeks was unable to throw the shooter off his game as he completed a myriad of shotgun tricks, which included shooting varying amounts of clay pigeons one-handed, over his head while pulling the trigger with this thumb and from between his legs.
Proving why he has been a nine-year member of the marksmanship unit, an 11-year member of the U.S. National Shooting Team and a 2012 Olympian, Richmond repeatedly wowed the crowd with his shot-making talent, drawing particularly hearty cheers when he performed a trick where he shot three targets Weeks had thrown at one time, shooting one target, then shooting the expelled plug, then the second target, then the plug, then the third target then the plug.
Adding even more fun to the demonstration Richmond and Weeks concocted a shotgun salad of sorts with Weeks tossing apples, watermelons, grapes, potatoes, eggs, onions and other foods into the air for Richmond to shoot. They capped off the salad with a can whipped cream, much to the delight of their fellow troops.
After the demonstration, Hammack addressed the group and explained how they would be spending the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other.
“We’re getting ready to do what we call the hunter challenge, The Ultimate Hunter Challenge,” Hammack began. “There’s going to be seven teams competing at seven stations. Each team is named after a Native American Indian of our choosing who we admire.
Once Hammack gave instruction to the guests, the men broke into their assigned teams and began rotating through the stations testing their various skills while making new friends and having a good time.
“This is a lot of fun,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Will Nolen. “I’m really glad I was invited.”
Beau Ferrick, a Marine Corps corporal from Louisianna, echoed Nolen’s comments, saying that being able to do this after a recent deployment was exciting.
“This is really great, I’m excited,” Ferrick said. “All of my buddies back at Camp Lejeune, they’re all jealous that I got to come to this while they’re all sitting there in the snow.”
In addition to being happy about getting a fun weekend off, Ferrick, an avid hunter, was also excited to do some famed south Georgia quail hunting, something he doesn’t get to do back home in Cameron Parrish.
“I’m a big duck hunter; being down in the marsh,” said Ferrick. “We have a camp in Holly Beach, Cameron Parrish and I loved it out there, so I’m looking forward to this.”
In addition to the hunt and skills challenge activities, volunteers made sure guests felt welcomed and were treated some good, old fashioned southern hospitality.
According to volunteer Tom Sanders, whose family’s Bell Plantation, also in Edison, hosts hunters for lodging and hunting during the weekend, many area land owners and volunteers pitched in to make the weekend a success.
“The troops go to other area plantations, for lodging and then for quail hunts (Saturday),” Sanders said. “We have two- or three-man shoot teams and they go to different properties (throughout the area). They go to one group in the morning, go to another group in the afternoon.
“The folks from Applebee’s treated the troops to a steak dinner (Friday) at the McClendon Barn facility over in Leary. (Saturday) night, Rob Martin, who’s the food service director at Sherwood Baptist (prepared) a whole hog. The folks there at Carroll’s meats in Albany provided us with the meat.”
Other sponsors who worked hard to make the weekend a success were Albany Beverage Co., Bates Gas Co., Dawson Road Pawn, North Slappey Pawn, Georgia Loan & Gun, Flint River Materials, Diverse Power Co., U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, We4Martins Catering & Events, Damascus Peanut Co., Patriot Arms, Dawson Pawn, U.S. Foods, Alston Farms, Bell Plantation, Dick Whitcomb Property, Fort Hill Farms, Hammack Farm, Magnolia Plantation, McClendon’s Barn, Rocky Ridges Lodge, Bradley Lakes and Duskins Deer Camp.
Albany’s American Legion Post 30 also worked hard to make the event a success, providing volunteers and transportation. Legion volunteer Michael Humphrey best summed up the spirit of everyone who lent a hand when saying it was really a privilege to help, rather than work to be done.
“This is our seventh year,” said Humphrey” “Me and my son do it voluntarily; we don’t get anything for it. Well, we do get something for it; we get the satisfaction of doing something for these guys and that’s more than enough.”