Robin Gassett’s lodge has more than 50 mounted animal trophies, antlers, animal skins and flags. But what stands out is the hundreds of patches from various military groups.
Robin has been a hunter his whole life. He has hunted game all over the United States, as well as in Africa. Retiring to his 40-plus acres in Harrison County, Robin wanted to supplement his income by leading guided hunts. After a year of that, he was asked to guide a 14-year-old with spina bifida who used a wheelchair.
Despite the challenges, Robin stepped up. The hunt went well, and Robin realized that with his skills as a hunter and his property he could provide an opportunity for others like that teen.
He founded Licking River Outfitters, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping wounded soldiers, disabled veterans and critically ill or disabled youth go on hunts free of charge. Normally, a weekend hunt costs at least $2,000. Now, veterans from all over the country come to Robin's property for three-day weekend hunts.
"We never turn anybody away," he says. "I mean, we can't overbook our hunts, but we never turn anybody away because we don't think they are able enough to hunt. We've carried a lot of terminally ill. We've carried blind hunters. We've carried quadriplegics, lots of paraplegics, amputees."
Robin does his best to accommodate all veterans.
"We've had people here that honestly didn't think that they were capable of hunting, and we always say, 'No, if you want to hunt, We'll take you hunting,' and we would get them hunting somehow," Robin says.
But it is not all about hunting. It is about rekindling the brotherhood and memories of their military careers. The hunters tell stories, complain and laugh about their time in the military — an experience they seldom repeat.
Some of Robin's volunteers come year after year to help get everything ready. Tom Brannon first came to hunt on Robin’s farm in 2011. Since then, he has volunteered every year.
Tom was struggling with his own issues and was in a low place at the time. Robin recognized what Tom was going through and invited him back. Returning to volunteer helped Tom slowly come out of his darkness. Now Tom tries to do that for others.
"You're sitting in that blind looking at that sunrise, you're going to relax, you're going to de-stress," Tom says. "You've got three days here, that what's going on back home ... it doesn't matter here. You're going to bond with some brothers, you're going to have a good time. You're not alone anymore."