Several years ago, I submitted an elk hunting film to the Full Draw Film Tour. At the film tour stop in Boise, I was so excited to be able to watch the film on the big screen. However, the part of that night that stuck with me after the show was the charity organization the FDFT donated proceeds to. The Hunt of a Lifetime organization was the recipient of their proceeds that year, and their mission was simple: fulfilling dreams for children with life-threatening illnesses. What made them unique was that they sent these children on dream hunts rather than on vacations or trips to Disneyland. I knew immediately that I wanted to be able to contribute in some way.
Over the next few years, Elk101.com donated items and gear to Hunt of a Lifetime to help them raise money to be able to bring these children on hunts here in Idaho. I listened each season to the inspiring stories of these amazing children who came out and were able to forget about their challenges for a few days as they immersed themselves in elk hunting. Many of the kids were so sick or weak from treatments, they had to be carried up the mountains day after day by one of the volunteers. In every case, the children’s smiles were bigger and brighter, and the volunteer’s lives were changed in a major way.
In August of 2012, Caitlin Sall was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma (Cancer) and received 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 31 rounds of radiation over the next 10 months. She was declared in remission in April 2013, but after being in remission for nearly a year, Caitlin was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia caused by her previous treatments. About a month after being diagnosed with Leukemia, it was found that Caitlin’s Synovial Sarcoma had also come back.
Caitlin received more treatments of chemotherapy and radiation, but ultimately needed a bone marrow transplant. During the summer of 2014 a matching bone marrow donor was found and Caitlin was declared cancer free. She came out on a dream elk hunt last fall, and Donnie was able to go on that hunt with the team from Hunt of a Lifetime, and watch Caitlin shoot an awesome bull. After hearing Caitlin’s story, as well as Donnie’s experience, I wanted to be more involved.
To make a long story short, the local chapter of HOAL allowed a group of us from Elk101.com to set up and facilitate a hunt this year. On Monday, October 3, 10-year-old Alex and his father, Ron, and 8-year-old Harrison and his father, Jay, flew into Boise to start their dream elk hunts. Alex would be hunting with our camp, and Harrison would be with the main HOAL group, camped nearby.
When we met Alex at the airport, he asked how big the elk were in the area we were going to be hunting. I told him there were some nice ones, and he asked if there were any 5×5’s. I told him I was sure there were, and he asked, “Are the any 6×6’s?”. I told him I had seen a few in there, and he said, “My dream would be to shoot a 6×6 bull!” The first evening out there, Alex heard his first elk bugle, and 10 minutes later, he had a beautiful 6×6 bull standing 20 yards away from him. We were all awaiting the gunshot, but the bull slowly turned and walked off. Alex had heard a bigger sounding bull bugling over the ridge, and was determined to see that bull. However, we were out of daylight, so we returned to camp. Back at camp, we watched the footage from the evening, and Alex said, “I didn’t realize that bull was so big! If he comes in again, there’s no way I’m going to pass him!”
We went back to the same area the next morning, and could hear the growler bull over the ridge. Another bull started bugling to our right, and that nice 6X6 bull came in to our calls and stopped 150 yards away. Alex was true to his word, and even with the growler screaming just out of sight, he pulled the trigger on the 6X6. Two quick shots behind the shoulder and the bull was down. The growler continued to bugle from just over the ridge, and as we continued calling, the screams got louder and louder. Just minutes after Alex pulled the trigger, the growler stepped out 100 yards away. I’ll let you watch the video from this hunt when it’s available to see just how big the growler bull was, but I’ll just say this: Alex made the right decision!
There were 7 individuals who volunteered to help out on this hunt, and it was a life-changing experience for each of us. A huge thanks to Elk101.com Pro Staff members Ty Stubblefield, Russ Meyer, Tony Mudd, and Donnie Drake, along with Jeremiah Pope and Max Johnson who have been involved with Hunt of a Lifetime for several years. Additionally, camera guys John Abernathey and Ben Potter were along to capture the hunt and help out.
It is absolutely amazing to watch a young child who has been given life-threatening challenges escape from reality for a few days and experience what they consider to be their dream. You couldn’t wipe the smile off Alex’s face the rest of the week.
We started working up Alex’s bull, and a bull bugled from the top of the ridge across from us. This distraction pulled us 40 yards from Alex’s bull and we set up to see if we could call in another bull for Alex’s amusement (and maybe a little for our’s as well)! The bull came in on a string, and was 10 yards from stepping on one of the camera guys. It was a beautiful 7×7 bull, and as it turned and walked down the hill to leave, we commented that it would be awesome to go to the other camp and see if Harrison wanted to come up here and try to find this bull again.
We went back to work on Alex’s bull, but over the next 2 hours, the big 7×7 continued to torment us, and we ended up calling him into bow range 2 more times. I know, it sounds too good to be true. It gets better.
We packed Alex’s bull off the mountain, and stopped by Harrison’s camp on our way back. It was awesome to hear Alex share the story with Harrison, and when he was done, he said, “Harrison, there is another big bull up there bugling his head off. You should go shoot it!” Harrison agreed, and a few hours later, we were hiking up the mountain past Alex’s carcass. Here is where the story gets better. As if it was hard enough to believe that we called in a big 7×7 three times that day on the same hillside, we were now walking back to the exact same spot, this time with 18 people! Both camps had 7 volunteers, plus Harrison and Alex and their Dads.
To make this story short, the same 7×7 bull came charging up the same mountain to the same calls, and then stood 80 yards in front of Harrison for what seemed like 4-5 minutes. In 30+ years of hunting wild, public land elk, I have never seen anything like this. Harrison finally was comfortable with the shot, and the bull made it 10 yards and piled up. If you think 2 or 3 hunters can have a celebration after a successful hunt, you should see 18 people celebrate a successful hunt by an 8-year old young man with Leukemia. There were very few dry eyes on that mountain, and we all knew God was in the details of that hunt, and in the details of these boys lives.
Someone on Facebook saw the picture of Harrison’s bull with all the volunteers and said, “Took all those people to get one elk?” No, it certainly didn’t. It just took one little man to inspire all those people to be a part of something much bigger than an elk hunt…
This was truly a “Hunt of a Lifetime”, and not just for the young hunters.
This season was one of epic proportions. There are several more details from this season that I’m going to hold out on until we are able to start getting some of the footage put together. I’ll just say this…the footage from this elk season was unlike any I’ve ever captured, or seen. You will be completely blown away, and I can’t wait to start sharing it with you.
Earlier this season, I was sitting on the top of a mountain in New Mexico with 1 bar of 1X reception on my cell phone, and my wife called. Somehow, the call came through, and I answered it and slipped over the ridge so Randy and the camera guys couldn’t hear me whine about how hard the hunt was, and how miserable I was. I told her about all the blisters and my sore knees and the heat and the lack of elk. I even told her about the little note I made out of broken sticks and left there under a tree for the elk… 🙂
Her reply brought me back to reality, and was exactly what I needed to hear. She said, “Maybe a few tough hunts like this will help you appreciate the good hunts a little more.” She couldn’t have been more right. This season was filled with highs and lows, but ultimately, I don’t think I’ll ever have another season as memorable as this. And as I sit here and type this….it isn’t over. My youngest son, Sam, turns 10 tomorrow, and he and I will be sharing his first elk hunt this weekend. And my 11 year old daughter, Jessi, is dialed in and ready to chase them next week!
The adventure continues…