Blake Hall, from Forest, Illinois, had just turned 12 when he learned that he had cancer. An avid hunter, Blake had always dreamed of shooting a huge elk, but doctors gave him the grim news that his cancer was aggressive and that his prognosis wasn't good. Wanting to help, Blake's doctor told him about Hunt of a Lifetime, an organization that allows severely ill and terminal patients to embark on dream hunts. Hunt of a Lifetime was started in 1999 by Tina Patterson. Tina's son, Matthew, was terminal with Hodgkin's disease. Matthew had told Tina that before he died, he wanted a chance to tag a big bull moose. The Make a Wish Foundation, bowing to the protests of anti-hunters, refused Matthew's request. Not wanting Matthew to die without realizing his dream, Tina frantically searched for help. With the help of the the Safari Outfitters in Cody, Wyoming, and the Safari Club International, a hunt was arranged for Matthew. Tina's quest to fulfill her son's dying wish made her realize the need for an organization to help other children with similar hunting-related wishes, so she decided to form Hunt of a Lifetime.
A Life-Changing Encounter
After hearing about Hunt of a Lifetime, I contacted the organization and offered my services. As a member of the Realtree Prostaff, and with 39 years of experience guiding hunters, I felt I could do a good job. Hunt of a Lifetime immediately put me into contact with Blake, and found out about his desire to tag a 6x6 bull elk. I immediately contacted Ron Lovercheck, a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner. Ron told me about a new Wyoming program specifically designed to give sick children a chance to hunt Wyoming big game. This program was so new, in fact, that no licenses had ever been issued. He said Blake would fit right in with what the program was all about.
With the help of my friend, and local Gillette Wyoming Game Warden John Schneidmiller, I located a great area. Plans were made with Blake, and dates were set for him and his family to arrive in Gillette. Then, Blake's luck went from bad to worse. On Oct. 5, 2004-just 2 weeks before our planned hunt-Blake's cancer returned and his doctor was forced to remove his right leg. I offered to postpone our hunt until 2005, but my suggestion was met with an amazing response: "No way! Can you wait for me just another week?" I was stunned. Blake just had his leg amputated, and yet he still wanted to chase after an elk a week later. All I could think was what a courageous young man he was. Now I was really determined to get him his bull!
Big Dream, Bigger Obstacles
True to his word, 2 weeks later Blake and his family arrived in Gillette. Although our spirits were high, the barriers in front of us were staggering: A one-legged boy, just out of the hospital sporting aluminum crutches; no road hunting allowed where we knew the elk were; and we had to walk and stalk on public land. Add to that the fact that Blake only wanted a 6x6 bull-no exceptions. A tall order for sure, but Blake was determined to succeed. Accompanying Blake and me was son-in-law, Jeff Klindt, and Blake's mom and dad, Barb and Don. They were the camera crew and they filmed every second of the hunt.
Squinting through early morning sunlight, we spotted our first 6x6 about 2 miles away. We managed to get Blake to a point where we thought we could intercept the bull, but saw nothing. Suddenly, Jeff motioned us over to where he was standing. After a 400-yard stalk to where the elk were last seen grazing, we realized we were above and within 100 yards of a raghorn and a nice 5x5. I tried to convince Blake that the bull was pretty impressive, but he never even raised his rifle. He was determined to bag a 6x6, and nothing less would do. So off we went, with the elk never knowing we were there. We soon spotted the 6x6 from earlier in the morning, bedded about 400 yards away. Unfortunately, I was too late, and he spotted us, too. He was over the hill in a wisp, never to be seen again.
Disappointed but undeterred, we decided to call it a day and plan for tomorrow's hunt. We saw dozens of elk by daybreak, but none that we could get on. By noon, we had spotted several groups of elk. One particular group, slowly grazing a few miles away, included a big 6x6, and we decided to put a stalk on him. With an hour of climbing, we could be perfectly positioned for a shot. Five hundred yards below us, however, was yet another group of elk, and this one also included a 6x6. Yet, I agonized over the first big bull. I know from experience that when a bull looks good at 5 miles, he's worth another look. I made the decision that we'd pass on the elk below us and slowly hunt toward the first bull, stopping every 10 feet or so to glass different valleys. I'm pretty sure the Halls thought I was crazy. Only 500 yards away is a perfectly good bull to stalk, and I'm puttering along toward a different bull miles away.
I've always been taught to follow your intuition, and in this case it turned out perfectly. Driving along on a two-track, I spotted the big bull. We got out of the truck, and I set my spotting scope up on the tri-pod. It was him! He had a 4x4, a spike and four cows with him. Dusk was only 2 hours away, so I rushed Blake into position for a shot. The big bull was laying down about 250 yards away, but offered no reasonable shot. Again, the bull was lying down, facing away from us. I set my spotting scope on the bull and drew his antlers to full circle. I wanted to make sure that Blake was sure this was a bull he wanted. After carefully studying the bull through the scope, Blake turned to me and nodded his head. I told Blake to stay patient, as I was confident the bull would get up and start grazing soon.
After what seemed like a month, "Big Daddy" got up, and as if on cue, turned broadside. Instantly, Blake's .270 roared, and my heart sank as I saw a cloud of dirt kick up low and left of the bull. To my surprise, the bull hadn't moved, and I told Blake to chamber another round and to calm down and just squeeze the trigger, not jerk it. Blake shot again, and struck the bull in the left front leg. Wounded, but not severely enough to prevent his escape, Big Daddy took off toward the North. I selected a cut-off ambush point, about 400 yards away from where we were-all uphill. Grabbing Blake's gun, and reloading the magazine as we walked, I tried to mentally set a pace that would allow Blake to keep up, yet not wind him when we got there. We were almost too late. The bull was there, but would be gone in seconds. Blake hit the ground, slammed the bolt to his gun shut and fired. I saw the bullet hit the mark, and shouted, "He's yours!"
We found the bull lying upside down, with his huge antlers stuck firmly into the ground. The roars, laughter, tears and hugs were nonstop, and emotions overcame us all as we realized the enormous odds Blake had overcome to fulfill his wish. In fact, not only was this bull the 6 x 6 he was after, but instead a huge 6 x 7! My hunt with Blake and his family is a memory I'll cherish forever, and I have an undying respect for everything he endured to fulfill his lifelong dream. So the next time you're out hunting and complaining about the big hills, all I ask is that you take a moment to think about Blake. If that doesn't give you a burst of energy, I don't know what will!
If you'd like to help sick children like Blake fulfill their hunting dreams, contact Hunt of a Lifetime today. They accept all types of donations such as airline miles, ammunition, etc. For more information on Hunt of a Lifetime, visit www.huntofalifetime.org.