One evening last fall my phone rang. Nothing out of the ordinary but the call quickly livened things up great deal. On the other end of the line was Jeff Van Gilder, president of the Field of Dreams hunt program. He asked me if I would like the opportunity to try to harvest a bull elk. Their Board of Directors had chosen me for an alternate candidate for the hunt! My head was instantly spinning with the logistics of something like that. My first thought was would my son, Riley be available for the trip… Would my caregiver Jennifer be up for the trip… The 243 I now use for deer was too small but was my 30-06 still sighted in from last year's bear hunt… And so on. With so much excitement but so many questions, it took me a long time to tell Jeff "heck yeah!
Being an alternate meant I had to be ready on short notice so my first task was to get my 30-06 cleaned up and the scope sighted in. Once that was accomplished and I got the thumbs up from everyone involved that they were okay with the trip, the waiting game began. As time went by, it sounded like the original hunter picked was going to be healthy enough for the trip so my chance would wait another season. It was bittersweet situation because I had let myself get excited but nonetheless, I was happy the other hunter was going to make it. He did the trip and despite more than a few difficulties connected with a very nice bull. I began to shift gears and get ready for the regular archery season. It wasn't long before I heard from Jeff again saying that there might be a second hunt for me . "so be ready because there might be little if any notice!"
Just a few days later, I found myself loaded in my Van heading for a 500 acre game ranch in Wisconsin!
Field of Dreams had their hunting trailer set overlooking a nice waterhole but they kindly offered me the chance to spend a beautiful afternoon in a portable blind. I chose that.
Riley putting the finishing touches on my positioning
While the woods were quieting down and Riley, Jeff, and I were in the blind, we needed to make a choice of a direction elk were likely to appear. Remember that I shoot with a bite trigger and control my rifle with a mouth joystick so my motion is a little bit limited. With the wind coming right off the waterhole, they could come from either right or left of us. We chose left and settled in for what we expected to be a long wait. Time passed quickly with distant bugles to conjure up old images of western mountain meadows in my mind and my disability was long forgotten.
Our attention was focused out the left side of the blind so of course a bull came sneaking toward the waterhole from directly behind us. Without a sound, suddenly the bull materialized 15 yards from the blind and he was big!!
There I was, nestled comfortably in my blind with a shooter bull at 15 yards and my wheelchair was pointed completely in the wrong direction. My chair is very noisy to turn so there was absolutely no way for me to get on that elk. As often happens, my son Riley saved the day by disengaging the motor on his side of the wheelchair and teaching Jeff how to do so on the other. With the motors disengaged, they ever so carefully swiveled me 180° so I was pointed in the right general direction.
The big bull continued his walk right up to the edge of the waterhole and Jeff gave a quiet cow call to turn the bull and give me a quartering shot. Riley and Jeff had reengaged my motors so I could control the tilt of my chair to get the crosshairs right behind his shoulder. There was no more hesitation and my 180 grain 30-06 performed perfectly. We didn't waste any time taking my rifle rest off and rolling out of the blind to get closer to my trophy.
As I looked across the hillside at the mass of those beautiful antlers, the mixture of feelings that came over me was powerful. There was excitement and I shook like a leaf as the adrenaline left my body. There was sadness because that big old bull wouldn't wander the woods anymore. There was a grateful feeling because I knew he would feed my family for a long time and the memories would last forever.
As the guys drug the elk up to more accessible ground, we got set for pictures.
The sun settled in the West as we took care of the bull to the distant sound of bugles. Looking toward the end of the day, we could see what must've been the big herd bull silhouetted with his harem letting me know that it was a good day, and there will always be more of these big animals wandering these woods.
I would like to thank the Field of Dreams Hunt Club for this amazing opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams. My thanks to Jennifer for all that she does keeping me going and getting me to opportunities like this. Thank you to Riley for our time spent in the blinds through the years and for his ingenuity and always making things work. Jeff and Chris, you guys really touched my heart with this one. I so often feel blessed by the kindness and generosity of the people around me.
Don! Good for you!
I printed this out and put it in front of Phillip. His eyes didn't hold up well enough to see it through from start to finish. He looked at the pictures a long time, and then handed it back to me to do the reading for him.
Best entertainment he had all day long.
Thank you for alerting me. I'd never have noticed a new hunting story had been posted. And I wouldn't have wanted Phillip to miss this.
Thank you so much for sharing ... It was the next best thing to being there.