By Holly Overman
Hunt of a Lifetime is an amazing nonprofit organization with a great mission. They grant dream hunts and fishing adventures of children age 21 and under that’s been diagnosed with life threatening illnesses or disabilities. They really want to help make a difference in their lives and make certain dreams come true.
The founder was inspired to begin this foundation by his son Matt who was also diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Matt loved the outdoors and wanted to experience everything he could while he could. After his own experience of getting his son the dream hunt that he deserved; he wanted to make that a better experience for others.
Kaden has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that progressively deteriorates his muscles from his limbs to his heart. He was slowly losing his ability to walk and his upper body strength was deteriorating as well. He could walk fine on flat ground, but had to be carried by his father Craig up anything with an incline. Kaden has always dreamed of hunting with his dad and getting a bull elk some day. Every hunting season he’d ask if this was the year that he could hunt with him. Well in 2014 the Hunt of a Lifetime foundation granted Kaden his dream elk hunt when he was 9 years old. At the time he weighed roughly 85lbs. The Idaho chapter of HOAL was given the opportunity to pick the area for them to hunt and chose the Owyhee Mountains.
As a parent, Craig worried that his son was too young to endure everything that it would take to get that type of hunt done mentally, and obviously physically. He feared that his son would have difficulty with the rifle movements and shooting his target. So they spent hours preparing to shoot targets and by the second trip to the range, Kaden was touching bullet holes. It was such a proud moment for both of them.
Kaden drove his mom crazy perfecting his bugle and cow calls from his bedroom with his voice and a bugle tube. Taking Kaden on trips to the hills to bugle at local bulls in preparation for the hunt was difficult, but seeing his face light up when they called in that first bull was so amazing. Kaden successfully called in a respectable 5x5 Washington bull. Neither one of them knew what they were in for. It was truly an amazing feeling.
Finally the day had come that they had been waiting for their trip to Idaho. Kaden was so excited that he could not stop talking about it. They arrived in Meridian Idaho to meet up with his guide Bryan Fredrickson. Bryan is a Firefighter/Paramedic with Meridian Fire Dept. A large portion of the Idaho chapter is ran by Firefighters, EMS workers, and some other amazing men.
Craig and Kaden were graciously invited into Bryan’s in-laws home and they felt right at home. The next morning it was time to pack up for the actual trip. Excitement grew even more because it was all about to happen. They started the trip off at the Boise Cabela’s where they were immediately greeted at the door with balloons and backpacks full of goodies. Kaden even got a shopping spree for anything he wanted. Seriously, anything from boots and camo to toy guns. Some well known companies donated some items for him as well. Savage donated the rifle/scope combo, and Nosler donated bullets. Defensive Edge Gunsmith's in Idaho donated the muzzle brake to make the 7mm-08 bark much less than its bite. The generosity of these companies was overwhelming.
That afternoon they made their way out to the camp to meet another camper that was going on a hunt just like Kaden. His name was Devin but their flight was delayed so they’d be getting to camp a little later. While at the camp, they met the volunteers that had been out for days scouting the area for the Intel they’d need for the hunt. They were confident that the boys would have a great hunt. After settling in their outfitter tent, Devin finally arrived at the camp with his guide, his mentor Kyle Rajsich, and the rest of the volunteers.
That night they enjoyed an amazing dinner cooked by Verlyn Browner. Kaden and Devin spent time sharing their dreams of how their hunting adventures would hopefully go. Then came the presentations from many sponsors showering the boys with so many presents. Afterwards they broke to their tents for the first sleepless night in camp. The next morning, they woke up around 5 am to an amazing breakfast and coffee.
They arrived at an area with a large population of bulls that had been scouted in the days prior. John Lazzar from the Washington chapter of SCI said that there were nearly 25 large bulls in a valley that he scouted with a few pushing 375+. As they were climbing the mountain in the dark with Kaden on his dad’s back, they stopped to rest. That is when it all got real. In every direction they could hear non-stop bugles. It sounded like a bull elk concert. Their adrenalin was pumping non-stop. They were all fired up and ready to get back on the move. Kaden whispered to his dad, “We are going to be done in an hour."
Come daylight, they were in position for a perfect shot for the morning migration pattern that Caldwell set up. Since Kaden could not hold up any weight with his arms and he tires quickly, a certain chair became a godsend for his trip. They were in for a treat as they called and watched this one hillside erupt into a full blown rut fest. Bulls were running everywhere bugling and sparring. They counted 27 total bulls and more seemed to be coming out of nowhere.
Blaine Bergin of Antler Trader had spotted a bull that would forever be tattooed in their memories. This big boy was a 380 class 6x7. Unfortunately this bull, and most of the others were about 100 yards on private land that they could not obtain permission to hunt on. They sat, watched and called trying to draw him closer to them. Kaden took the opportunity to set his crosshairs on his first bull elk which was not the big one but still a good 320 bull that was less than 75 yards on open land. He wanted to just take a practice shot with an empty chamber so he slowly squeezes the trigger… Click... Then he says "GOT YA!" He did this a couple of times on bulls that any one of them would have loved to bag, but he had his mind made up that he wanted the 6x7. He had an amazing skill and patience to pass on those bulls but this was his hunt and it was all on his terms.
From day one of learning about this hunt, they were told that there was no expectations for Kaden to perform or even harvest unless he wanted to. As a parent, they completely loved that there was no pressure and that it was all about their son.
On into the morning, it started to become evident that the big bulls weren't interested in coming over and the 6x7 was running the only females in the valley. They relocated to try to find more action and could hear bulls everywhere. They spent that evening calling in bulls, but none of which were shooters.
The next day they went back to the top of the hill where they spent the first morning hoping the same elk would be migrating back through the public land. Unfortunately the elk had spread throughout the area. With no bull's close by, they immediately changed plans to try to salvage the morning hunt and spot some elsewhere. They also tried to help Devin's group by spotting some for them since they were trying to call in a bull they did have eyes on.
They spent that evening in a new area closer to camp below the mountain where all the action happened the day before hoping that a few were in the aspen patches. They had plenty of action but nothing in range. This is when reality set in for them that this hunt wasn't going to be easy as the terrain was rough and the bulls were educated.
The following day they set up on a high point where they could call and glass to try to find a bull to work in. Bryan and Blaine dropped down to a spot they felt was holding the elk so Verlyn, Kaden, and I stayed up top glassing. Craig was starting to worry that this hunt was a little too much on Kaden as he was sitting there shivering and looking defeated. But just then it all changed.
Bryan and Blaine ran up the hill and said "Grab your stuff, we have two bulls working down below!" Bryan said to Kaden "Buddy, I think it's the bull you passed on the first day. Do you want to go after him?" Kaden replied "Heck yes!" So they headed down the hill with the Chairpod and packs to a chosen setup point where they felt had a few shooting lanes. A point where the bulls should come up through the timber into the grassy openings.
Once they got the Chairpod set and lined up with the lane they felt that the closest bull was going to come through, Bryan lets out a bugle. Both bulls responded simultaneously and suddenly Kaden really perked up. The life was back in his face and he no longer appeared affected by the cold. The bulls were screaming and coming in fast. The bugles were close enough that it raised the hair on the back of their neck. They heard the bull elk coming up the opposite lane, so they quickly repositioned Kaden’s chair. Right then it all became like slow motion.
As a father, Craig worried if he done all he could to prepare his son for such a situation. Then the antlers appeared. Kaden got his rifle ready and Bryan said, "Do you want him Buddy?" Kaden quietly whispers, "Yeah." Bryan tells Kaden to set the crosshairs for the shot, and Kaden pulls the trigger. The fire of the rifle was quickly followed by Kaden asking, "Did I get him?" Verlyn turned and said you got him. That is when all the rush of emotions completely overcame everyone.
Craig put so much pressure on himself allowing his young son to hunt such a remarkable creature and the fear that there would come a day that he woult not be able to be on his own feet. But it all faded when he looked at the size of Kaden’s smile the moment he had seen his bull piled up less than 75 yards below where they last saw him. A dark horned 5x6 bull elk that was all his. A perfectly placed shot exactly where he was taught to shoot for the most humane and quick kill.
It was such an amazing feeling packing up his bull elk all quartered out. As they drove into camp in the Polaris Ranger, Blaine told Kaden to take the wheel and drive his bull into camp. Everyone in camp was there to meet them and congratulated him on a very successful hunt. Kaden had a huge smile on his face that lit up the mountain tops that day.
I am truly honored to write about this wonderful organization that puts their heart and soul into all that they do for others. They provide such awesome experiences for so many kids. Craig now volunteers for them every year since then to help give back. He even started a chapter of Hunt of a Lifetime in his home state of Washington. He truly fell in love with their mission and does all that he can to help them. If you’d like to donate to or volunteer with this incredible foundation, go to www.huntofalifetime.org.