By Randall Bush
This adventure started back in August when Randall Bush, Regional Rep for Safari Club International (SCI), was contacted by Karen Crehan, a member of the Humanitarian Services Department of SCI. Each year the state of New Mexico offers two Special Elk Permits to go to persons under the age of 21 that are handicapped, disabled or suffering from a terminal illness. These permits allow the hunters to hunt in any unit of New Mexico, except private land or Indian land from September 1 to December 31. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish was offering one of these permits to SCI and Randall, being on the Humanitarian Services Committee, was asked to coordinate the hunt and provide a worthy candidate.
Randall immediately contacted Carol Clark, director of Kidz Outdoors, based out of Hueytown, Alabama. Randall is also on the Board of Directors for Kidz Outdoors. Carol said that she had over 60 possibilities to choose from.
Aside from physical limitations, the decision was based on the child that would get the greatest benefit and pleasure from such a hunt. This taken into consideration, Kalee Guin from Meridian, Mississippi was chosen as the lucky recipient. Kalee is 14 years old and has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She possesses a true love for hunting and has previously taken a bison and whitetail doe deer.
When the call was made to inform Kalee that she would be going on the hunt, she became so excited that she had a seizure. When she came out of the seizure, her first statement was, “I’m going elk hunting”.
With the help of the NM Department of Fish and Game, an outfitter was located that offered his services, free of charge, providing not only the guide service, but lodging and meals. This amazing gentleman was Eric Kern of Eric Kern Outfitters in Magdalena, New Mexico as well as the Montosa Ranch that provided lodging and meals.
The hunt was set for the week following Thanksgiving.
On November 27, Kalee, her mother Sally Long, Rick and Carol Clark flew into Albuquerque, NM. Randall had left driving a couple of days earlier. The reason for this was to be able to take all of the luggage and be able to bring back the meat and antlers.
At the ranch we were the guests of Dale and Gail (Missy) Armstrong. The ranch was at the end of a 10 mile dirt road situated in a very picturesque setting. The ranch house was awesome, with an exercise room, indoor pool, individual rooms, each with its own bath, beautiful den, living room and kitchen. Missy was our cook and her meals were gourmet all the way. We were immediately made to feel a part of the family. At one time we had all eight grandkids to play with at one time. The most well behaved children that we have ever had the pleasure of being around.
The entire operation is very family oriented. The Armstrongs have one son, KC, and three daughters, Kelly, Kayla and Kameron. Our guide and outfitter, Eric, is married to Kelly. Eric’s assistant on the hunt was Hunter Rung, the boyfriend of Kameron.
The hunt started on Saturday, November 28, with Eric picking everybody up and going to a water tank atop a high hill for us to glass (look through binoculars and spotting scopes) for elk. An observation tower had been constructed to make the glassing more comfortable as the winds were usually very high at this point. A large herd of elk can usually be seen from this vantage point, but the first day brought nothing.
On the return to the ranch, we spotted several cow elk on a couple of occasions and at almost dark we spotted a 5×5 bull elk. We made an effort to get to the bull, but two hunters topped the hill and spoiled the stalk.
The next day from the same vantage point, we spot the large herd of elk, mostly cows with a few spike bulls in the bunch. Five bulls were spotted near a distant watering tank. All of the elk had bedded down for the day so we drove to Datil, another prime location for spotting elk. After seeing nothing, we returned to set up and wait for the bulls to hopefully come to the watering tank. Several mule deer came to the tank and two bull elk were spotted heading in the opposite direction.
We were worried that Kalee might be getting discouraged, but she let us know in a hurry that she was confident about getting her elk and if she got it early, the fun would be over.
Kalee’s condition precluded her being able to use the rifle scope affectively. A device made by Dark Widow was attached to the scope providing a screen where Kalee could see the animal in the crosshairs and be able to aim accurately. Her hands were very unstable and we had to work with her in order to allow her to squeeze the trigger without moving the rifle too much. We were prepared for her to shoot from either a bench or if need be, a tripod. With the tripod she would require additional support.
On the third day we travel quite a distance to look over some of the finest elk territory around. It reminded us of Wyoming. Late in the day we spotted a few cows and later a 5×6 bull. The bull was in an area that would make it impossible for us to get Kalee into.
Upon returning to the ranch, as we were going to our rooms, one of the screws in Kalee’s brace had come loose and she fell face down onto the hardwood floor. Seeing all of the blood caused everyone to panic. She had cut her chin very deeply and it was gaping open and bleeding profusely. When we got the bleeding stopped all she said was, “Can I still hunt”.
The trip to the nearest hospital was almost an hour’s journey with the first 10 miles being on a dirt road. At the hospital Kalee was laughing and telling the Doctor’s that she was elk hunting. Did I mention that this is one tough young lady? We did not get back to the ranch until almost midnight.
On December 1, in the morning we glassed from atop a high hill and spotted mule deer and a cow elk. Two coyotes were spotted and a shot was taken at 690 yards, but did not connect.
In the afternoon we returned to our observation tower at the water tank. Four bulls were spotted, moving slowly along while feeding. With Hunter in the tower to spot and inform us of the bull’s movements, we drove to a point where Eric expected the bulls to cross. Just before getting to our set up point, Rick spotted the bulls. They were feeding about a half mile away. Eric called Hunter to come join us. When Hunter arrived, Kalee had already been suited up in coveralls and was ready to go. The sage and grasses were too tall for the use of the table so the tripod was the only hope. Eric put Kalee on his back and Hunter carried the rifle and tripod and Sally followed. By keeping bushes between them and the elk the four managed to close the distance. For us at the truck, the suspense was terrible. We could no longer see the elk or any of the people.
Legal shooting ends at 30 minutes past sunset. Sunset was at 5:01pm making legal shooting up until 5:31pm. As the clock ticked down, Rick and I stood in the sage brush staring into the, now, almost darkness. At 5:28pm, just 3 minutes before the end of legal shooting, we hear the crack of the rifle and the unmistakable sound of the bullet making contact. We each let out a cry of joy, knowing that she had at least hit the animal.
Eric carried Kalee back to the road while Hunter searched for the bull. We could see his light moving about as he trailed the animal. Then the radio came on with Hunter saying, “Bring your skinning knife”.
We made our way to Hunter with the truck across waist high brush, downed logs, and many other obstacles. Upon seeing the bull, which had a huge body and sported a 5×5 set of antlers, the whole group was ecstatic. Hugs and tears set the moment and many pictures were taken. Kalee had successfully taken her elk with a shot in excess of 300 yards.
Upon awakening the next morning, Kalee looked at her mother and asked, “Did I really take an elk yesterday”?
The entire experience was unbelievable. The sights that we saw, the place where we stayed and the people we came to know and whose friendship we will cherish for a lifetime, will remain forever in our memory.
Very special thanks go out to Eric Kern and Hunter Rung, without whose knowledge and abilities this would not have been possible, and to the Armstrong family for their hospitality and genuine caring for others.