Thanks to Tom for sending us this story – a new favorite of ours!
I Was Used to Hunting…
Hunting has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started hunting and fishing with my dad when I was around four years old. Sitting on the bank of a lake or river with a fishing pole in my hand or literally walking in his footsteps through marshes hunting ducks or in snow covered fields chasing pheasants. Some of my fondest memories with him came from deer or elk camp where with my Uncle Del would hunt off horse back in the Cache Valley Mountains of Northern Utah.
Back then my dad killed some monster deer and elk but we never kept one set of antlers. Like everyone else of that time, they were left on the mountain unless you needed a coat rack or somewhere to hang your hat. It was a purest time to hunt where no one cared about the score – it was the body size that mattered. Large body meant more meat and meat was the trophy.
The days of hunting with my dad were short lived. He was forty two and I was eleven when he lost his life to cancer but the hunting memories and lessons he instilled in me left a lasting mark. I loved being raised in a hunting family and wanted the same for my kids.
Many years later I married my wife Gaylene. She’s a wonderful women who likes to camp and spend time in the outdoors but hunting just isn’t her thing. She does however, allow me to continue to follow in my dad’s footsteps by passing that same passion of conservation through hunting to our kids. My son Colten and two daughters Baylee and Kali have grown up hunting and fishing their whole lives and it is something they love to do and will pass on to their kids.
Then the Health Issues Began
Two years ago in 2013 I had just finished applying for my kids and me to hunt in Utah when I started feeling kind of strange. I had some cramping in my stomach that became quite unbearable. I went to the doctor who seemed to think that it might be the onset of a kidney stone. He gave me some meds but within two days I knew that wasn’t it. That next morning I had a 2am wakeup call with an incredibly painful bladder area. I knew I was either going to die right in my bed or explode on my way to the hospital.
My wife heard my groaning and saw me trying to stand up and drive myself to the hospital. Said I’ll drive and it was a good thing cause I don’t think I would have made it on my own. Did you know there are 3700 cracks in the road from my house to the hospital? Well there is and I felt every one of them as she drove.
Once in the emergency room, a doctor came walking toward me with one very large catheter in one hand. Have you ever had a catheter? Well me neither until that moment. When I saw the size of that tube and knowing full well where he intended to put it, I was like no, no, no wait a minute that will never fit up there. As I said that, he made it fit up there and the relief was immediate. After more testing this doctor said I have colitis and gave me some meds for that. I took the meds and felt fine but all the while something was nagging at me saying that something was still wrong.
Two months later and out of the blue I told my wife that I better have a colonoscopy just to be sure. I had lost a good friend of mine Perry Jensen to colon cancer at the age of 36 so I just wanted to be sure. As I awoke from the procedure the doctor told me he had found something. Trying to lighten the mood I mentioned to him I was missing the remote to the TV and my high school ring and wondered if it was any of those. He didn’t laugh. I guess my doctors sense of humor was not up to par considering he was about to drop the bomb that I had colon cancer. He said it had escaped the colon wall and was attached to my bladder and had gotten into my lymph node system. Not good on any level.
I was sent to emergency surgery where they removed 17 lymph nodes and 6 inches of my colon. I try to be an upbeat guy but this was a tough thing for me to handle. I was not ready to die and needed something to keep me going.
hat’s where my wife and kids came in. They were very supportive and encouraging trying to keep me going and upbeat. In many ways it was harder on them than me. On one of my down days where I needed an extra boost I got it from the DWR (Division of Wildlife Resources) saying I was successful in drawing the Fish Lake archery unit. That is a unit that will usually take 10-15 years to draw and I drew it with 2 points. My new drive in my life was to get well and hunt that unit with my bow. My wife would just shake her head as I would schedule all of my future surgeries, chemo, and radiation treatments so that I would be able to make that hunt work out for me. I did all that I could to stay in shape which was very little due to the chemo’s effect on me – so the shape I ended up in was fat, round and easily winded. But I still wanted to do all that I could to hunt that unit.
As anyone who has ever fought cancer knows if the disease doesn’t kill you the cure just might. The chemo I received was called O5-FU and it lived up to its name.
After receiving my treatments I was in pretty bad shape for about a week and a half, which is just in time for the next dose so I never felt on my game. My saving grace is that I have a lot of great friends and family that were willing to help out so when the day came to enter the woods I knew they would have my back.
The First Hunt after Chemo
The day before the opener I camped with Scott Walker and his kids Brandon, Justin Emilee and Lindsy. They also brought another friend Clint Morwood to help on the hunt. We had a great camp set up and although I was pretty high in spirits I was not feeling well. The night was short and the sleep didn’t come easy but on opening morning I was ready to get going.
I left camp with Clint and we took short walk in some areas that had held elk before. In fact the year prior I had missed a shot at a herd of elk at forty yards; faulty equipment, and I don’t care what anybody else said it was faulty equipment. We hiked around and called most of the day, but didn’t see or hear anything.
By that afternoon it was clear to me that my hunt was over. I was too weak and sick to keep it up for another day much less two weeks. I called the Utah Division of Wildlife and explained my situation with cancer and they were gracious enough to take my hunt back and allow me to keep my bonus points.
Later that year I was able to take my two daughters Baylee and Kali on a cow elk hunt that they had drawn, but I was so beat up and sick that I could only walk maybe 100 yards or so. I had come to the realization that my hunting year was over, but I had a renewed spirit and desire to beat this disease and to hunt harder the next year.
The Next Year: Good Health and Good Friends
Fast forward one year and with lots of healing prayers of faith that were sent my way, I am still alive to hunt another year. I had beaten cancer but the luck of drawing that same tag eluded me. I think that tag was a Godsend, given to me just to fire me up and give me hope. Another good friend of mine, Dan Derrick, said let’s try our luck and go hunt archery elk in Colorado. Well he didn’t have to ask me twice, I was all in for the adventure and to not only prove to myself that I was back but to celebrate life. We had planned on staying 5-6 days and just hunting our butts off and maybe do some fishing. The night we pulled into camp, we quickly set everything up and took off on our mountain bikes for the last hour of light to see if we could locate anything. We had traveled maybe a mile and I knew my strength wasn’t back yet. It takes a while to get the effects of chemo out of your body.
Dan was able to locate 4 bulls and several cows and although I didn’t see them it was great to know they were in the area. That night we talked about the morning strategy and planned on heading back to where he saw the bulls.
Morning came quickly and we headed out. We were only 40 yards from camp when we decided to let out a locating bugle just to see if anything was closer. To our surprise we had three different bulls fire back at us. About 500 yards away two rag horn 5 points stepped out of the timber and kept bugling to us. I was trying to make a plan on how to approach them without spooking them off but Dan said lets be aggressive and go straight at them. The plan worked flawlessly. Within ten minutes we were 50 yards from the bulls. As we cow called the two closer rag horn bulls, the third bull, and I assume the herd bull, stayed in the trees and kept bugling.
Not wanting to look a gift bull in the mouth we decided to take one or two of the rag horn bulls if we could. The bull that was closer to me went to my right and dropped below me and caught my wind. He was gone taking the other rag horn with him. We stayed put and continued to cow call.
While I was calling Dan put together his Montana cow decoy and it seemed to work. One of the bulls came back. It was closer to Dan than it was to me but he said it’s your shot. Did I mention I have great friends?
The bull stood broad side to Dan but head on to me so I had no clear way of taking a good killing shot. We played him for several minutes and I could tell he was getting nervous. Just then he turned and started to move away from us. I stopped him with a cow call and he gave me a slightly quartering away shot. Without any prompt Dan said 70 yards. My 70 yard pin found its mark and I loosed the arrow. For the first year ever I decided to use expandable blades and a lighted nock.
The arrow flew fast and straight out of my Hoyt carbon matrix and the red nock looked like a laser ripping through the early morning air and allowed me to follow it all the way to impact. The sound of the arrow as it whacked the bull’s side and quick direction change of the bull let me know the deal was done. I looked at Dan and said did that really just happen? As we stood there looking at each other we heard a loud crash and I said What the heck was that? Then it dawned on me that it was probably the bull going down.
Not wanting to spook the bull and to be sure we didn’t lose him we didn’t walk toward the sound but rather began to follow the blood trail. After covering about 75 yards we found the bull piled up next to pine tree. He was a beautiful big body 5×5 and the first that I have ever taken with my bow. I have guided several friends on hunting trips and have bugled in many bulls for others to claim for their own but this was my own. From the time we heard the first bugle to the time we laid hands on him was maybe 30 minutes. We have hunted together for years and have had thousands of experiences but nothing like this has ever came so quick and easy. This was a Godsend.
As we stood over the bull we hugged and high fived but it seemed so surreal. As I began breaking down the bull Dan said I’ll head back to camp and grab the pack frame. By the time he got back I was about half done so he began to pack out the meat. This is not the first time he has helped me pack out my game. By the time I was done he had packed out all but two loads of meat. Can I mention again that I have great friends?
We had the bull broken down and to the butcher by noon. Later that night we went back to that same spot and called in another rag horn 5×5. I think it was the one that had winded us earlier that morning. Dan moved into position but the light was failing fast. As it sometimes happens we ran out of daylight before he could take a shot. We hunted a few more days but the bugling had stopped and I think Dan noticed my health was wreaking so he made the call to fish a day and to head home.
The Joy of the Hunt
It’s hunts like this with friends and family that make up the memories and trophies that keep me craving more. Thanks to those early years spent in the woods following my dad, I learned to appreciate the joy of the hunt by the experiences that I lived and to not judge the hunt by the size of the trophy on the ground.
Tom’s huge bull elk