Have you ever had a life altering experience?
Perhaps survived a serious accident or illness, or maybe just an event in your life that hit you like a bucket of cold water, spun you around and made you look at life differently.
I have such a story that I would like to share, and strange as it may seem, it involves a wonderful 13 year-old boy (confined to a wheelchair) and a cow elk.
The story starts about eight years ago when my wife and I got involved with an organization called “Benefit4Kids”. This group helps terminally ill and life-limited children fulfill their outdoor dream wishes. We primarily helped Benefit4Kids at their fundraisers for many years. A request came from 13 year-old, Matthew Cobbett, who suffers from Congenital Arthrogryposis, a disease that affects his joints, for a wish trip.
Matt’s dream was to hunt elk, away from his native Michigan, and he would have to accomplish this from his wheelchair. A friend of mine had Matt in his 4-H shooting program, and although he had shooting experience, he would not be able to shoulder the gun himself.
I decided to get personally involved in granting this wish. A friend, Clay Owens, who I had guided with years earlier, coincidentally phoned me about a new ranch he was working with – Cross Mountain Ranch in Hayden, Colorado. Clay told me that they were in this ranching for wildlife program where you could hunt with a rifle in seasons other that the normal rifle season. I called Clay to see if they could assist in making a young man’s dream come true, and hunt elk with a rifle in September, when the weather was warmer. His answer was “yes”, and the planning began.
A September 5th date was secured, Benefit4Kids purchased plane tickets for Matt, his mom and his dad, also a customized 30.06 was donated to Matt. His dad built a plywood platform, which hooked to his wheelchair, and with the aid of a gun rest and lots of practice, Matt was ready. Nothing to do now but count the days!
I recall at the Benefit4Kids June fundraiser that Matt was buzzing around in his wheelchair announcing to everyone “MY NAME IS MATT AND I’M GOING TO COLORADO TO GET AN ELK”!!!!!
The day finally arrived.
I flew out on September 3rd, was met by head guide, Marv Doherty, who said that he was personally going to guide Matt’s hunt. Marv explained to me in detail how he and the staff of Cross Mountain Ranch were looking forward to this experience. When I arrived at the Ranch, I was amazed at the wonderful accommodations. They did all of the little things…. Built a ramp to get the wheelchair over the steps to enter the lodge, and built ground blinds with plywood floors, so Matt could maneuver his wheelchair in and out of them.
Marv also had another surprise for us – Rob Smollack from ASAT Camo, who was already scheduled to film a later hunt at the ranch, decided to come in a week early to film Matt’s hunt. This was truly beginning to be a “Hunt of a Lifetime”.
On September 5th Matt, his mom (Mary), his dad (Mike), and 7 other hunters arrived at the ranch. The first order of business was to make sure the firearms were still sighted in. That evening Marv did a welcoming orientation to all of the hunters; he held up Matt’s target from earlier practice, and said “If you can all shoot like this, you should have no trouble getting an elk this week”.
Matt is a very, very outgoing kid and he fast became buddies with everyone – including the seven other hunters. These hunters were cheering for Matt’s success more than their own!!
The first morning ended and Marv came to me and said – his gun rest won’t work, it is just too stationary. We had to clamp a bipod with a swivel top to the plywood table, then cut a padded strap off an old backpack, run a string through the pin on the stock (where the sling snaps in), to hold the stock to Matt’s shoulder.
Day two: With the help of Marv and Rob on the calls, a cow was coaxed into the clearing where Matt, cameraman, Dave, and Mike (Matt’s Dad) were waiting. Matt wore earmuffs, and Marv slid one partially up to coach Matt through the shot. Matt is unable to bend his fingers, so he had to slide his middle finger in front of the trigger and pull with his arm. BANG! The cow ran off unscathed and Matt had a look of utter disbelief.
After lunch we decided to take Matt back to the target range, and his first two shots completely missed the target! Matt cried and we all panicked, however, his Dad found that his scope had become loose. The adjustment was quickly made, and Matt was shooting right back on target.
Cross Mountain Ranch enjoyed a very successful week of hunting. One by one the other seven hunters started coming in with their elk. As well as their own hunts were going, most of them had to admit that out there on the mountain, they were praying for Matt’s success as well.
Day Three. One of the senior guides suggested a place called “Lucky’s Pond” (seemed like an omen to me), and off we went. We built a makeshift blind for Matt, the cameraman and Marv. Mom and Dad, myself and Rob from ASAT were also scattered about in the bushes. We were only there about a half hour when a cow elk walked into Lucky’s Pond. The elk was facing Matt, ears swiveling around, and was looking very nervous. I was watching through my binoculars and saw her turn to leave. BANG!! I jumped from the unexpected shot, but managed to get back on quick enough to see what looked like a good hit, as the elk bolted off.
Emotions overflowed. Mom and Dad cried, I cried, Marv and I hugged, I thanked God. Then we got our feet back on the ground and realized that we had to find the elk, and five of us tracked it until dark. Marv promised Matthew that he made a good shot, and that we would find the elk in the morning.
Day 4. Nine guides, other hunters (foregoing their own hunts), Matt’s dad and myself went to look for the elk. We found the blood trail, lost the trail, found it again, and then finally lost it and had to give up the search. Not one of us wanted to face young Matt with the news.
Matthew was devastated. “I didn’t come here to wound an animal, and I don’t want to hunt any more”. As we sat at the lunch table, Marv said the following “There is not a hunter here, who has hunted any length of time, who hasn’t had to face the same disappointment”. One by one the other hunters, guides and myself told their similar stories “sometimes it just happens”, and we convinced Matt not to give up.
Day 4 – afternoon. Marv and I tried to talk Matt into hunting a waterhole where he had been sitting the first two days, because it was so hot and we knew the elk would come to the water. Matt, however, was adamant about hunting the blind where he missed the first elk, and we decided that it was his call. Six of us rode to the top of the mountain that afternoon, all of us having just one thought….. we did not want this young man going home from his dream of a life time trip, with disappointment. We pulled his wheelchair into his blind, with his makeshift gun rest, his Dad, Dave and Marv were close by, Rob moved off to do some calling, and I went to park the ranger. It wasn’t long until a cow appeared, almost in the exact same spot that the first one came in. Marv went to whisper encouragement to Matt, but realized he had his muffs down and could not hear him. Marv thought “well, son, I hope you have learned something in the last few days, because you are on your own”.
With his cheek firmly on the stock, his eye glued to the scope, he slid his straight, stiff little fingers in front of the trigger and with the focus and calmness of a veteran elk hunter of many seasons, pulled back with his arm. BANG! The cow spun and bolted, but unlike the other time, she only made it about 10 yards and fell over!!!!! A perfect shot!!!! All captured on film!!!!! The demons of failure and disappointment were gone!!!
Matt was so excited – he was tearing at his wheelchair; if he could, I think he would have ran over to that elk! We were all so excited! We drove him in the Ranger to his elk, carried him over and sat him on the elk for pictures. No words can describe how we felt at this successful conclusion. Marv, Matt and I took the elk down to the truck. Marv went back up to the mountain to get Matt’s Dad, and ASAT’s, Rob and Dave. As Matt and I sat in the truck, gazing out into the clear mountain night at the millions of stars, Matt asked me “Mr. Mike are you a Christian?”. I answered “Yes, Matt, why do you ask?” He said “because I am a Christian and I believe God blessed me to be on this hunt”!!
I thought AMEN to that.
Story by: Mike Jennett
Special thanks to:
Benefit4Kids – Mt. Clemens, MI
Cross Mountain Adventures – Hayden, CO
ASAT Camo – Anaconda, MT
Mag-Na-Port – Mt. Clemens, MI
Lucio Persichetti – Troy, MI
Garth Allen – Washington, Michigan
Crazy Three Tannery (Craig, CO)
Brothers Custom Processing (Craig, CO)
Dear Benefit 4 Kids,
We would like to start by saying thank you for sending Matt and us on this wonderful elk hunt in Colorado. It is hard to put into words just how we feel. Saying thank you just doesn’t seem like enough. How do we repay you for everything you did for us? Your generosity and giving spirit allowed us to experience a wonderful fun-filled week hunting elk, making new friends and enjoying the company of one of your directors. We arrived in Hayden, Colorado on Friday, September 5th. The weather was perfect and the scenery unbelievable. We were met at the airport by Mike Jennett and Marv Doherty who helps run Cross Mountain Ranch and Matt’s hunting guide. Matt, Mike and Marv seemed to click right from the get-go. From there we drove to our cabin about 20 miles away. The accommodations at Cross Mountain ranch were terrific-first rate. We settled in our room, and then met the guides and other hunters who would be staying at the ranch. We were surprised to find that 2 other hunters were from Michigan. One of whom lived only 15 miles from us! Vaugh, Marv’s son at Cross Mountain Ranch immediately build a handicap access ramp for Matt. We were overwhelmed and thankful for their thoughtfulness. When we ate, we were served 5-star restaurant food prepared Joey who is a area chief. We were spoiled by his cooking for the next 6 days. Matt hunted for the next 4 days before he got his elk. Mike Jennett and Cross Mountain Ranch build some blinds that enabled Matt to hunt from his wheelchair. Rob Smollack from ASAT camo company offered to come from Montana to tape Matt’s hunt and help call in Elk. Matt got a shot at one, but he missed. He shot and injured another, but we lost its blood trail. The next day Marv and Mike suggested that Matt practice at their range since they modified how he held and sighted his gun. They adjusted the gun sights based on his practice shooting. The next day Matt shot his elk-a-perfect shot too! On Wednesday the day before we left Cross Mountain Ranch offered to take Matt rainbow trout fishing at a mountain pond. We had a fishing contest. Matt caught the first fish, his dad caught the biggest and Mike Jennett caught the most. When Matt wasn’t hunting, he played cards (poker) with the guides, and they taught him how to play cribbage. The guides gave Matt a nickname because of the way he liked to hold the gas pedal on the 4-wheeler floor, when we were traveling to the hunting blind-LEADFOOT. Also, we played cards with Mr. Jennett even though he and Matt’s parents would have preferred to take a nap. On Thursday, September 11th we boarded our plane for home. It was a sad parting at the cabin and airport. We made good friends with some wonderful people while we were there. The hospitality and generosity of the people and the accommodations and food were outstanding. The hunting and fun we enjoyed on this trip was a once-in-lifetime experience. It is truly an experience we will never forget Thank You Benefit4Kids!!!
We love You,
Mike and Mary
Interested in this wish?
More Wish Kids: