By Rex Holmes, Jr., CEO, Vapor Trail Scents LLC
Author’s note: In October 2011, 32 kids in Illinois and 172 in Tennessee hunted with guides on mostly private land that had been donated for Kids Hunting for a Cure (KHFAC) to use. Before this event, I had given to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospitalin Memphis, TN but never considered it as one of my top charities. Previously, I viewed it as a huge conglomerate, but I’ve since discovered how much St. Jude’s does for kids and their families. Although just one family is mentioned here, we met many other children who’ve been through treatments or are currently in treatment for cancer. Their spirits were amazing and touching.
Last fall, we went to Allendale, IL to participate in the Kids Hunting for a Cure event. KHFAC is a non-profit organization which provides financial support to research hospitals & foundations, like St. Jude’s, that are dedicated to developing cures for cancer and catastrophic childhood diseases. Monies are raised through community-sponsored outdoor events designed for youth. Often, these hunts provide the only opportunity many of these kids will ever have to fulfill their dream of harvesting a deer. When creating KHFAC, founder Dave Norval’s goals for the organization were to expose kids to God’s great outdoors; help kids see that their disabilities don’t have to confine them; and to raise awareness about childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
For the Allendale hunt, we were paired with St. Jude’s poster child, 10-yr-old Benjamin Sherman and his brother, Brooks. In 2008, Ben, from Jonesboro, AR, was diagnosed with t-cell leukemia, a less common form of leukemia. Ben spent five months living at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and two years traveling back and forth from his home to the Memphis hospital for weekly treatments. Even before meeting Ben, I felt privileged to be asked to participate in such a worthwhile cause and to meet such courageous children. Their joy and enthusiasm for life and for the opportunity to hunt was contagious.
Saturday morning in Allendale arrived. We sat in a pop-up blind on the edge of a soybean field, and we waited and waited but never saw any deer. During the downtime, I talked with Ben about his experience and St. Jude’s. He’s a very smart young man with a sharp memory. And even after all he’d been through; Ben had not one negative thing to say. Until he became sick, Ben was an active child who loved any and everything outdoors. Ben’s love of hunting was further developed while at St. Jude’s. His mother explained that while sick, weak and confined to a hospital bed, Ben would spend hours watching hunting shows on TV imagining doing the same things himself someday.
Saturday evening and Sunday morning, Ben and I went back out. Before daylight on Sunday, Ben just briefly spotted a deer. I knew that Ben was disappointed. His brother Brooks killed a coyote on Sunday morning, but I had hoped that both Ben and Brooks would get the opportunity to kill a deer. Prior to KHFAC, Ben had killed a spike horn with his neighbour who took him hunting. With that experience and all the hunting shows, Ben was hooked.
Shortly after the Illinois KHFAC event, another hunt was to be held in Fayetteville, TN. About a week before the event, Ben’s mother said he was very discouraged after seeing very little deer in Illinois. A few days later, a local guide for the TN hunt called to let me know he’d been out to the property where Ben and I would be set up. He said he’d seen six bucks that afternoon! We all felt that there was a 99.99% chance that Ben would get his deer. I excitedly called Ben to tell him the good news. He said he was definitely ready to go now.
En route to the TN hunt, the gracious landowner, Hue, called and said he wanted to take us out to the property as soon as we dropped our stuff at the lodge. So later that afternoon, I took both Ben and Brooks out to the property for a sneak peek. On and near the property, we saw 21 deer total, many of them nice bucks. Needless to say, the boys were pumped for this hunt.
Early Saturday morning Ben, Brooks, another guide and I loaded up and headed out. Our “blind” was a small equipment lean-to that had been set up with a camo tarp for us. We had talked to the boys about waiting for “the” buck, but the first deer to come out was a doe. We told them it was their decision to shoot or wait. Ben was sure he wanted that doe. So, we eased Ben into position and when he pulled the trigger, the deer hunched, back kicked and ran out of sight. It looked to be a good hit, so now it was Brooks’ turn.
In just about 30 minutes, four does came down the hill to the left about 50 yards away. Brooks got settled in for the shot. With a couple of shots, he downed his doe. That was one doe for each boy – they were elated. After finding the does and taking pictures, we went back to the hunt headquarters. We were one of the first to check in with the game warden, but soon after, a line of trucks formed and stretched through the fairgrounds. There were a variety of nice bucks along with a lot of does killed that morning. It was a sight to see. The kids’ smiling faces said it all.
Because of the unsuccessful IL hunt, Ben originally wanted to only hunt in the morning. However, the morning experience changed his mind. Ben and Brooks couldn’t wait to get back out that afternoon – they had bucks in their sights!
That afternoon, we were joined by Steve, a local businessman who knew the property and wanted to watch the hunt unfold. Steve was under a piece of brown burlap to our left side while the four of us were still under our camo “blind.” Steve could see further to the right than we could and quickly spotted a respectable 8 pt. coming in. We asked Ben if he wanted to shoot it or wait and with no surprise, he wanted to kill it. At 80 yards and the buck standing broadside, Ben pulled the trigger. The buck hit the ground and then jumped up, still able to stand. I was sure Ben had made a fatal shot, but Ben got nervous, and his next two shots were high. We told him to breathe, settle down, shoot lower and pull the trigger. One shot later equaled one downed 8 pt. and a very happy boy.
Knowing the buck was down, we set up for Brooks’ shot. Soon, a spike, a small 6 pt. and couple of 8 pts. came through the trees, but we didn’t want to chance a shot. Next, an 8 pt. came down. He was broadside at 80 yards so we got Brooks set. Then, Steve noticed a much larger buck coming out of the woods. After asking Brooks what to do, he had no hesitation in wanting to take the shot on the 8 pt. At the sound of the 243, the buck hit the ground. He was broke down but still trying to get up. We hurriedly took Brooks in closer to finish off his 8 pt.
Ben and Brooks each with a doe in the morning and an 8 pt. buck in the evening; it was more than I ever hoped for. I know for sure that God was with us every minute. I can’t encourage hunters enough to take kids hunting or to volunteer time for a youth hunt. Getting kids in the great outdoors is such a worthwhile endeavour. The joy, enthusiasm and resilient spirits shown from the kids are reward enough in itself, but you’ll receive many more blessings along the way. I can’t thank KHFAC enough for giving me the opportunity to spend time with the Sherman boys. Their story is a tribute to the good work that St. Jude’s is doing to prevent, cure and treat childhood cancer and catastrophic diseases.
Rex Holmes Jr. is a lifelong hunter, avid outdoor enthusiast and the founder and CEO of Vapor Trail Scents LLC. Vapor Trail Scents produces 100% natural scents and The Vapor Maker, a product that disperses a wall of liquid scent or scent killer in a vapor form between you and the animal so it can’t smell you. Learn more at: www.vaportrailscents.com
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