Veterans Day bulls: Service members receive donated Elkhorn tags for hunt of a lifetime

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TOM KUGLIN, Independent Record

It is perhaps the most coveted elk tag in Montana and 1st Sgt. Roger Dover and Spc. Will Hikes each had one in their pockets as they headed out to hunt the morning of Veterans Day.

The Elkhorn Mountains south of Helena hold some of the finest bull elk in the state and also some of the longest odds of drawing a permit. Last year nearly 11,000 hunters applied for the 120 permits — a 1.11 percent chance and often considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But a law passed in 2013 allows a permit holder to transfer his or her hunting privileges to a Purple Heart recipient. When a husband and wife from Three Forks both drew they decided to do just that.

Enter Big Hearts Under the Big Sky, the charitable arm of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association specializing in hunts for children with life-threatening illnesses, women with breast cancer and military members. The organization has donated more than $500,000 in free hunts in the last decade.

Big Hearts and volunteers in the Helena area went to work, securing permission on two ranches near Boulder and putting together lodging, guides and an outfitter to oversee the hunt. With Dover and Hikes selected by application as the lucky hunt recipients, everyone was eager for their arrival from Washington.

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