Story by J.P. Plutt
Dillon Tribune staff
The tale of Daric (D.J.) Rupp Jr. and his Hunt of a Lifetime in southwestern Montana is one of many intertwined stories – some uplifting, some funny, some sad. The first such story is set in a hospital some 15 years ago.
“He was born at two pounds,” recalled Barry Rupp, D.J.’s grandfather, mentor, and hunting partner. “He was a little, bitty peanut. He was born with it.”
The” it” Barry referred to is cerebral palsy, a disability that shows symptoms that fall on a wide range of motor dysfunction. While D.J. has cerebral palsy, he lives life as a normal teenager and according to Dillon guide Russ Kipp, D.J. would be a perfect ambassador and inspiration to others.
“I think D.J. could really be a spokesman for kids with really tough disabilities getting out and doing things,” explained Kipp. “He’s such a sharp young man. He wanted to do this, he found the program and started the paper work to get it going.”
At around the time his grandson was born, Barry took hunting trips to Montana and bagged two elk and a whitetail deer. As D.J. grew up and fell under the influence of his grandfather he began to share Barry’s passion for hunting. He has accompanied Barry hunting turkey and whitetail deer around their hometown of Cattaraugus, N.Y., south of Buffalo.
“All we’ve got is little 100, 50 and 20 acre farm lots and it makes it tough,” said Barry of the wooded hunting terrain in northern New York.
At his grandfather’s house, D.J. would listen to Barry’s stories of hunting in Montana with the great mountains and wide, open spaces. He would look at the mounts on the wall displayed as proof of Barry’s Montana adventures.
D.J. bagged a turkey last spring and he successfully took a whitetail doe but the Montana hunting stories painted a picture in his mind that he wanted to experience in the cool mountain air.
“He’s a very smart child,” said Barry of D.J. “He’s in regular inclusion at class in school, the 10th grade. He’s taking regular regent’s classes – geometry and stuff like that. He’s an A student.”
It was D.J.’s savvy on the Internet that eventually would make his dream of hunting in Montana a reality. “Actually, I was sitting around one day and I figured I would go online and see what was all out there that could help me make this possible and that’s when I ran into Hunt of a Lifetime,” recalled D.J. in a phone interview from his grandfather’s home Sunday, just two days after returning home to New York from Montana. D.J. filled out the applications and the program that grants hunting opportunities for youths who face life threatening illnesses chose him for the special trip. “I’ll be honest, it was something I never thought I’d be able to do but with Hunt of a Lifetime and MOGA (Montana Outfitters and Guides Association) and Russ and all of those people made it possible. It was fantastic.”
Kipp, owner of Montana High Country Tours, is the president elect of MOGA and has become engaged in the group’s “Big Hearts Under the Big Sky Program.” Last fall he guided disabled Iraq veteran Sgt. Bryce Cole on a hunt as part of Honored American Veterans Afield. This past summer he hosted John Lane Jr. of West Virginia on a fishing and horseback riding experience with the Catch-A-Dream program. Lane is a young man with Leukemia.
“Its wonderful and tough,” said Kipp of taking part in the programs. “John Lane’s illness is terminal so that’s difficult, but giving them that memory is rewarding. The neat thing about all of these is its not just for the kid or the veteran. They involve the families for an experience away from the day-to-day of an illness that dominates their whole life.”
D.J. had his grandfather along, Cole had his wife and two sons, and Lane was accompanied by his mother, father and sister. “We’re truly blessed to have this and we’re honored to share it,” said Kipp.
When Kipp received the notice of his hunt with D.J. he began to put together a shooting sled to improve the hunters chances of success. The platform had a shooting bench, a special device donated by Cabella’s to hold the gun and a Trophy Shot camera sighting system from Wildlife Optics provided by Ricky Hope.
“He didn’t have good muscle control so he wasn’t able to hold his head steady so we had to use some special equipment to get the eye relief,” explained Kipp.
It didn’t take D.J. long to adapt to the system. His previous shooting experience left him confident in shots out to 100 yards and he proved it on the shooting range. Kipp then challenged D.J. with gong shots at 200 and 300 yards and after two shots he began ringing the bells consistently. They were ready for the hunt.
According to Kipp, they hunted mule deer using the spot and stalk style and when the shot lined up, D.J. squeezed the trigger for a one shot, clean kill at 330 yards.
“There was so many of them but I think the best one was after I shot my deer and we were driving up to him,” said D.J. when asked to describe his favorite moment of the trip. “Before we even got there I could see him and I got really excited. That whole experience with the deer and taking all the pictures and calling my grandmother on the cell phone to tell her, the whole thing was just incredible.”
Kipp recalls that in the excitement of the moment on the drive to the deer, D.J. said he was going to bail out of the truck and go to the deer.
“When we got him out of the truck he didn’t have his walker or his wheel chair so we helped him over and then he got down next to the deer and held him up,” described the guide. “It was pretty emotional. It was exciting for both of them. Barry has obviously spent a lot of time teaching D.J. about the outdoors and taking him hunting back there (N.Y.).”
Barry will have a happy memory of the moment and another story to tell. “It was a lot of work and Russ took a lot of time and patience and he (D.J.) was successful,” stated Barry. “Russ set him up with a shooting system that worked really well. I know D.J. was really happy afterwards. He was walking pretty tall. He was the strongest I had ever seen him. He was able to pick the deer head up and move it around.”
There were many special moments on the trip. Part of the experience was a drive to Yellowstone Park to see Old Faithful, a special request of D.J. In the park they viewed eagles, buffalo, elk and bighorn sheep.
While D.J. didn’t fill his elk tag, he did get close. Kipp, who emphasized that during the fifth week of the season the elk are skittish, said they finally got within range of elk on D.J.’s last night but the shooting light disappeared before a shot lined up, so they sat together and watched the elk wander within 100 yards of their position. It finally got totally dark but they could hear the cows chirping and the young bulls making sounds.
With all the beautiful scenery and wildlife and outdoor experiences, D.J.’s second favorite part of the trip occurred indoors. “Being in the lodge with Russ and all of the other hunters that he had in there, the experience for me was great because I had never really got to interact with hunters like that before,” said the young man. “We’d all sit around while we were at the supper table and tell stories. Just being able to talk to people and interact was great.”
Kipp and the other hunters gave D.J. tips on telling hunting stories. For instance, a 300-yard shot becomes a 400-yard shot in the retelling and a 23-inch deer becomes a 26-inch deer. “Those are ways you enlarge on a hunting story,” laughed Kipp. “He was starting to get it down. He is really a bright young man. He may be challenged physically, but mentally he is very sharp.”
Barry and D.J. arrived in Montana on Friday, hunted Saturday through Tuesday with a typical 4:45 a.m. wake-up call and visited Yellowstone Park on Wednesday. The pair flew back east on Thanksgiving Day.
“The whole trip was special from when we flew into Bozeman and started seeing the beautiful snow-capped mountains,” concluded Barry. “Russ knows his country, he’s a first class individual. I think he’s the best man for the job.”
D.J. was disappointed that he didn’t get an elk but figured maybe some day he could return to Montana and fill that tag. There is one certainty, he will always have his Montana hunting stories and the experiences he shared with his grandfather.
“I enjoyed the whole experience,” admitted D.J. “I got my first deer and just had a wonderful experience. I met so many nice people and got to do so many things I never thought I’d be able to. I’d like to thank everybody that was part of it. I appreciate what they did for me.”
Oh, what stories he will tell of his Montana hunting adventure.^ Back to Top