By Darren Dunham
Royal Outfitters and MOGA
“Go big or go home” Tommy said with a big smile on his face. It was day three of his elk hunt with Royal Outfitters and the fifth time he had made the creek crossing in the dark. This time however the small tree he used to balance himself while stepping in to the creek gave way under his weight and Tommy swung precariously over the icy water for a second or two. Tommy had done everything he could to protect his “bad” leg when he lost his balance. He pulled on the little tree and instinctively put all of the weight not supported by the tree onto his good leg.
As I scrambled to assist him thinking he may be in great pain, and still at risk of taking a dip in a 32 degree creek, Tommy pulled himself upright. He turned toward me and I saw the look on his face change from concern, to a broad smile. It was then that he uttered the most memorable quote of his trip. “Go big or go home!”
There is a tipping point in most hunting trips, but especially in the first hunt with a new friend. After a couple of days of hunting, there comes a time when the guide and hunter finally relax and settle into the shared adventure of pursuing elk in the wild. Tommy’s brush with taking a dip in the frigid creek was the pivot point in his week with us. The next morning as we were heading back to the Land Cruiser after sitting in ambush for elk that did not appear, Tommy told me his story.
I won’t recount every detail of his story but it is sufficient to say that as he told his story he revealed to me a level of maturity, humility, and perspective that I have never seen in a man of his age. Tommy told of his family in Minnesota, and of his promising baseball career. As a junior in high school he was already being offered scholarships to play collegiate baseball. Those aspirations were to fall into the background when a chronic pain in his knee was discovered to be bone cancer. He told of his experience in a children’s cancer hospital where he saw children, young children, fighting for their lives, and how that had put his condition into perspective for him.
He said that he knew he would not be in athletics, and that survival had become his priority. Hunting was the one thing that he could still enjoy.
As the week passed I witnessed Tommy struggle in the snow as his father and I broke trail for him. I saw him time after time go just a little bit further. He expressed how glad he was to have the opportunity to hunt in such beautiful country. I on the other hand was obsessed with finding a bull on which to lay his crosshairs.
We saw elk on all but a couple of days of his 7-day hunt. We watched meadows in subzero weather as snow obscured the scenery with beauty of its own. In the end we did not get within shooting range of a legal bull, and Tommy went home without an elk, but with new friends, memories of a great hunt, and aspirations to return once again in pursuit of elk.
MOGA partners with Hunt-of-a-Lifetime to afford trips like the one provided to Tommy. We are both humbled and honored to be a small part of this terrific young man’s life. As we grow the Bog Hearts under the Big Sky program Tommy has left us with a challenge:
Go Big or Go Home!