Author’s note: October 2011. In Illinois 32 kids and in Tennessee 172 kids hunted with guides and were set up for the most part on private land that had been donated for Kids Hunting for a Cure to use. In addition, many individuals and organizations donated videographers to capture these priceless moments. Before this I had given to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, but had never considered it one of my top charities. I looked at it as a huge conglomerate, but have 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 have been through treatments or are currently in treatment for cancer. Their spirits were amazing and touching.
In early October we went to Allendale, Illinois to participate in the Kids Hunting For A Cure (KHFAC) event. KHFAC is a non-profit organization which provides financial support to research hospitals and foundations like St. Jude’s, which are dedicated to developing cures for cancer and catastrophic childhood diseases. Funds are raised by children and adults through community-sponsored outdoor events designed for youth. Often, these hunts provide the only opportunity that many of these kids will ever have to fulfill their dream of harvesting a deer.
Prior to the event a friend had introduced me to Dave Norval, founder of KHFAC. Super Dave shared his goals in creating KHFAC: to expose kids to God’s great outdoors, help kids see that their disabilities don’t need to confine them and in the process raise money and awareness about childhood cancer and other life threatening diseases.
We knew prior to going to the Allendale hunt that we would be paired with St. Jude’s poster child, 10-year-old Benjamin Sherman. In 2008, Ben, from Jonesboro, Arkansas was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia, which is not the most common form of leukemia. Ben spent five months living in Memphis at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and then spent the next two years traveling back and forth from his home to the hospital for weekly IV chemotherapy, bone marrow tests, spinal taps and other necessary treatments. Even before meeting Ben I felt privileged to be asked to participate in such a worthwhile cause…meeting so many children, many with life threatening diseases, but their joy and enthusiasm at the opportunity to hunt was contagious. Ben, who is a triplet, came to the hunt with his brother Brooks and mother Jackie.
On Saturday morning, sitting in a pop-up blind on the edge of a soybean field, we waited and waited, but did not see one deer. During that time, I used the opportunity to film Ben talking about his experience and St. Jude’s. He is a very smart young man who remembers everything to the date. Never once did Ben have anything negative to say. Even after all he had been through you could not make him say one bad thing about St. Jude’s or anyone at St. Jude’s. Until he became sick, Ben was an active child who loved anything outdoors. Ben’s love of hunting was further developed while at St. Jude’s. His mother explained that being confined to a hospital bed and taking so many drugs made Ben sick and weak. Since he couldn’t get outdoors, Ben would spend hours watching the hunting shows on TV and say I’d like to do that someday.
Ben and I went back out Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Before daylight on Sunday we did spot a deer, but never really got to see it. I knew that Ben was disappointed; he had been looking forward to this hunt. His brother Brooks did kill a coyote on Sunday morning. I had hoped that both Ben and Brooks would get the opportunity to kill a deer. Prior to KHFAC, Ben’s neighbor had taken him hunting and he had killed a spike horn. From that experience, fueled by all the hunting shows, Ben was hooked. But Brooks had never gotten to shoot a deer before. Neither of their parents hunt, but are committed to finding opportunities for the boys to follow their passion of hunting.
A few weeks after the Illinois KHFAC event, another hunt was going to be held in Fayetteville, Tennessee. I talked to Ben’s mother about a week before the event and she said Ben was very discouraged because he had not seen a deer in Illinois. A few days later one of the local guides for the Tennessee hunt called to tell me he had been out to the property where Ben and I would be set up. He had seen 6 bucks that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to call Ben and relay the information to him. Everyone felt that there was a 99.99% chance that Ben would get his deer. I asked Ben if he was ready to go and he said, “definitely.”
En route to the Tennessee hunt, the landowner, Hue, called and said he wanted to take us out to the property as soon as we dropped our stuff at the lodge (which was exceptional). Hue is a gracious gentleman who only lets the St. Jude’s kids hunt on his property. When we pulled into the property with him we immediately saw three does on our left and two really nice bucks eating acorns to the right. I recorded video of the bucks to show Ben and Brooks, to encourage them when we met up later.
Later that afternoon I took both Ben and Brooks out to the property for a sneak peek. On and near the property we saw about 21 deer total, many of them nice bucks. Needless to say, the boys were now pumped for this hunt.
Early Saturday morning Ben, Brooks, another guide (country musician CJ Garton) 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 had told them that the decision to shoot or wait would be theirs. I asked Ben what he wanted to do and he “definitely” wanted this doe. We eased Ben into position and when he pulled the trigger the deer hunched and back kicked and ran out of sight. I looked at the footage and it looked to be a good hit, so now it was Brooks’ turn. It didn’t take but about 30 minutes when 4 does came down the hill to the left. They were about 50 yards away. We got Brooks settled in for the shot. He made a couple of shots and downed his doe. 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 groups to check in with the game warden, but soon there was a line of trucks stretching through the fairgrounds out toward the gate waiting to check in. There were some nice 10 pt, 8 pts, 6 pts, etc., along with a lot of does killed that morning. It was a site you really had to see. The smiling faces of the kids said it all that morning.
Because Ben was discouraged from the Illinois hunt, he had originally wanted to come, hunt in the morning, then leave. However, the morning experience had definitely 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 a local businessman, Steve, who knew the property and just wanted to be there to watch the hunt unfold. He was under a piece of brown burlap to our left side, the four of us still under our camo “blind.” Steve could see further to the right than we could and we hadn’t been in the blind long when Steve said there was a respectable 8 pt coming in. We asked Ben if he wanted to shoot it or wait, being the young man he is he definitely wanted to kill it. At 80 yards the buck was standing broadside, when Ben pulled the trigger. At the sound of the gun the buck hit the ground, jumped up, he was still able to stand, but I was sure Ben had made a fatal shot. Ben got nervous, so 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 one very happy boy.
We knew the buck was down, so we set up for Brook’s 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. Soon an 8 pt came down. Although there was a spike standing to the right, slightly in front of him, he was broadside at 80 yards so we got Brooks set. Steve said there was a much larger buck coming out of the woods, so we asked Brooks what he wanted to do. Brooks immediately answered take the shot, “I want that one.” 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 to about 10 yards to finish off his 8 pt.
A doe each in the morning, an 8 pt buck each in the evening was more than I had imagined or hoped for Ben and Brooks. One thing I know for sure was that God was there with us every minute. I captured the successful hunts of two very happy boys on video that day.
I can’t encourage hunters enough to take your kids or someone else’s kids hunting, or volunteer your time for a youth hunt. You will receive more blessings than you can ever imagine.
It’s true that kids say and do the funniest things and that last afternoon in Tennessee was no exception. Ben and Brooks never argued over who had the biggest doe or buck. However, they did argue that day about which buck had the biggest set.
Getting kids in the great outdoors is such a worthwhile endeavor. If you loved hunting before, the joy and enthusiasm these kids show will definitely be reward enough in its self. I received such a blessing from their resilient spirits. I can’t thank KHFAC enough for letting us be involved and giving us the opportunity to spend time with the Shermans. 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.