A true hunt of a lifetime
It was a scene that movie producers couldn’t have created any better. After 14-year-old Brandon Rains shot the first elk of his life, a double rainbow opened up in the sky and a black bear ran by in the woods of Northwest Colorado.
The script setting up the scene was even better. Brandon was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was 3 years old. After spending most of his childhood in and out of hospitals, Brandon was given the opportunity to come to Craig and hunt by the Hunt of a Lifetime organization.
“I’ve wanted to hunt since I was 3,” Brandon said. “There’s really no way to explain how great it was.”
Matthew Lamb, a 16-year-old Leukimia survivor, was also in Colorado the first week of October courtesy of Hunt of a Lifetime. He hunted the first part of his week in Southern Colorado and then traveled through the Rocky Mountains to hunt north of Craig.
“The mountains were awesome,” the Pennsylvania resident said. “After going through times when I didn’t think I’d live, having a chance to go on a hunt was something to help me get through things.”
Hunt of a Lifetime was created after Tina Pattison’s son, Matt, asked to hunt moose in Canada for his dying wish. The Make-A-Wish Foundation had come under criticism by animal rights activists and stopped offering hunts for the critically ill children it helped.
Matt got his final wish with the help of people who had read his story.
Pattison set up Hunt of a Lifetime to aid the children who don’t fit the Make-A-Wish criteria.
Hunt of a Lifetime provides opportunities for children from ages 12 to 21 with terminal illnesses. The organization arranges and pays for hunts and fishing trips throughout the United States and Canada for boys and girls.
Mike Yeary is a state ambassador for Colorado’s Hunt of a Lifetime efforts.
He was in Northwest Colorado with Brandon and Matt. “It’s a rewarding experience for everybody,” Yeary said. “The outfitter, the guide, our organization and, of course, the hunters and their families.” He was particularly taken aback by how the sky opened up after Brandon’s hunt.
“It was all dark and rainy before he shot the animal,” Yeary said. “Then the sky opened up with the rainbows, and it definitely was the hunt of a lifetime.”
Brandon survived more than 30 months of chemotherapy only to learn that the cancer had come back.
After finding a donor for a bone marrow transplant, his body rejected the new marrow, an effect known as graft versus host disease. The efforts of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center saved Rains’ life, but the disease caused his joints to stiffen up and limit his movement. Before he was at Johns Hopkins, a social worker at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., suggested Hunt of a Lifetime to Brandon’s family. He applied and was accepted.
Shortly after he turned 14, the legal age to hunt in New York, Brandon’s trip was arranged.
Branson’s dad, Russell, is an avid hunter and Brandon grew up wanting to hunt with his dad.
“We had talked about how the hunt would probably happen,” Russell said.
“Brandon knew what he wanted.”
The Rains arrived in Colorado the first full week in October. For three days, Brandon and guide Ian Lowe scouted Ranching for Wildlife land near the border of Northwest Colorado and Southwest Wyoming. The land is managed by a group of ranchers that calls its self the Snake River Compact. The hunting party was joined by a cable television show called “Just Huntin’.”
On day four, they spotted a bull elk.
“I was shaking a little bit when I saw him,” Brandon said. “I stood up and took aim.”
He had to stand up because he took a chair on the hunt so he could sit and rest at times because of his weak joints.
Brandon’s dad said they had gone through the final moments of the hunt several times before the trip.
“I told him I wanted him to shoot the animal only if it turned broadside,” Russell said. “When he saw the elk, he stood up from his chair and took control.”
Brandon told Lowe to stand behind him just in case the rifle knocked him backwards. Then he waited for his shot.
“My dad said to wait for a broadside shot so I waited,” he said. “It walked straight toward me, and it seemed like forever, but he finally turned sideways.”
Brandon’s first shot did its job.
His first trophy was a 5×5.
With the post-hunt rainbows and the story of Brandon’s life, the guys from “Just Huntin'” were excited.
“Their vice president said he thought it was an award-winning shoot,” Russell said. “It was almost like everything was staged for a good movie.”
No room on the wall
Snake River and Taxidermy donated its services to mount the animals that Matt and Brandon shot. Brandon already has a wall full of white-tailed deer mounts.
“My mom said we didn’t have any room,” Brandon said. “But we’ll make room. My elk is so much bigger than the deer.”
They also found the bullet, and Brandon said the plan was to hang it from the antlers.
The mount hasn’t arrived at the Rains’ home in Swan Lake yet, but Brandon is focused on the memories at the moment.
“I felt like a big-time hunter,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember.”
And he’s itching to hunt again.
“I think we’ll take him out to hunt some coyotes soon,” Russell said. “He keeps asking when we can go hunting next.”
Matthew Lamb was a healthy, active 15-year-old before the night of Dec. 13, 2004, when he went to the hospital with a 106-degree temperature. The next morning the doctors told his family they were 99.9 percent sure that he had Leukemia.
Matthew then spent seven months in the Pittsburg Children’s Hospital going through five chemotherapy treatments.
A family member was friends with Pattison and they suggested Matthew, who had hunted before he became sick, apply for a Hunt of a Lifetime. He was accepted and after the Leukemia went into remission this summer. The hunt was planned for 10 months after that night in the hospital. “I needed something to take my mind off of everything,” he said.
The farthest west that Matthew had been was Ohio before his trip to Colorado.
His week started in the Lamar area for some antelope hunting. He spent the first day at the shooting range. The second day they scouted. The third day an antelope came into Matthew’s scope.
“I was shaking when it was in my scope,” he said. “I was able to shoot it though.”
They then drove up to Northwest Colorado.
“Going up into the mountains and seeing the snow was a new experience,” he said. “We don’t have anything like that in Pennsylvania.” They arrived in the evening.
“We spent the first night finding a left-handed rifle and just hanging out,” he said. “Then in the morning we went out.”
It took longer for Matthew to find a left-handed 7 mm rifle than it took him to find an elk.
“Within 10 minutes, our bugler had attracted an elk,” he said.
Matthew’s first shot hit the 5×4 elk in the shoulder.
“He just looked at me like, ‘what are you doing?'” Lamb said. He took another shot that didn’t affect the elk, but the third time was the charm.
“I hit his hind quarters and he fell,” he said.
It’s the people
With two hunts, Matthew will have to find space for two mounts. “I know exactly where they’re going,” he said. “Right above our pellet stove.”
Matthew’s week away was therapeutic.
“I was away from school but I learned a lot,” he said. “I’ve been going through some depression after the disease. I think this experience will help me get over it because it took a load off of my mind.”
One aspect of the week that impressed Matt and his dad, Pat, was the hospitality.
“The people were just great,” Pat said. “They were so genuine with us.”
Matt was won over by Coloradans, as well.
“Everybody was really nice,” he said. “Here, everybody seems to be upset about something. It seemed like (the people of Colorado) were happy with life.”
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