I've got to believe that in less than two weeks, the Arizona Game and Fish Department will release the results of the fall 2010 big-game draws.
And while a number of local folks will be sad to know they didn't draw a tag this year, a lot of sportsmen and women will be happy.
It is those "happy" people I want to address.
Each year, after the draw information comes out, I invariably hear how someone isn't going to be able to go on their hunt.
It may be due to a wedding they didn't know about, a vacation that the husband/wife planned but didn't tell anyone about, or it just may be that through some unforeseen circumstance, they aren't going to be able to use the tag.
That is where the Arizona Hunt of A Lifetime comes in. Rather than let a tag go to waste, I would like to ask everyone to think about donating the tag to a group that uses them to help out others who have a wish to go hunting.
Though there are a number of organizations in Arizona who help out kids with life-threatening diseases or illnesses, I am the first to admit that I am partial to Hunt Of A Lifetime. I am honored to be the outfitter/guide coordinator in Arizona for HOAL.
My job is simple. After a child has received a donated big-game tag, I am asked to a find a licensed guide and/or outfitter in the state that is willing to donate their time and expertise to help out on the hunt. Remember, these tag recipients are kids, who through no fault of their own, have a serious and/or life-threatening disease or illness.
Finding guides hasn't been the problem in the past few years. Every year, I get calls from guides all over Arizona ready and willing to help out.
One of the big problems is getting a donated tag for a child to use.
Lately, the other problem, and in one sense it is a good one to have, is finding the kids to go on these donated tag hunts.
Let me give you some history about my personal involvement with HOAL and maybe you'll understand why I am so passionate about this program. I have been involved in four HOAL hunts.
The first one was when I drew an early muzzleloader any-elk tag for the Navajo Army Depot a number of years back. I had just accepted the position of outfitter/guide coordinator for Arizona HOAL, and I asked myself how I could ask others to donate their tags if I wasn't willing to donate mine.
I had the honor to hunt with a great little guy from Payson who had leukemia, and while he didn't bag an elk, his family and I have developed a long-lasting friendship. I'm happy to say the young man has recovered and is well on his way to become one of the greatest chef's in this state. My reward? He has promised that some day he will cook for me at one of my hunting camps. I can't wait.
Next, I assisted on an early bull elk in Unit 10.
A young lady from Gilbert who had drawn an early bull tag in Unit 10 donated the tag, which if it was able to be sold on the open market, would have fetched many thousands of dollars.
But she donated it instead to HOAL, and a group of guides who were working for me took on the hunt. We assisted a young man who had a cancerous tumor removed from his pituitary gland. He too lived in the Payson area. I'm pleased to say this young man bagged a really nice 6x6 bull. And his hunt was captured on video.
My next hunt is by far the saddest.
A young man from Arkansas, Christopher Reeves, had received the first and only desert bighorn sheep tag in Arizona that has ever been donated.
Norm Pint, an awesome sportsman and a loving father and grandfather, had been fatally injured in a tragic motor vehicle accident. At the time of his untimely death, Norm knew that he had drawn a coveted desert sheep tag in Unit 16A in western Mohave County.
Norm's family agreed to donate the tag to HOAL, and "Superman," as we called him, got the tag. He was just 16 years old and had gone in a short time from an all-state left handed baseball player to a very ill young man who was battling several forms of cancer at St. Jude's Children Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
I agreed to oversee the hunt, and in a story that seems almost surreal, a team of more than 40 sportsmen, including locals Jay Chan, Dan Reed, Larry Sallee and Yapheth Terrell, along with Page McDonald and some volunteers from as far away as Nevada, assisted on the one day Superman could hunt in Arizona. Unbelievably, he bagged an awesome ram that to this day I believe was there only due to divine intervention.
As Superman left sheep camp, I promised him I would bring his ram to his home. Superman's condition wasn't improving and due to the quick work of local taxidermist Henry Aguilar of Henry's Artistic Wildlife, and the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, we made that promise come true when I delivered the ram to him at his Arkansas home about eight months later.
Less than four months later, Superman was taken away. But his legacy and the courageous effort by that special young man will always remain in our hearts.
Then I had a hunt with a little girl from California who had gone through bouts of bone and lung cancer. She had endured a number of tough surgeries, too. But one thing about Samantha, or Sam as we called her, she loved to hunt. And her wish was to hunt antelope in Arizona.
One of my clients from Oregon had drawn a Unit 10 rifle antelope tag, but she donated it to Sam, and once again, I got the call.
This time local resident Scott Snay helped out, and in just a couple of days, Sam got herself a real good buck. Once again, Aguilar stepped up and did a wonderful job on the donated mount that was completed in record time.
I'm happy to say that Sam still hunts today and seems to be on the road to a full recovery.
Now I'm ready to go out again with a child who has a special wish to go hunting. What I need is your help in getting them a big-game tag. It doesn't need to be an early bull elk tag, though these seem to be the most sought after by the kids. I'll take any elk tag, including antlerless. HOAL is also looking for mule deer, Coues whitetail and antelope tags.
Heck, we'll take javelina or turkey tags, too, though, we don't get a lot of requests for them.
Bottom line is, if you can't use a big-game tag, donate it and let's see if we can put it to good use.
HOAL policy is that you aren't advised of who gets the tags or whether they bag an animal, but just knowing that you may make some young person's dream come true should be information enough to warrant you donating the unused tag.