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9:39 AM Mon, Dec. 17th

Hunt of a Lifetime: An organization helping young sportsman

Isaac Mussmann and his father Eric, show the buck that Isaac bagged on his deer hunt in Unit 13A in northern Arizona. (Don Martin)

Isaac Mussmann and his father Eric, show the buck that Isaac bagged on his deer hunt in Unit 13A in northern Arizona. (Don Martin)

There are many nonprofit organizations out there whose mission is helping others.

One organization some of my friends and I recently had the opportunity to assist is a group called the Hunt of a Lifetime. This organization is based out of Pennsylvania.

The mission statement of HOAL is this: “Hunt of a Lifetime is a nonprofit organization with a mission to grant hunting or fishing dreams for children ages 21 and under who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. We are doing what we can to make a difference in their life, to make a dream come true.”

Recently, after finishing up a deer hunt on the north Kaibab with disabled Marine veteran Johnny Montoya, I received a call from local resident and hunting guide Blake Chapman. Chapman explained he had been contacted by Blaine Bickford, who lives in Springerville and is associated with the Hunt of a Lifetime organization.

Seems HOAL had a young man from Iowa who had been given a deer tag for game management Unit 13A. And while the tag had already been transferred to the young man and plans had been made to fly him and his father out here, the organization had no one who could assist on the hunt.

Chapman asked if I was available and willing to help. I do have a history with HOAL. For a number of years, I was the Arizona Outfitter/Guide Coordinator for the group and conducted a number of hunts for them. I left the group a number of years ago to pursue other options for volunteerism in the outdoor community.

So I knew about HOAL and their mission. I was actually headed to game management Unit 13B when I spoke with Chapman and, ultimately, Bickford about the situation. With me at the time was my friend, Marc Schwartzkopf, who had been assisting on the Kaibab hunt. We were in Fredonia, which is close to Unit 13A, when all of this was going down.

I felt I could only spend four days on that hunt and get in some pre-season scouting before I headed on to Unit 13B. So Marc and I made a detour and headed for the unit, where we set up camp and started scouting. Before we left, Marc and I found a group of 15 bucks feeding in a 500-acre field. Most were young 4-by-4s, in the 150-160 inch range, but I wanted him to get an older buck on his first hunt if we could. Marc couldn’t stay for this hunt, but we got everything ready.

It all came together and early on opening morning, I met Eric Mussmann and his son, Isaac, in St. George, Utah. St. George resident Dan Driggs, who has volunteered on many deer hunts in northern Arizona, was also going and stay for the first three days of the hunt. I learned this about the young man we were going to assist on this hunt. Isaac Mussmann is 16 years old and a cancer survivor. This brave young man has endured three major back surgeries and decided he wanted to start hunting. He had never hunted before. His father had also never hunted in the past, but they had spent time in the great outdoors on family camping trips.

While there had already been a number of people who had helped put this all together in the beginning, there were others who I need to mention.

There are some good areas for deer hunting in this unit that are privately owned. The Bundy family has owned property there for many, many years. Knowing there might be some limitations on how far Isaac could walk, I decided to call several members of the Bundy family and seek permission to hunt Isaac on those private lands if needed.

I first spoke with Larry Bundy (At First Light guide service), who owns property out there and got the names and phone numbers of some of his relatives who also own property there.

Everyone I spoke with was gracious and gave permission to hunt on their property. Larry Bundy even came out and spent a day with us looking for a good buck for Isaac.

Now let’s go back a little. One thing HOAL does is provide a scoped rifle for the kids who hunt through them. Isaac got a Savage Axis 7mm/08, but he didn’t have much time to shoot it due to inclement weather at his home. After talking to Eric before the hunt, I decided to bring the Remington Model 7 Mountain rifle in 260 Remington, topped with a Leupold Compact 3x9 scope. It has a muzzle break and is light recoiling. I figured if we needed a back rifle, this would be a good one.

We arrived in the south part of Unit 13A right at daylight and started to glass the field where Marc and I had previously seen the herd of bucks. It was very cold, with high winds, and the deer obviously didn’t like being out in the open. Driggs did locate a small group of deer with three bucks, and one was a whopper! Isaac, Eric and I made a long stalk across a field and when Driggs joined up with us, we got Isaac set up on a rest. The range was 201 yards when Isaac pulled the trigger. The shot missed and off the herd of deer went.

A little later while we were heading to another glassing spot, Eric spotted some deer in a juniper thicket next to the road. Initially we thought there were two small bucks in the group, but then I saw him. Another big heavy antlered buck was standing in the shadows.

Isaac got out and I told him to get set up while I kept my eyes on the buck. I looked over and saw that he had set up in the tri-pod in the middle of road.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” I yelled. Isaac didn’t know that even though it was a dirt road, he couldn’t legally shoot off the road. By the time we got him off the road and set up, the big buck just walked off.

I started wondering what had went wrong with the first shot, so later that morning we went back to camp and set up a target at 100 yards. It didn’t take long to find out the problem. Somehow, the rifle scope had got knocked off center and the gun was shooting way far to the right.

Rather than start the process of sighting in the Savage, I got the Remington out and Isaac was right on. Now we just had to find another buck.

Every day we found deer and bucks. A lot of them were 4-by-4s. One morning I spotted a group of deer and we made a stalk to within 125 yards of a 4-by-4 buck.

Then I used my Tally Ho call to show him how it works to call in mule deer. Some of the 15 deer in the herd walked up to within 35 yards of us.

Isaac was getting to see a lot of northern Arizona’s wildlife. Deer, coyotes, foxes and birds of prey were all seen by this Midwestern sportsman.

On Day 4, I glassed up a large herd of deer on a flat. With the 20-plus does was a nice heavy antlered 4-by-3 buck.

The deer were moving, but I thought I knew where they were going. We moved to the area I thought they were headed, got through a gate and moved into a tree line.

Finally at 50 yards the buck stopped and looked around. Isaac fired, the buck ran to the tree line and fell over. Isaac had made a perfect shot!

The body on Isaac’s buck was huge as evidenced by the fact Eric and I could not lift the deer up. We had to use the truck to lift it up and tie it off.

It was a great hunt and outdoor experience for the young hunter and his dad. And I know for all of us who took part in this hunt, it made memories we’ll never forget.