When hunting season came around this year, Bob Rhodes and his son Brandon, 19, knew they wanted to hunt elk together. They applied for three elk tags, they didn’t get any.
This didn’t stop the pair from Redmond.
They called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which referred the father and son to Hunt of a Lifetime, an organization that gives kids with life-threatening illnesses an experience of their dreams.
“We have been talking about this for the last year, and when we didn’t draw our tags that kind of sunk us a little,” Bob said.
Brandon qualified for the hunt because he was born with muscular dystrophy, rigid spine syndrome and scoliosis. As a part of his condition, he has to use a machine that monitors and helps regulate how much carbon dioxide he breathes in for 18 hours a day. At the time, the Rhodes had never heard of Hunt of a Lifetime.
Eventually, they were put in contact with Clay McEnroe, a Baker County resident who helps coordinate hunts for Hunt of a Lifetime. McEnroe organized a hunt for the Brandon in an area near Timber Tiger Lodge.
When it came time for the hunt, the group had a hard time finding elk. But they eventually located a herd, and it was Brandon’s chance.
Scoliosis causes Brandon’s rib cage to press up against his heart and lungs, making it difficult to walk any distance.
To get in position for the shot, Brandon walked over 600 yards, which he hasn’t done in more than a decade.
The group set Brandon up in a shooting chair and used a cow call to attract one of the elk. Bob Rhodes hunts every year, but this was his first time going with his son.
“Brandon took a shot on the bull and he dropped it,” Bob said.
“It’s so amazing,” Brandon said. “I mean, once you actually get there and see the body it’s like, wow, I actually did that.”
“He had his challenges, but what a super young man,” McEnroe said of Brandon.
McEnroe has watched people have similar experiences more than 60 times during his 15 years with Hunt of a Lifetime.
“Not one time have I ever had one of them complain,” McEnroe said.
Everyone who works for the organization is 100-percent volunteer, which means all of the money donated to the organization is used for the hunts. McEnroe works full time as a builder in addition to his volunteer work.
McEnroe has assisted with hunts primarily in Baker and Union counties. He’s been hunting since his dad taught him at age 12, the minimum age for hunting big game in Oregon.
“We hunted every season and we hunted together, it just made falls pretty incredible,” he said.
In McEnroe’s experience, it is rare for kids from Oregon to participate in Hunt of a Lifetime. Many of the kids he has helped come from Pennsylvania, Tennessee and other eastern states.
McEnroe said most of the kids who come to Oregon through the organization want to hunt elk because Oregon has some of the best elk hunting.
McEnroe was planning to take a teenager from Tennessee on a hunt near Boardman.
Every year, McEnroe helps organize and participate in three-to-seven hunts, depending how many kids want to hunt in Oregon.
“It gives a person a little different perspective on everyday,” said McEnroe. “If you think things are pretty tough, spend a day in their shoes.”
The organization’s headquarters is Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, but Hunt of a Lifetime has ambassadors in 45 states and in Canada and New Zealand. The Rhodes could have chosen any state to hunt elk, but with Brandon’s medical condition, traveling long distances isn’t really an option, Bob said.
“I’ve met kids from all over the United States...and most of them come with their own challenges, but for four days we try to treat them as one of us, just a hunter” said McEnroe.
On April 27, 2019, Hunt of A Lifetime will hold a fundraiser in Baker City to gather donations for more hunts. This will be the second fundraiser in Baker City by the organization, after one at Lefty’s Taphouse which raised over $50,000 in 2016. The Rhodes plan to return to the area to help with the fundraiser.
“It was phenomenal, it was unbelievable the support we got from everybody that showed up,” McEnroe said.
The application process includes a letter in the words of the child who would go on the hunt and an application the explains their medical condition and dream hunt.
“They took care of every single need that Brandon had,” said Bob Rhodes.
Hunts usually last at least four days and the kids are allowed to bring one other person along with them. After the hunt is over, the kids get to keep the clothes they were given for the hunt, the gun, a full shoulder mount and all the meat from the animal at no expense. The organization also pays for any travel expenses.
“There’s no selfish person in this, everybody gives a lot of time and effort and money to make this happen,” said McEnroe.