Northeast Michigan Chapter


Safari Wish Hunt

Kaitlin's 2014 Wish Hunt

The Chapter’s 2014 Safari Wish Hunter was Kaitlin Neff of Fairview, Michigan. Kaitlin was the Chapter’s first female wish hunter. She acquitted herself in an exceptional manner proving once again that “Girls hunt 2”! She was accompanied on the hunt by her mother, Father and two sisters. Kaitlin harvested the great 6x6 bull elk pictured below. Kaitlin’s elk was donated by Jack Pine Safari and the Northeast Michigan Chapter - SCI as were the services of photographer, Thane Whitscell and videographer, Tim Gauthier. Food during the hunt was provided by Connie’s Café in Ossineke and by Gordon Foods of Alpena. Deepwoods Taxidermy in Spruce, Michigan fully donated the mount.

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Jonathon Barton's 2010 Wish Hunt - by Mike Wilmot

We had been in the stand for the better part of an hour and half. Darkness was beginning to fall and low hanging fog was settling in the northern Michigan hardwoods near Lewiston. However, the bone white antlers of the approaching buck were easy to spot. A quick check with my binoculars affirmed that the tall, narrow rack on the approaching animal belonged to one of the bucks that had been spotted by several other hunters in recent weeks. This was clearly one of the bucks that been identified as a good animal for our “wish hunter”, Jonathon Barton, to shoot if the opportunity presented itself.

The unique buck continued toward our stand. In a matter of minutes he was standing broadside; thirty yards in front of the blind. I was uncertain as to the response I would get when I leaned over and told Jonathon to “shoot that deer”! Earlier that afternoon, he had stated pretty emphatically that he was not going to shoot a deer until the second day of the hunt – no matter how big the buck was that might appear on the first evening. Regardless of his earlier statement and without any hesitation, Jon leaned into the .243 caliber rifle and squeezed the trigger.

At the sound of the report of the rifle, the buck spun and retreated back into the woods in the same direction from which he had come. It looked like a good shot and Jonathon insisted that the cross hairs of the rifle scope were right behind the animal’s shoulder when he pulled the trigger. While he was sure that he had done things just as he had practiced many times, the sight of the big buck high-tailing it back into the woods caused Jonathon to think he had missed his first opportunity to take a big Whitetail buck. He was one disappointed hunter!

We let things settle down for a few minutes and then the cameraman, Scott Gauthier and I left the blind to look for any sign that the animal had been hit. As we approached the spot where the buck had stood, we could see hair laying on the ground – no blood - just a small amount of hair.  We followed the buck’s retreat deeper into the woods without finding any sign of blood. We proceeded cautiously looking for sign on the ground and then checking the area in front of us with our binoculars. We hadn’t gone far when we spotted the big buck. He was still standing but his head was down and his back was hunched up – it was obvious that the animal was hurt and hurt bad! Without any sign of blood however, and with the fast approaching darkness and fog, we decided to back out and wait for daylight the next morning before looking any further for the animal.

When we returned to the blind and told Jonathon our decision, he was very disappointed! I tried to re-assure him that we would find his buck the next morning but had little success. I could see it in his eyes – he didn’t believe he had closed the deal on that buck! As has been the case with every hunter who has had to leave a wounded animal over night, Jonathon didn’t sleep much that night. When I showed up at the lodge at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, Jonathon was already up and dressed. It was apparent that he had been waiting for us to find his deer for quite awhile.

Daylight was slow in arriving that morning. The sky was filled with clouds and the forecast was for heavy rain and high wind all day. We were hoping the rain would hold off at least until we could find Jonathon’s buck. Just before it was light enough to see clearly, the rain started. It wasn’t a gentle drizzle! It came down in buckets surely washing away any sign of blood from Jonathon’s deer that might have been on the ground. Right after breakfast, Scott, Reno Massetti and Jonathon’s dad, Daryl Barton, donned our rain gear and headed back into the woods. There was no point in having Jonathon get wet until we actually found his deer. We went right to the spot where Scott and I had last seen the buck the night before. From there, we spread out and began to walk. It wasn’t long before Scott spotted the buck on the ground.  The deer was dead – the result of one shot from Jonathon’s rifle!

wish hunt

We returned to the lodge to get Jonathon. We told him that we need more help to find his deer and that he should get his rain gear on. While Jonathon was getting ready to help find his deer, Scott, Reno, Jonathon’s grandmother and Sue Wilmot loaded up the video equipment onto a Polaris ranger and headed into the woods. Our plan was to have the camera all set up near the deer so we could capture Jonathon’s expression when he came across his deer. I led Jonathon, his dad and grandfather back into the woods. As we neared the place where I knew the deer to be laying, we could see Scott and the rest of the crew waiting for Jonathon’s arrival. He never questioned why they were all set up in that particular spot. About fifty yards from the deer, I suggested to Jonathon that if he were to walk straight toward the spot where Scott was waiting, he might find his deer. I moved to the side and let Jonathon go it alone. His dad handed him the unloaded rifle and along with Jonathon’s grandfather, followed behind a few yards behind the young hunter.

wish huntWe were fortunate to capture Jonathon’s excitement on video when he first saw his buck on the ground.  His eyes were as big as dinner plates and we could hear him say “Oh… my… God!” as he approached the animal. I am certain that he didn’t really believe we would find his buck until he saw it on the ground in front of him!

A lot of time was spent taking pictures and shooting more video of Jonathon holding his buck. During one of the interview sessions we did on video, I asked Jonathon what he had learned through this experience. He wasn’t real sure what I was asking him so I reminded him of what I had told him from the very start – the hunt is not just about killing a great buck! The hunt is about the people you are with and what you learn about yourself in the process. Jonathon expressed his appreciation for the help he had received and the participation of his family members and all of the people from the Northeast Michigan Chapter – Safari Club International. It was when Jonathon went on to say that he had learned that he can do anything he decides he wants to do – he just needs to try his best and things will work out - that’s when I knew this “wish hunt” had been a success!

Author’s Note: Jonathon Barton was a delight to be with for this wish hunt! He was always up, always willing to help and was the very first wish hunter that wanted to help gut his own deer! Jonathon brought a lot of fun and excitement to this hunt! Clearly, Jon is one very special young man!

As always, our wish hunts are possible only through the good graces of a lot of very special people. We would be remiss not to express our thanks and appreciation to Jack Pine Safari, especially Floyd Moore (989) 619-4041 who was unable to participate due to an unanticipated hospitalization; Chuck Gauthier and the Hunter’s Shack; Dave Read of DeepWoods Taxidermy; Gary and Connie Stephan of Gordon Foods and Connie’s Café; Tim Gauthier of Active Video Productions; all of the outfitters who donate to the Northeast Michigan SCI Chapter; and, of course, Scott Gauthier, Reno Massetti, and Sue Wilmot who provided invaluable assistance in making this wish hunt a reality!


Daniel Braden's Wish Hunt - by Mike Wilmot

The holidays are a good time to reflect on the events of the prior year and to offer thanks for the many good things that occurred and the many great people that we have had the good fortune to come in contact with. As I watch the snow fall and the wind blow, I can’t help but think of one of the most rewarding experiences of 2010 – Daniel Braden’s Safari Wish Hunt. 

Daniel Braden is eighteen years old and a Michigan resident. He has suffered from Muscular Dystrophy since a very early age. Daniel’s mother recently wrote a letter addressed to Trophy Stone Outfitters in the Yukon. She explained in her letter that her son is critically ill. The doctors had recently suggested that the family make contact with hospice services as there was little left that they thought they could do to help her son.

Daniel had long wished for a chance to hunt big game. While he had hunted for White tailed deer and turkeys, he had never had a chance to try his luck with an Elk or a moose. By the time the letter was received by Trophy Stone the 2010 fall hunting season had ended. It appeared as though Daniel would only be able to experience a big hunt by watching one on The Outdoor Channel. Trophy Stone Outfitters forwarded Mary Ann Braden’s letter to Safari Club International’s Humanitarian Services Department in Tucson. The Humanitarian Services Department sent an e-mail to all of the Michigan Chapters requesting assistance. That’s when things began to happen.

The Northeast Michigan Chapter was first to respond to the request for help. While the Chapter could not make Daniel’s dream of hunting in the Yukon a reality, the Chapter did offer to provide a Michigan Elk hunt for Daniel at Jack Pine Safari (989) 619-4041. Within hours, three other Michigan Chapters - Flint Regional Chapter, Northwoods Chapter and Southeast Michigan Bow Hunters Chapter, all offered to help.

Within days the hunt was arranged. Daniel would have an opportunity to kill a book Elk at Jack Pine Safari! Gary Vollmar and the folks at Jack Pine Safari would provide the hunt opportunity for Daniel. Floyd Moore was to be the guide. Daniel’s hunt was to be photographed by Alpena area photographer, Thane Whitscell. Eric Josie would video the hunt and Active Video Productions in Boyne City would produce a dvd of the hunt. Bob Parkey from Parkey’s Taxidermy in Indian River offered to mount the trophy and have it back to Daniel within six weeks. Andrew Kipfmiller and the crew at the Kipfmiller’s Market in Alpena offered to process the Elk.

The hunt was scheduled for the week-end following Thanksgiving. Southeast Michigan Bow hunters President-elect, Rich Delisle and his fellow Chapter member, Keith Haines agreed to come to Jack Pine to assist in any way they could. Dennis Gepfrey from the Flint Chapter also agreed to participate. Everyone was willing to give up what would have normally been “family time” on Thanksgiving weekend in order to fulfill a dream hunt for someone they had never met.

The weather turned cold that weekend. There was just a light covering of snow on the ground but the wind was really blowing dropping the wind-chill temperature to well below freezing. Fortunately, it only took fifteen minutes in the blind that had been prepared for Daniel to connect on a good 6x6 bull Elk. I don’t think that I will ever forget the happiness that Daniel expressed at having had the opportunity to take a great bull!

All of the volunteers did just as they said they would. There were no hiccups anywhere along the way. Daniel has received the memory book of photos prepared by Thane Whitscell, I delivered the processed meat to Daniel yesterday and Bob Parkey will deliver the mount to Daniel in the Monroe area this Friday – three weeks to the day that Daniel killed his bull! Active Video Productions is working on the dvd and anticipate having it to Daniel shortly.

I spoke with Daniel’s mom by telephone this morning. Daniel has a doctor appointment later in the day but as of mid-morning, hasn’t been able to get out of bed. A lasting memory that is seared into my memory is Daniel’s mother’s request to have a photograph of Daniel, his guide and his hunting partner walking toward the blind in the blowing snow. She indicated that she wanted that picture blown up so that she could put it on her son’s casket when the time comes for him to take his next great adventure.

My thoughts and prayers are with Daniel and his family during this holiday time. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to help provide this Wish Hunt for Daniel! I can’t help but reflect with respect and appreciation on all of the people who helped to make this a hunt of a lifetime a reality for a young man that most of them had never met. Some people say that Safari Club is just about hunting records, big money and personal trips to exotic places! I know much better – Safari Club is about giving back – sharing the sport we love with so many others who would otherwise never have the opportunity!

Kurtis' Wish Hunt

I watched the buck approach the stand we were hunting from through the lens of my binoculars. Cautiously at first but then on almost a dead run he came into shooting range without hesitation. The morning sun had just begun to warm the fall air – a light covering of frost covered the ground. Unlike the night before, there was no wind at all and except for the squawking of a few Blue Jays and Crows, the northern Michigan woods were dead silent.

Preparations for a shot at the big buck had been well underway at the very first sighting. As the buck came to a stop in front of us, the windows of the blind were already open, the gun was loaded with "one in the tube, the barrel was pointed in the general direction of the beautiful 10 point Whitetail and the camera was rolling.

I listened intently to the whispers in the stand as the young hunter was "coached" into placing the cross-hairs of the rifle scope behind the front shoulder of the buck as it stood broad-side in front of us. The chair the hunter was sitting in had been adjusted several times and adjustments to the cushions that the .243 rested on had been to insure the correct elevation. The hunter's dad stood behind him in an effort to help steady the young man.

As instructions to remove the safety from the firearm were given, I could hear the hunter's breathing begin to increase in speed. Each time he pulled his head away from the scope, the process of getting him re-aligned would start again. The sixteen year old hunter struggled to get his twisted fingers inside the trigger guard. He didn't have sufficient strength in his index finer to pull the trigger so with great effort he attempted to get the middle finger of his left hand onto the firing mechanism. Even after navigating the trigger guard and finding the trigger, he struggled to find the strength to pull the trigger.

After several more gasps for air the gun finally fired. I watched the buck crouch close to the ground and then disappear on a run in the same direction he had entered from – white tail standing straight in the air. The stand that had been quite was now filled with questions from the six adults who had accompanied the hunter into the stand: "Were you on him? Where do you think you might have hit him?  Could you see the full ring of the scope? Did you watch to see him fall through the scope?"

After several minutes of waiting, Floyd Moore, Randy Vollmar and I exited the stand to look for sign that the deer had been hit. It took only a few seconds to find a very small clump of hair on the ground – pure white hair! No blood or any other sign of the deer having been hit could be found. We followed the tracks left by the deer as he exited the field and headed into the woods. Once inside the tree line, the buck's tracks mingled with so many other Whitetail tracks that it was impossible to distinguish which ones belonged to the buck we were looking for and which tracks belonged to the numerous other bucks at Jack Pine Safaris.

Vince Cracchiolo left the stand and joined in the search for the deer, or at least some sign that it had been mortally wounded. We criss-crossed the woods for several hundred yards but could not find any further evidence that the animal had been mortally wounded. The few hairs that had been found on the ground led us to believe that the young man had perhaps grazed the brisket or perhaps had shot low and shaved the belly of the big buck. All of the evidence told us that the shot had failed to hit its intended mark. 

After almost an hour and half of looking for additional sign, I returned to the stand to tell the young man that he had missed his mark. I attempted to present the disappointing news in a matter of fact manner and then to provide some encouragement that we would just try again later that evening.  The hunter again insisted that he had been right on. "I know I hit that buck right behind the shoulder!" 

I watched as the dad lifted the 80 pound youngster to his shoulder and carried his son down the steps of the blind to place the boy back into his wheelchair.  It was a somber trip back to the lodge! The realization that this would be perhaps the most challenging wish hunt the Northeast Michigan Chapter -SCI had ever granted was self-evident.

After a hearty breakfast back at Buck Horn Lodge and as the dishes were cleaned from

the table, the group decided to watch the video of the shot at the big ten point buck on the television screen. As the film rolled, it was easy to see the hide on the buck flex as the bullet appeared to hit him low and just in front of the rear shoulder. We watched the film several times before deciding that we needed to go back and look for some sign of the deer again. 

We headed back to the woods about three hours after the shot. We walked in a straight line to almost the north property line without finding any more evidence than we had observed earlier that morning. We turned toward the east property line and then to the south as we walked through the area where we had found the buck that my grandson had killed the year before. Still no new sign of the buck we were looking for. We were hoping to find the buck laying up and the possibility that we could get a finishing shot at him. The sun was high in the sky and filtering through the tall pines. Vince was on my left side and Randy on my right as we walked in silence. I heard Vince yell "There he is!" I looked straight out in front of and saw the big the point buck twenty yards away!

I didn't have a firearm with me so it was a double blessing that the buck was laying dead on the ground! 

Our hunter and his dad had joined in the search and I called to him to come over to claim his trophy. I watched as the youngster navigated his electric powered wheel chair trough the pines. The smile on his face as he approached the dead animal was one that I will never forget! He asked his dad to get him out of his chair and place him on the ground next to his buck. We took several pictures of our now proud hunter and his trophy and prepared to drag the dead animal out to the road. Vince and I each grabbed an antler and prepared to move the animal but as we did so, we looked more closely at the beautiful buck and saw quite clearly the entrance wound on the animal's left side – right behind the front shoulder! We rolled the animal over and found that the bullet had exited just in front of the rear shoulder. Our hunter had been right all along! He knew exactly where he had hit the animal! 

After his dad had placed him back in his chair, Vince and I each dipped our fingers into the animals warn blood and painted the hunter's face as we had promised the day before. The hunter smiled with pride and so did we! What we had thought would be a real challenge was nothing but a slam dunk!

Author's note: Kurtis Wilson, from Gaylord, Michigan was the hunter on the eleventh "Wish Hunt" sponsored by the Northeast Michigan Chapter. Each of the special hunters have provided us with memories that will last a life time! Each one has touched my heart. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with each of these young men! Every time I walk into the woods or sit in a stand I think about how each of these young men have over-come their individual disabilities and learned to enjoy the sport that we have so loved. I am convinced that, of all of the projects that the Chapter sponsors, the Safari Wish program is the most important! 

I would be remiss if I didn't express the Chapter's deep appreciation, gratitude and thanks to the owners of Jack Pine Safaris! They have been most gracious sponsors of the Safari Wish program for the last three hunts! Jack Pine Safaris offers some of the finest Whitetail deer and Rocky Mountain Elk hunts available in northern Michigan. I encourage Chapter members to check out Jack Pine Safari (989) 619-4041 (ask for Floyd Moore) and to consider a trip to Lewiston for a hunt of your own!