Have you ever had a life altering experience?
Perhaps survived a serious accident or illness,
or maybe just an event in your life that hit you like a bucket of
cold water, spun you around and made you look at life differently.
I have such a story that I would like to share,
and strange as it may seem, it involves a wonderful 13 year-old boy
(confined to a wheelchair) and a cow elk.
The story starts about eight years ago when my
wife and I got involved with an organization called “Benefit4Kids”.
This group helps terminally ill and life-limited children fulfill
their outdoor dream wishes. We primarily helped Benefit4Kids at
their fundraisers for many years. A request came from 13 year-old,
Matthew Cobbett, who suffers from Congenital Arthrogryposis, a
disease that affects his joints, for a wish trip.
Matt’s dream was to hunt elk, away from his
native Michigan, and he would have to accomplish this from his
wheelchair. A friend of mine had Matt in his 4-H shooting program,
and although he had shooting experience, he would not be able to
shoulder the gun himself.
I decided to get personally involved in
granting this wish. A friend, Clay Owens, who I had guided with
years earlier, coincidentally phoned me about a new ranch he was
working with – Cross Mountain Ranch in Hayden, Colorado. Clay told
me that they were in this ranching for wildlife program where you
could hunt with a rifle in seasons other that the normal rifle
season. I called Clay to see if they could assist in making a young
man’s dream come true, and hunt elk with a rifle in September, when
the weather was warmer. His answer was “yes”, and the planning
A September 5th date was secured,
Benefit4Kids purchased plane tickets for Matt, his mom and his dad,
also a customized 30.06 was donated to Matt. His dad built a
plywood platform, which hooked to his wheelchair, and with the aid
of a gun rest and lots of practice, Matt was ready. Nothing to do
now but count the days!
I recall at the Benefit4Kids June fundraiser
that Matt was buzzing around in his wheelchair announcing to
everyone “MY NAME IS MATT AND I’M GOING TO COLORADO TO GET AN
The day finally arrived.
I flew out on September 3rd, was met
by head guide, Marv Doherty, who said that he was personally going
to guide Matt’s hunt. Marv explained to me in detail how he and the
staff of Cross Mountain Ranch were looking forward to this
experience. When I arrived at the Ranch, I was amazed at the
wonderful accommodations. They did all of the little things…. Built
a ramp to get the wheelchair over the steps to enter the lodge, and
built ground blinds with plywood floors, so Matt could maneuver his
wheelchair in and out of them.
Marv also had another surprise for us – Rob
Smollack from ASAT Camo, who was already scheduled to film a later
hunt at the ranch, decided to come in a week early to film Matt’s
hunt. This was truly beginning to be a “Hunt of a Lifetime”.
On September 5th Matt, his mom
(Mary), his dad (Mike), and 7 other hunters arrived at the ranch.
The first order of business was to make sure the firearms were still
sighted in. That evening Marv did a welcoming orientation to all of
the hunters; he held up Matt’s target from earlier practice, and
said “If you can all shoot like this, you should have no trouble
getting an elk this week”.
Matt is a very, very outgoing kid and he fast
became buddies with everyone – including the seven other hunters.
These hunters were cheering for Matt’s success more than their own!!
The first morning ended and Marv came to me and
said – his gun rest won’t work, it is just too stationary. We had
to clamp a bipod with a swivel top to the plywood table, then cut a
padded strap off an old backpack, run a string through the pin on
the stock (where the sling snaps in), to hold the stock to Matt’s
Day two: With the help of Marv and Rob on the
calls, a cow was coaxed into the clearing where Matt, cameraman,
Dave, and Mike (Matt’s Dad) were waiting. Matt wore earmuffs, and
Marv slid one partially up to coach Matt through the shot. Matt is
unable to bend his fingers, so he had to slide his middle finger in
front of the trigger and pull with his arm. BANG! The cow ran off
unscathed and Matt had a look of utter disbelief.
After lunch we decided to take Matt back to the
target range, and his first two shots completely missed the target!
Matt cried and we all panicked, however, his Dad found that his
scope had become loose. The adjustment was quickly made, and Matt
was shooting right back on target.
Cross Mountain Ranch enjoyed a very successful
week of hunting. One by one the other seven hunters started coming
in with their elk. As well as their own hunts were going, most of
them had to admit that out there on the mountain, they were praying
for Matt’s success as well.
Day Three. One of the senior guides suggested
a place called “Lucky’s Pond” (seemed like an omen to me), and off
we went. We built a makeshift blind for Matt, the cameraman and
Marv. Mom and Dad, myself and Rob from ASAT were also scattered
about in the bushes. We were only there about a half hour when a
cow elk walked into Lucky’s Pond. The elk was facing Matt, ears
swiveling around, and was looking very nervous. I was watching
through my binoculars and saw her turn to leave. BANG!! I jumped
from the unexpected shot, but managed to get back on quick enough to
see what looked like a good hit, as the elk bolted off.
Emotions overflowed. Mom and Dad cried, I
cried, Marv and I hugged, I thanked God. Then we got our feet back
on the ground and realized that we had to find the elk, and five of
us tracked it until dark. Marv promised Matthew that he made a good
shot, and that we would find the elk in the morning.
Day 4. Nine guides, other hunters (foregoing
their own hunts), Matt’s dad and myself went to look for the elk.
We found the blood trail, lost the trail, found it again, and then
finally lost it and had to give up the search. Not one of us wanted
to face young Matt with the news.
Matthew was devastated. “I didn’t come here to
wound an animal, and I don’t want to hunt any more”. As we sat at
the lunch table, Marv said the following “There is not a hunter
here, who has hunted any length of time, who hasn’t had to face the
same disappointment”. One by one the other hunters, guides and
myself told their similar stories “sometimes it just happens”, and
we convinced Matt not to give up.
Day 4 – afternoon. Marv and I tried to talk
Matt into hunting a waterhole where he had been sitting the first
two days, because it was so hot and we knew the elk would come to
the water. Matt, however, was adamant about hunting the blind where
he missed the first elk, and we decided that it was his call. Six
of us rode to the top of the mountain that afternoon, all of us
having just one thought….. we did not want this young man going home
from his dream of a life time trip, with disappointment. We pulled
his wheelchair into his blind, with his makeshift gun rest, his Dad,
Dave and Marv were close by, Rob moved off to do some calling, and I
went to park the ranger. It wasn’t long until a cow appeared,
almost in the exact same spot that the first one came in. Marv went
to whisper encouragement to Matt, but realized he had his muffs down
and could not hear him. Marv thought “well, son, I hope you have
learned something in the last few days, because you are on your
With his cheek firmly on the stock, his eye
glued to the scope, he slid his straight, stiff little fingers in
front of the trigger and with the focus and calmness of a veteran
elk hunter of many seasons, pulled back with his arm. BANG! The
cow spun and bolted, but unlike the other time, she only made it
about 10 yards and fell over!!!!! A perfect shot!!!! All captured
on film!!!!! The demons of failure and disappointment were gone!!!
Matt was so excited – he was tearing at his
wheelchair; if he could, I think he would have ran over to that
elk! We were all so excited! We drove him in the Ranger to his
elk, carried him over and sat him on the elk for pictures. No words
can describe how we felt at this successful conclusion. Marv, Matt
and I took the elk down to the truck. Marv went back up to the
mountain to get Matt’s Dad, and ASAT’s, Rob and Dave. As Matt and I
sat in the truck, gazing out into the clear mountain night at the
millions of stars, Matt asked me “Mr. Mike are you a Christian?”. I
answered “Yes, Matt, why do you ask?” He said “because I am a
Christian and I believe God blessed me to be on this hunt”!!
I thought AMEN to
Story by: Mike Jennett
|Special thanks to:
|Benefit4Kids – Mt. Clemens, MI
|Cross Mountain Adventures – Hayden, CO
ASAT Camo – Anaconda, MT
|Mag-Na-Port – Mt. Clemens, MI
|Lucio Persichetti – Troy, MI
|Garth Allen – Washington, Michigan
|Crazy Three Tannery (Craig, CO)
|Brothers Custom Processing (Craig, CO)
Dear Benefit 4 Kids,
We would like to start by saying thank you
for sending Matt and us on this wonderful elk hunt in Colorado. It
is hard to put into words just how we feel. Saying thank you just
doesn’t seem like enough. How do we repay you for everything you
did for us? Your generosity and giving spirit allowed us to
experience a wonderful fun-filled week hunting elk, making new
friends and enjoying the company of one of your directors. We
arrived in Hayden, Colorado on Friday, September 5th.
The weather was perfect and the scenery unbelievable. We were met
at the airport by Mike Jennett and Marv Doherty who helps run Cross
Mountain Ranch and Matt’s hunting guide. Matt, Mike and Marv seemed
to click right from the get-go. From there we drove to our cabin
about 20 miles away. The accommodations at Cross Mountain ranch
were terrific-first rate. We settled in our room, and then met the
guides and other hunters who would be staying at the ranch. We were
surprised to find that 2 other hunters were from Michigan. One of
whom lived only 15 miles from us! Vaugh, Marv’s son at Cross
Mountain Ranch immediately build a handicap access ramp for Matt.
We were overwhelmed and thankful for their thoughtfulness. When we
ate, we were served 5-star restaurant food prepared Joey who is a
area chief. We were spoiled by his cooking for the next 6 days.
Matt hunted for the next 4 days before he got his elk. Mike Jennett
and Cross Mountain Ranch build some blinds that enabled Matt to hunt
from his wheelchair. Rob Smollack from ASAT camo company offered to
come from Montana to tape Matt’s hunt and help call in Elk. Matt
got a shot at one, but he missed. He shot and injured another, but
we lost its blood trail. The next day Marv and Mike suggested that
Matt practice at their range since they modified how he held and
sighted his gun. They adjusted the gun sights based on his practice
shooting. The next day Matt shot his elk-a-perfect shot too! On
Wednesday the day before we left Cross Mountain Ranch offered to
take Matt rainbow trout fishing at a mountain pond. We had a
fishing contest. Matt caught the first fish, his dad caught the
biggest and Mike Jennett caught the most. When Matt wasn’t hunting,
he played cards (poker) with the guides, and they taught him how to
play cribbage. The guides gave Matt a nickname because of the way
he liked to hold the gas pedal on the 4-wheeler floor, when we were
traveling to the hunting blind-LEADFOOT. Also, we played cards with
Mr. Jennett even though he and Matt’s parents would have preferred
to take a nap. On Thursday, September 11th we boarded
our plane for home. It was a sad parting at the cabin and airport.
We made good friends with some wonderful people while we were
there. The hospitality and generosity of the people and the
accommodations and food were outstanding. The hunting and fun we
enjoyed on this trip was a once-in-lifetime experience. It is truly
an experience we will never forget Thank You
We love You,
Mike and Mary