Categories: AdventuresEventsFirst-timersFunHuntingUtah

The hunt of his dreams

I WAS FORTUNATE enough to be raised by avid fishermen and hunters on both sides of my family. To this day, I thank them for giving me the greatest gift of all: a passion for the outdoors. If you know me, you know I wear many hats in a variety of colors and sizes.

I pursued my love of the outdoors through my degree in college. Every day I strive to teach anyone who will listen about wildlife, wildlife-related issues, what they can do to get outdoors, who to contact, etc.

I’ve been able to network with many different organizations and individuals who help us in the world of wildlife. If you’ve seen the show ‘KSL Outdoors’ with Adam Eakle, then you’re no stranger to some of our stories and work. I was appointed as the show’s cohost with Adam over a year ago, and we just have too much fun delivering the news about wildlife in Utah.

One story led us to work with a couple of amazing individuals who get people involved in hunting and shooting sports. Their dedication has led to an immeasurable number of granted wishes. The Pritchett brothers, Kevin and Mike, have been called “the angels who wear camo.” They do what they do because they believe in passing on the legacy of hunting and fishing. Not one person who comes into contact with these men has left without being touched by the hunting and fishing bug.

In 2012, Adam, the Pritchett boys, myself and several others gathered around a young man’s house just before Christmas. Each year, the Pritchett brothers and friends donate a fully guided turkey hunt and fishing trip to a young man or woman who is ill or in need. That year, a young man named Dakota was chosen.

Dakota has an autism spectrum disorder, a rare form of hemophilia, a bleeding disorder and looks like he’s 40 (he’s in 5th grade). He begged his mother to take hunter education with him. His father wasn’t in the picture, and his grandfather passed on before he was able to take Dakota hunting and teach him sportsmanship. Dakota was raised by his mother and two sisters. His mother fulfilled her son’s wish of taking hunter education with him. When the Pritchetts heard Dakota’s story, they knew that Dakota was the perfect candidate for their annual surprise.

Each Christmas, the Pritchett brothers and friends donate a fully guided turkey hunt and fishing trip to a young man or woman who is severely ill or in need. Photo courtesy Kitt Dora M. Slaid

When we entered the home and gave Dakota his gifts and let him know that his lifelong dream of becoming a hunter would be fulfilled, he was confused. Soon, happy tears filled his eyes.

This young man was being given something his mother says he hadn’t been blessed with: time.

Every day, we all lose time. But Dakota has a growth and genetic chromosomal disorder that has aged him prematurely, and left him with a full-grown beard in the 5th grade.

So many hearts filled the room, and time was being given to boy who wanted nothing more than to learn things like sportsmanship, right and wrong, fairness, how to interact and make jokes, laugh, and bond, from men. Dakota’s craving for this interaction was about to become a regular occurrence. So many of us take this for granted.

In the spring of 2013, we all gathered for Dakota’s turkey hunt. We arrived at the cabin where we planned out the hunt the night before. It still didn’t feel real to him. His uncle and brother-in-law accompanied him, but no women were allowed. Well, except for me, and that always happens. At around 1:00 a.m., we all decided we’d better try and sleep a couple hours, as sunrise was almost upon us.

When the Pritchetts heard Dakota’s story, they knew that Dakota was the perfect candidate for their annual surprise. Photo courtesy Kitt Dora M. Slaid.

As the alarm went off, I remember thinking just five more minutes! But, I could hear the commotion of the hunting party layering on the camouflage. I honestly don’t think Dakota slept that night. As we gathered in the kitchen, we rehashed our plan and pumped each other up for Dakota’s special hunt.

We drove down a few lanes and hopped out of the trucks in the dark of night. We descended into the blinds that had been placed the night before and waited. One by one, turkeys came in from all sides. I was across the field from Dakota, but I could feel his angst as I felt the exact same way.

Finally, Dakota took a shot and landed his first turkey. He ran from the blind in disbelief. He did it! He fulfilled his grandpa’s legacy of becoming a steward for the wilderness and practicing ethical sportsmanship, with the helping hands of some of the finest sportsmen I know.

Tonya Kieffer :Tonya Kieffer is a former DWR community fisheries biologist.