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In many ways Brooke Hanson is like most teenagers — she enjoys sports like softball and basketball, likes riding horses and has been involved with 4-H for much of her life. She likes spending time in the outdoors and keeps her cell phone hot — calling and texting her boyfriend, David.
Brooke Hanson and her dad pose with Brookeâ€™s bull â€“ taken near North Powder through the Hunt of a Lifetime program. RAY FOSTER
Growing up in a family of hunters, Brooke learned how to shoot a rifle at age 11 and took her first whitetail buck at age 12. White-tailed deer are the primary target for hunters near her home in Baudette, Minn. — a land of bogs and swamps surrounded by heavy timber.But, unlike others, Brooke Hanson is not well. She suffers from complex congenital heart disease. She was born with this disorder and, so far, has had three open-heart surgeries. Despite her ailments, Brooke still has dreams — dreams of seeing faraway places and hunting game other than whitetails.
One day she was watching hunting videos with her father. He asked her what game animal she would most like to hunt. Elk was her reply. She said they were large, quite attractive and seemed to have a special majesty about them. She thought she might like to visit the areas where elk live — places like ldaho, Wyoming and Oregon.
But, little did Brooke know, her father was setting her up. He had earlier been contacted by an organization called the Hunt of a Lifetime. This group sought kids younger than 21, with life-threatening disorders, to offer them a chance to hunt or fish for whatever they desired. They receive donations from companies like Cabela’s, Nosler, Savage Arms and others, to help equip the young hunters with all the gear needed for their hunt — rifles, ammunition, scopes and hunting garments. Private donations raise more funds for such things as airfare, motel accommodations and meals.
ln Oregon, groups like the Oregon Hunters Association lobbied for legislation that allows five hunters a year to participate in this program. Volunteers raise additional money for the effort and some even get involved with helping the kids find areas to hunt and game to pursue.
For Brooke Hanson, her adventure was overwhelming. Soon she was on a jet gliding over the U.S. and heading for the Boise airport. Brooke and her dad met up with guides Clay McEnroe, Tim Swanson and Ray Foster. Tim is a videographer, and Ray is a professional photographer. Their destination was North Powder.
McEnroe and Swanson have been involved with HOLT kids many times before — generously volunteering their time to contact landowners, scout for animals and otherwise do what’s needed to make the experience memorable. Their tireless efforts have led many kids to their quarry.
The guides had earlier arranged to hunt on John Wilson’s ranch. Wilson doesn’t normally allow hunting, but was more than willing to participate in this endeavor. A large 5-point bull had been frequenting one of the ranch meadows and it was hoped he’d offer a shot for the girl.
Reaching the hunt area, the group embarked on their venture and later discovered a very large bull at the far edge of a large meadow. The cover was sparse and it soon became obvious that Brooke and her entourage wouldn’t be able to get much closer than 400 yards from the target. At 372 yards, Brooke’s .308 Savage pushed a round to its mark and the bull collapsed. In moments, the group stood in awe at the great beast.
Upon reaching the elk, the two guides realized that Brooke had shot a local phantom that hunters had been chasing for years. The bull would disappear during the hunting seasons and then show up when deep winter snows forced him from his hideout. At some point in his life the bull did have a brush with an archery hunter as an arrow point was later discovered buried deep in his shoulder, but had healed over.
The bull spent many winters on the nearby North Slope Ranch owned by Chris and Donna Heffernan — landowners that had sponsored other HOLT kids in the past. Upon hearing of the bull’s demise, Heffernan reflected on cold, blustery mornings watching the bull pawing for food under a crusted snow.
He remembered the many times he helped the bull through bitter times with an offering of alfalfa, and the two sets of antlers the bull left in appreciation. Heffernan’s two sons had often dreamed of taking this bull, but later announced they were pleased that someone so worthy as Brooke had taken the monarch.
After a short tour of the Elkhorn Range and the Snake River, Brooke and her father headed back home.
Her trophy would soon be preserved by a generous taxidermist. Brooke said she was anxiously awaiting her first elk venison dinner and sharing the meal and stories with family and friends. Her first bite would likely conjure up the memories of her adventure — the golden tamaracks and the bugling elk of Eastern Oregon.
Whatever the future has in store for Brooke Hanson, she says she will never forget her friends — Clay, Tim and Ray — and never be able to thank enough all the others who truly made her adventure the hunt of a lifetime.