Three hundred and forty-six.
The number is one Jeff Grende of North Powder may never forget because of a magical moment the afternoon of Oct. 16 near Elk Mountain, Wyoming — an afternoon he helped a wounded warrior step back in time.
Grende and three other volunteers were helping take a nearly blind Army veteran on an elk hunting trip. They were on a ridge when they saw a herd of elk, including a trophy bull, run into a forest.
Grende and his party, all lifelong hunters familiar with the movement patterns of elk, anticipated that later that day the elk would come out of the forest and into the opening they had just left.
“We knew they would be coming back,” Grende said.
So the men put the brakes on their hike and began waiting — and waiting. Eight hours later, their patience paid off when the herd emerged from the forest.
Suddenly the feeling of boredom dissipated as the hunters bolted into action, helping the veteran adjust his rifle scope so he could view the trophy bull with the aid of intense magnification.
“He could see the outline of the elk,” Grende said.
The veteran then fired, dropping the elk instantly from a distance of 346 yards. He didn’t celebrate, though, unconvinced his shot was on the mark, even after being told of his successful shot.
“He didn’t get excited until he walked up to it and touched it,” Grende said. “Then he got really excited.”
For a moment the veteran had reason to feel as if he were the hunter he was before an injury during his deployment to the Middle East robbed him of much of his vision.
“It was pretty darn cool,” Grende said.
He was emotionally moved by the veteran’s reaction to his successful hunt.
“It was great,” Grende said. “It was something I can’t describe.”
The veteran was one of four taken on hunts Oct. 15-18 in the Elk Mountain area via the Hunting with Heroes Wyoming program. The nonprofit organization helps disabled veterans get out and enjoy the outdoors in Wyoming at no cost.
Each of the veterans at Elk Mountain in mid-October took a six-point bull. The veterans had all been wounded during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. They didn’t know each other before the hunt, but they quickly connected at Elk Mountain.
“They had a military bond,” Grende said. “The veterans were very brother-like to each other. They had a lot in common. Each of them was an excellent shot,” Grende said.
About 20 volunteers assisted with the Hunt with Heroes Wyoming, including Jeff Grende’s brothers, Gee, of Halfway and Steven of the nearby town of Elk Mountain. Gee Grende said everyone involved with this year’s hunts quickly clicked, even though most were meeting for the first time.
See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.