ITA Helps - Various Charities
2024 Hunt of a Lifetime (Bryce Acheson - Special Youth Challenge)
2024 Special Youth Challenge

2018 Hunt of a Lifetime (Dayton Morris - Building Brighter Dreams)
2018 Building Brighter Dreams
(Dayton Morris, 18, Winterset, Iowa)

Dayton Morris is an 18 year old senior at Winterset High School. He will be graduating in May and plans to attend Job Corp in Ottumwa in June to study Building Trades. Dayton is the oldest of three children. He has siblings that are twins, a sister named Denim and a brother named Dallon who was born with Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. Dallon passed away in July 2017. Dayton started showing cows at the Madison County Fair when he was 9 years old and in 4th grade. He participated in the Southwest Junior Stockman 4-H Club. Dayton has always lived on a small farm. He helped raise horses and miniature donkeys. He has been a member of the Madison County Clay Crushers for four years and has enjoyed going to the state competition in Trap Shooting. Dayton was instrumental in inspiring a close friend to join the club. He and his friend also airsoft at the DOA Paintball Range in St. Charles. He has always been interested in wars throughout history, the different styles of guns and the military because most of the men in his family have participated in military service.

Dayton’s teacher, Laura Silverthorn, knew that he had a love for all things guns. He would write about his family’s military experiences at school. Mrs. Silverthorn contacted Tyler Bass, of Building Brighter Dreams to get an application for Dayton. Dayton struggles with excessive anxiety to the point of pulling his hair, eyelashes and eyebrows out completely. This is called Trichotillomania. It is difficult for him to make lots of friends and he has experienced being made fun of and bullying.

The following is a piece of writing that Dayton shared with his teacher about his hunt.

“Surprisingly, Tyler went to the same school that I am at, Winterset High School. My first night was Sunday, the 9th of December. Tyler and his dad, my dad and I went out. We were waiting for deer for about three hours. About one hour and 30 mins into the hunt, we saw a mother bobcat and two babies. Then the deer were coming out behind us. I didn’t take a shot because Tyler’s truck was back in that area. We left before it got dark.

Two days later on Tuesday, December 11 at 3 o’clock my dad stopped by, and we were going to the back up day hunt. It was a little before 3:15 when we got there. Tyler, my dad and I headed out to the spot. When we got there we hid in some oak trees. Thirty minutes later we saw three does and a buck, but they were out of range, and I was also not in the right spot. We waited to see if they were going to come closer, but just then something scared them, and they ran off. So we waited to see if they were coming back. They did but not in the right spot to get a shot. Then Tyler got up and peeked around the corner of the group of trees that we were in and told me to come over to where he was. There were about 30 deer across the road. I sat the barrel of my gun on the barbed wire fence and aimed at the closest one. The buck was about 40 to 70 yards away. It felt like time slowed down when I pulled the trigger because I saw the flash for a while. That is most uncommon to see a flash for about 10 seconds. At first, I thought that I missed him because he started running. But after I ejected the shell, Tyler said, ‘Good job! You got him!’

After the buck fell, I asked my dad if his first died with one shot. I also asked my dad if my uncles got their first deer with one shot. Of course he didn’t remember. My dad said that he could not have shot one now like I did. When we were going to look at my deer, it was dark out. But I still think that I shot him near the heart and that the shot went all the way through and hit the dirt on the other side. But I could not tell. Why I thought it went through the deer was because when we got to him there was blood on the right side, but the shot was on the left side. I was super excited and sent pictures right away to my mom and showed my teacher the next day. I can’t wait to get the deer mounted on my wall.”

I would like to say thank you to Tyler Bass and his family and friends who helped me make this possible. Also thank you to The Iowa Taxidermy Association for mounting my deer. I appreciate this opportunity.
2018 Hunt of a Lifetime (Adam Smith - Wounded Warrior Project)
2018 Wounded Warrior Project
(Adam Smith, Marines)

Chive Charities Narrative

Life before the diagnosis and military:

Well I felt like I was a normal kid, liked sports, had plenty of friends and enjoyed going out and hanging out with friends at the local movie theater and sporting venues. Crowds or new people didn’t really bother me, I was an overall happy go lucky kid with not a care in the world. I had always enjoyed the outdoors and was big into deer hunting, camping, and sports.

First deployment:
My deployment probably isn’t what you are used to hearing about Veterans returning home from the sandbox, but this is my deployment story. I was a 19 year old when I started my deployment in January of 2009. I was attached to 1/1, a Marine Corps infantry unit out of Camp Pendleton, California. Well our deployment was going to be a boat ride on the 13th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit). We would be floating around the ocean being basically the 911 first responders to any sort of incident. During this period, the pirates were causing all sorts of troubles for merchant ships around Africa. Our deployment got called to the area for some Anti-Piracy operations around the Horn of Africa. You might remember in the news about Captain Philips and the Maersk Alabama in 2009. This is what my deployment was responsible for. Granted, I wasn’t part of the SEAL team to take the shot to rescue the Captain, but I did have interaction with the pirate that gave himself up for medical care and in turn was part of the unit to stand guard on him once the medical team fixed him up and before he could be off loaded to the United States.

I know its not a lot but I believe this is the defining moment that has shaped my life into what it is now. This deployment has stuck with me because I wish I could’ve done more, went on a “real” deployment to the sandbox and used my skills that I was taught. I felt like I had a purpose on this deployment hunting pirates. Then I came back.

Second deployment:
My second deployment sounds a lot like my first deployment except with zero action. We were still doing Anti-Piracy operations but I did not to get to partake in any of the fun. After this deployment is when I started to feel like a failure and a let down to my country for not getting to go overseas to the sandbox and fight the good fight. These 2 failures of deployments will stick with me till I die.

Life after deployments:
I returned home from deployment just like everybody else in my unit August of 2009. Our deployment wasn’t a combat deployment, we didn’t travel to the sandbox or anything so I didn’t think anything was wrong. I carried on life as I had before, or so I thought I was. I realize now that I was self medicating, to forget things I had seen on deployment. I continued to self medicate until my next deployment a couple of years later. And in that time I didn’t realize the amount of self damage I had done to myself and the dark place I had now lived. I was in a dark hole of depression and self loathing and hate. Then came my second deployment February of 2011. Things got better, I felt more comfortable away from the states with my just military brothers. Again I returned home from deployment September of 2011. But instead of staying with my buddies that I’ve spent the last 4 years and 2 deployments, I had to pack up and move to a new duty station November of 2011. A little background on what I did in the military. I was a Navy Corpsman (basically a combat medic) that was stationed with the Marines (the Marine Corps doesn’t have their own medical personnel due to them being a department of the Navy. So the Navy “loans” out their medical personnel, which is what happened to me). So after I got back from my second deployment I had to move duty stations, and instead of going back with the Marines, I went to a little clinic down in Texas. I was really excited for this move at first, I couldn’t wait to get away from the Marines and their arrogant attitudes, I later found out that I missed the Marines terribly and soon found out I didn’t fit in at the clinic or around “regular” people. I ended up getting kicked out of my patient care department and moved to a department that didn’t have much meaning and was the department where the trouble maker individuals got sent to stay out of sight and to keep them under wraps in July of 2012. So you can imagine what this did to me, I was hurt and was in a forget this since you forgot me attitude, I had no purpose any more. I was eventually sent to Mental Health due to my attitude and behavior around . I ended up getting put on some medication to calm and settle me down. The medication worked for the remainder of my stay at this duty station, which was a couple years after starting this medication. It came time for me to rotate to a new duty station again. I was super excited for this move, I could finally get back with the Marines who I desperately missed. Well, I ended up getting the orders that I wanted in November of 2015, so I moved and got all settled into the unit and going through my check-in process. One of the places I had to check-in at was medical, and I guess at some point I must have slipped through some cracks, because I wasn’t supposed to be at this new deployable command with the medication I was on. So they started looking into my medical record and found out I was on this medication for way longer than intended due to it being a habit forming drug. Well I developed a habit to it and was sent to a facility to get off the medication. But before I was sent to this facility my doctor felt it necessary to start a medical review board due to the issues that he found in my medical record. I was not happy about this at all. I wanted to do 20 years in the Navy at this point and my goal was to make Chief to prove to all the haters I could do it and also to prove to my mentors and the select few that believed in me that I could. At the time this medical review board came about I had already done 9 years in was looking to the future. I was pretty upset about this decision at the moment, but the longer I thought about it the more I thought this was the best thing for me. I would be able to get out and start my life as a civilian and do something meaningful and find my purpose again since it had been stripped from me over and over again. Once I came to terms with this medical review board I started to get settled in again with my Marine unit, and it seems I slipped through the cracks again in this unit because I was supposed to be sent to the main hospital once the board had been initiated. I had been going through the board process for months, close to 6-7 months at the least. I went to the hospital in July of 2016. I got put in a meaningless job again, so I had no purpose till my results came back which took months. My results finally came back and I got medically retired due to my anxiety and depression that caused me to be non-functional and liability. I got medically separated in March of 2017.

Life after the military:
After getting out and moving back home, I thought everything was going to be better. But I was very wrong, I missed everything about the military, especially my Marines. I fell into a deep and dark depression and couldn’t find any purpose. I didn’t want to do anything that used to make me happy or hangout with friends, or friends I thought I had. I became such a lonely and dark person due to my anxiety of going out and about and being around people, but keeping to myself in the house was where my depression thrived. If I went out and about my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t stand it, but on the other hand if I stayed inside my depression wrecked havoc. My depression got so overwhelming that I was seriously considering ending my life and becoming a statistic of another Veteran committing suicide. Well my buddy reached out at my time of need without even knowing I needed it and dragged me to a golf tournament that was a charity event for Retrieving Freedom Inc, I started talking to Chad and Keegan from the organization and about my story and they felt a service dog could help me greatly. I started my application with them and got approved and I have since started working with a dog. This organization has turned my life around and have given me purpose and meaning again. I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me. I feel like I have another family and feel more at home at Retrieving Freedom than I do at my own home because of the brotherhood I have found up there with all the Staff and other Veterans that stop in.
2017 Hunt of a Lifetime (Jenna De Jong - Catch A Dream)
2017 Catch A Dream
(Jenna De Jong, 11, Alton, Iowa)

Pictures coming soon

Jenna De Jong, age11, from Alton, IA, was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephaly. Jenna has had 17 surgeries, countless doctor appointments and procedures, and lives every day with multiple challenges. That is what Jenna has, not who Jenna is.

Jenna has the spark of a fighter and a fierceness within her that drives her to be all she can be.

Her love for the outdoors, sitting in the blind, the anticipation of the hunt, the enjoyment of getting to know other hunters, and telling stories about her trophies, is just one of her many passions. Jenna also loves playing wheel chair basketball, adaptive skiing, horseback riding, Christian Girls Club, participating in various camps (Spirit Camp & Camp High Hopes are her favorites), and camping with her family.

Jenna always has a smile to share and is continually looking forward to her next great adventure!

Jenna has had multiple opportunities to go hunting with an organization from NW Iowa, SYC (Special Youth Challenge). She has been successful on two turkey hunts, but has not been able to harvest a deer that last two years. This past December we saw a post on Facebook, that Tyler from Building Brighter Dreams posted, looking for a couple of people to go late season Deer hunting. After talking back and forth with Tyler, we were able to schedule the first weekend in January to go to Winterset, IA and try for a deer yet again.

On Friday, January 5, we headed out to Winterset for the weekend hunt. Jenna was able to practice shooting the crossbow a couple of times with Tyler and Clint from BBD. With multiple shots hitting the bullseye, she was ready to go.

We headed to the blind around 2:00 pm Friday afternoon. After sitting in the blind for approximately 15 minutes, we had multiple does walk out of the trees to look for food. After watching multiple deer stand out in front of the blind, Jenna decided to shoot a nice doe that was standing broadside at 30 yards. After shooting, we looked at the video footage and saw that the deer jumped the arrow and the shot looked a little back. We decided to let the doe rest the night and look for it the next morning. We were able to find the doe the next morning about 100 yards in the trees.

With the doe tag gone, Jenna headed out that night to try for a buck. We got in the pop-up blind around 1:30, with little room to spare. Three= well fed adult men with Jenna and the crossbow, can you say tight quarters. After 1 hour we started to see deer walk in front of the blind and even had a couple of them look directly at us from about 10 yards. Three men trying to hold the excitement, while Jenna sat stone cold. We did see a couple of nice bucks walk past, but just out of range. Just before the end of shooting hours, this roughed up buck came walking past and gave Jenna a nice 25 yard shot. The buck ran about 100 yards in the field and fell. Jenna was one excited girl!

After two years and multiple hours sitting in the blind waiting for a shot, Jenna was able to harvest a doe and a buck in two days.

We would like to Thank Tyler and all the guys at Building Brighter Dreams for the opportunity that they offered us. We would also like to the thank the Iowa Taxidermy Association for the mount.

2016 Hunt of a Lifetime (Wyatt O'Neil - Catch A Dream)
2016 Catch A Dream
(Wyatt O'Neil, 15, West Branch, Iowa)

Hello, my name is Wyatt O’Neil. I live in West Branch, Iowa, which is about 15 miles east of Iowa City.I am currently 15 years old and I live with my mom, Kathy, and my dad, Patrick. I have a brother named Kameron and three dogs, Winter (A great pyrenees) Buster (A Rottweiler) and Bruno (A Newfoundland). I have few but passionate interests, mostly History, Science, and Video Games.

I was 14 when I was diagnosed with Testicular cancer on the 19th of may, 2015. Medically I always say I got the best of the worst batch. I had surgery to remove my right testicle just a day after my diagnosis. When the surgery was done they thought they got it all, but further scans told them there was a “Concerning” lymph node just above where the surgery was. Sure enough the cancer had spread to a lymph node. They told me that it needed to be removed by surgery or Chemotherapy. We couldn’t make the choice, so we ended up sending the decision to the Tumor board, where professionals decide what's best. It was unanimous, they all said Chemo.

So sure enough, in July I started my first week in inpatient. The week consisted of three doses until the end of the week where I would spend the whole day having fluid pumped into me to remove the remaining Chemo. This happened 3 times, with three weeks separating them. After my last dose CT’s showed that the lymph node was stable, and I have been in remission since.

Catch a Dream was given my name from my social worker, John. From there I wasn’t really informed on what was going on with the application, but I had the choice between hunting a bear in Wisconsin, or shooting deer in New Mexico. In the end for me there was no competition, I chose the bear.The bear hunt was one of the best experiences of my life. The people we hunted with were great people, and the dogs were just as fun. So fun in fact we named our dog Bruno after one we were with while hunting. We would set out bait for the bears, mostly consisting of sugary sweet stuff. In the morning we check and see if bears got into the bait, we would be able to tell because we stacked a large tree trunk on top of the bucket. The dogs would pick up the bears scent and most of the day we would go around chasing the bear. We let around 4 dogs out to chase down the bear while the others stayed in the kennels. The feeling of shooting a bear was amazing. I would go back and hunt with those people any day.

Finally, thank you Catch a Dream for making this possible. Without you I would have never gotten this far, and certainly never would have shot a bear. You make dreams happen. You make people feel happy, even in life's darkest moment. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
2015 Hunt of a Lifetime (Hunter Huseman - Catch A Dream)
2015 Catch A Dream
(Hunter Huseman, Sophmore)

Hunter is our oldest child, with a younger brother and sister. He holds many traits of a typical first born child. He is hard working and tends to earn excellent grades at school. He is active in sports with his favorites being soccer and tennis. He has been on the swim team, played baseball, and some basketball. He currently plays the French horn and mellophone for band and had previously played piano.

Like most teenage boys he enjoys hanging out with his friends and playing video games. His younger brother worships him and tends to want to do whatever he is doing. They play well together most of the time. Hunter loves Monopoly and any games that require strategy. He enjoys movies and books. His favorite classes are science and math.

Hunter’s life changed very suddenly in early October 2014. We had spent a very active weekend at a waterpark with his aunt, uncle and cousins. The kids had enjoyed several waterslides and physical activities, including a rope climbing obstacle course. There were no classes on Monday so we returned home on Monday night October 6th, 2014. Hunter went to school as usual on Tuesday. After school he told me that his right side had started hurting around 10:00 that morning. He said it was a dull pain that mainly just felt weird. I told him he likely strained something with all the activity over the weekend and that it would likely resolve. Hunter volunteers at the hospital and still wanted to go, so I dropped him off to volunteer from 4-6 pm. One of the perks of volunteering at the hospital is a free meal of choice from the cafeteria (yes, this is a perk to a growing teenage boy). When I picked him up from the hospital he was carrying a Power drink, humongous slice of pizza and fruit parfait dessert. I figured he was fine if he was eating well and being so active. He did say his side still hurt but he wanted to go hang out with his friend when he got home.

It was around 9 pm that night when he came and told me his side hurt worse and he was going to go to bed early because it was bothering him so much. Hunter is not one to complain, so I thought it was unusual. I tried to palpate his side and could not feel anything unusual. I encouraged him to lie down. It was about 10:30 pm when he came and told me his side was hurting so badly he could hardly catch his breath. He was sweaty and looked extremely uncomfortable. I left his father home with his brother and sister and took him to the emergency room. We discussed the possibility of appendicitis or a gallstone on the way to the ER. Unfortunately after an ultrasound they informed us that there was a tumor that was taking up approximately 50% of his liver.

We were immediately transferred to the University Hospital of Iowa for further evaluation. An open liver biopsy was performed and the diagnosis came down to one of two possible types of cancer. The first type, Hepatoblastoma, most commonly occurs in children under the age of 5 and is highly treatable. The second type, Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), most commonly occurs in adults with an accompanying liver disease, like hepatitis or cirrhosis, neither of which applied to Hunter. The second type is generally terminal within weeks to at most a few years. The only treatment for the second type is a transplant or a liver resection, and only if the tumor is very small. We met with the transplant surgeon and the oncologist. Unfortunately, they felt Hunter’s tumor was too large and embedded to qualify for a transplant or resection. If the cancer was HCC, Hunter’s time was limited. We had to wait a week for the biopsy results - it was an excruciating week.

He was diagnosed with a Hepatoblastoma on October 15th. While it was still overwhelming that he had cancer at all, we were relieved it was the more treatable of the 2 types. The tumor was large and aggressive, so it was still unclear if he would be able to have a resection or transplant. He started chemotherapy 9 days after he was first taken to the ER. We requested a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic during those 9 days, while we awaited the original biopsy results. They started the chemotherapy in the evening on October 17th. Shortly after the chemo started running, we received a call with the second opinion from Mayo Clinic. The pathologist at the other institution disagreed with the initial diagnosis and felt Hunter had HCC. They recommended stopping treatment because the prognosis was poor. It was a devastating phone call. We promised Hunter we would tell him everything that was being done and happening to him, but neither my husband nor I wanted to tell him. We couldn’t process how this could happen. Who was right? Should we turn the chemo off? Our oncologist and her team came to meet with us. She explained it occasionally happens where one pathologist disagrees with another and we would need to send his biopsy tissue onto another center for a third deciding opinion. They ended up sending it to 3 other centers by the time it was all said and done. We decided that night with Hunter we should continue with chemo, because if it was a Hepatoblastoma it would likely respond. We waited another week to see if his tumor responded and fortunately it did. It took a little over a week to find out after all the biopsies were reviewed it was determined that Hunter had a rare transitional neoplasm, with components of Hepatoblastoma. It is extremely rare, which left us with little information about how exactly to treat it and what it meant for his overall prognosis. Since components were Hepatoblastoma they continued to follow the treatment plan for Hepatoblastoma.

It took 12 doses of weekly chemotherapy for Hunter’s tumor to shrink enough to qualify for a transplant. He was out of school for all of it. He was hospitalized every 3 weeks for a large round of chemo that lasted 2 days and was hospitalized frequently in between for fevers and low blood counts. In addition, we would take him to the clinic weekly for a smaller round of chemo.

Hunter’s biggest struggle with chemo was definitely the first round. He lost 13 pounds, which his thin frame could not really afford to lose. His appetite was poor and his nausea and vomiting were frequent. He developed a fever and was hospitalized for a week with low blood counts. The subsequent rounds were slightly better. He developed severe heartburn, but the vomiting was better controlled and he started to gain some weight back. He suffered some mild hearing loss from the chemo, which we are told will not recover.

When we found out that Hunter would qualify for a transplant, it was the answer to our prayers. It meant Hunter had a chance at being cured of cancer. Due to the type of cancer Hunter had and the aggressive nature of it, Hunter had a limited window to receive a transplant. The oncologist was willing to wait 21 days without giving chemo. That meant Hunter’s blood counts had to be good and he had to stay healthy. He was placed on the transplant list on Monday January 12th.

Hunter received the transplant on January 17th, 2015. We were actually in the oncologist’s office when we were notified. Hunter’s brother and sister were with me at the appointment, because school was not in session that day. I literally loaded everyone up and we drove straight from the University of Iowa to University of Nebraska Medical Center. I called my husband at work and he went to our house and grabbed the bags. We drove separate vehicles, so we’d have 2 cars on the road, in case one had problems or the Iowa/Nebraska winter roads became problematic. When we arrived for the transplant, we waited and we prayed. It was an answer to our prayers but bittersweet to know that it was in light of someone else’s loss.

Hunter remained in the hospital for 8 days after the transplant and we remained in Omaha, near the hospital for about a month after the transplant. My husband and I alternated weeks between cities, jobs and kids. It was hectic, but so incredibly worth it. Hunter received six more weeks of chemo therapy after the transplant. They wanted to make sure any cells that may have been left behind were wiped out. He has been cancer free since April 2015 and has resumed a lot of the activities he enjoyed prior to his diagnosis. He returned to school in mid-April and is enjoying his sophomore year of high school. He still plays tennis, volunteers at the hospital and is in the marching and pep bands. He has a girlfriend – a sweet girl who has been with him since his diagnosis. She even donated her long hair to “Locks of Love” for wigs for cancer patients, when he was first diagnosed.

Hunter went on a “Catch a Dream” trip to Antigo Wisconsin in September and had a wonderful experience. He loves to tell the story of the hunt. We formed some great relationships with the guides, who were beyond wonderful. Hunter is very excited about the bear. He has even told me not to get used to having it in the house, because he plans to take it to college with him in a few years. It should make for an interesting dorm room.

Hunter continues to do well in school. When he was younger, he often talked about being a doctor when he grew up. This experience has made it even clearer that he wants to be a physician. He is unclear exactly which medical specialty he will focus on but currently is thinking surgeon, pathologist or neonatologist. Whichever field he sets his mind on will gain an excellent physician.

Hunter’s Bear Hunt

Our trip began on Tuesday, September 8th when we drove from Iowa to Antigo, Wisconsin. Shortly after arriving, we met with Pat – one of the outfitters for our trip. Pat wanted to meet with Hunter prior to bear season opening up the next morning. He took Hunter out to the range to get comfortable with the gun he’d be using for the hunt. Hunter did great – all those video games starting to pay off. We explored Antigo that evening and picked up some last minute supplies. Our Catch a Dream guide, George had some flight issues and was forced to drive the last leg of his trip from Mississippi so we’d have to wait and meet him the next morning.

That next morning we met George in the lobby of the hotel where he escorted us to a second hotel room. The room was full of hunting gear for Hunter, shirts and hats for the family, and a bunch of snacks and other goodies. Hunter was thrilled and quickly changed into his new hunting gear. We grabbed some quick breakfast and headed out to meet Pat. Pat became our chauffer for the next several days driving us all over the Wisconsin countryside to track down a bear. He educated us on the bear hunting process and how they work with the dogs. Each of the guys on the team has a truck with as many as six dogs on it. The dogs have been trained to smell and track bear. When the team thinks there may be a bear in the area – either by seeing a series of bait sites hit or photos on trail cameras – they’ll release the dogs. The dogs will follow the scent of the bear from the bait site into the woods. The objective is for the dogs to chase the bear so long it gets tired and decides to climb a tree to get away. Once the bear is tree’d, the dogs will attempt to climb the tree as well. This movement triggers their collar to show they are in a tree’d position. The hunters are able to see this on their GPS trackers and at that point they try to locate the bear in the tree. Once they locate the bear, they’ll assess the bear to determine if it is a good candidate to be harvested. They are very respectful of the animal and never harvest a young bear or a female with cubs.

Shortly after meeting up with Pat, we drove to one of the bait sites to see if it had been hit or if there was evidence of a bear. The site had been hit so we restocked it with bait – a mixture of cookies and everything sweet that bears love. When we got back to the truck we heard Jonas on the radio telling us he thinks there is a bear in the area. Jonas is another outfitter and has been bear hunting all of his life. He even takes a month off before bear season to practice tracking bear with his dogs. It’s incredible how much time and resources the outfitters, their families, and friends invest in hunting bear – it’s a way of life. Jonas reviewed some other trail camera photos and decided to release some dogs to locate the bear. We were so excited with the thought that Hunter could take a bear on the first day of the season. Within minutes, the dogs have a bear tree’d and we headed into the woods to check out the situation. When we located the dogs, they had a huge sow in the tree and about 10 feet above her two small cubs. It was an amazing site, but we had to let them be. We leashed up the dogs and led them out of the woods and within in a few seconds, the bears shimmied down the tree and took off into the woods. It was so cool to see a bear up close and personal in the first few hours of the hunt. We spent the rest of the day checking bait sites and released the dogs a few more times but no more bears. We decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel to relax until morning. On the way back to the hotel, George stopped along the road and Hunter posed with a Smokey The Bear sign – since that was the only bear he’d get that day.

The next morning we headed out to meet up with Pat again and did a lot of the same – checking bait sites, refilling them, checking trail cameras and checking in with the rest of the team. We released the dogs a couple of times and finally found a hot lead in the area known as Peter’s Marsh. Some of the guys released their dogs and we tracked them on the GPS where they ran about 1.5 miles into the woods. After a few minutes, they had the bear tree’d and we went in to see what they had. The first half of the trek was through a nice nature area, then the dogs turned into the dense woods. It took us several minutes to work our way through the overgrowth and trees to get to the dogs. When we found them, they had a huge bear tree’d. Jonas and Pat assessed the bear and made the decision to take the shot. The guys leashed up the dogs so they would not be in the way. They got Hunter all setup and Jonas coached him along – instructing him were to shoot and checking to make sure he was comfortable. Jonas was also Hunter’s back up – he was prepared to take a shot in case Hunter missed. When they were ready, Hunter took the shot and hit the bear square in the head. Jonas took a couple of additional shots to make sure we all stayed safe. Then the almost 400 pound bear fell from the tree, breaking off branches as it fell. It was amazing! Hunter was so excited – he did it! There was a lot of screaming and high fives.

George worked to clean up the bear and take a ton of photos. After the photo session, Pat quickly field dressed the bear while Jonas and Trevor led the dogs out of the woods back to the truck. Once the rest of the party heard Hunter took a bear, they came over to help get it to the truck. They tied dog leashes to the bear and we began the process of dragging it out of the woods. There were six or seven guys clearing a path and pulling the bear through the dense woods. Once we met up with rest of the party, we put the bear on an otter sled and took turns pulling the bear to the truck. It was intense. By this time there were around 10 guys helping drag the bear to the truck. When we arrived at the parking lot, we were greeted by some of the hunter’s family and friends. Everyone was really impressed with the size of the bear and the story that came with it. We loaded the bear up in the back of Pat’s truck and headed to the taxidermist. We had so much fun that we made arrangements to go out with the guys again the next day since there were two other hunters in their party that had bear tags. The next morning we took Hunter’s younger brother along so he could experience treeing a bear too. We were lucky enough to tree a bear that day as well but he was too small to harvest. He had been playing in a corn field just destroying the crop. Some of the guys led the dogs out of the woods and we stayed to watch the bear slide down the tree and run off into the woods. It was really cool to see this huge animal quickly leave the tree and run off. We had a great time just running the dogs and treeing a bear.

Later that evening, we attended a dinner for everyone that was involved in Hunter’s dream hunt. It was really great to meet the hunter’s families and get to know everyone better. George passed out many awards and gifts and we had a great time. We had an action packed few days in Northern Wisconsin and met many amazing people. We’ll never forget their hospitability, passion and friendship – they are a great group of people that have a passion for hunting and sharing their time, friendship and love with others. We’ll be forever grateful for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2014 Hunt of a Lifetime (Jeremy Davis - Catch A Dream)
2014 Catch A Dream
(Jeremy Davis, 15, Bluff Dale, Texas)

Jeremy Davis is from Bluff Dale, Texas and a vegetation ecologist for the Valles Caldera Trust. He writes about his volunteer experience with Catch-A-Dream hunt on the Preserve.

There was only one thing was bigger than 15 year old Tyler Gunlogson’s size 15 hunting boots on the morning of the 28th of September; his smile. Why was he all grins? Well, that’s just what happens when you fulfill a lifelong dream within a 24 hour span of time. This is his story.

Mornings start early in the hunting camp but that didn’t seem to bother Tyler one bit. He was getting ready to go on a “Catch-A-Dream” hunt for a bull elk and had 89,000 acres of prime Cervus canadensis (elk) habitat at his disposal on the Valles Caldera. “Catch-A-Dream” is a national, charitable, foundation that provides once-in-a-lifetime dream hunting and fishing trips to children across the United States and Canada, age 18 and younger, who suffer from life-threatening illnesses.

Tyler’s enthusiasm was evident but his dad Kevin Gunlogson was not nearly as “bright eyed and bushy tailed” as his son (something to do with getting only a couple hours of sleep). However, once the coffee kicked in and the bacon and eggs were served, father, son and the rest of the crew’s excitement could be sensed around the breakfast table.

A day prior to this morning, the Gunlogson’s were amidst the corn field country of Castana, Iowa; the neck of the woods that they call home. Kevin works as a corn farmer, and Tyler is your typical 15-year-old young man. Well, almost typical.

To look at Tyler you would think “Oh, he’s just another healthy corn fed young man from the Midwest”. Six feet tall and 200 lbs of adolescence resting atop two size 15 “hooves” he is the picture of health but in fact is he’s only recently been healthy. You see, two years ago Tyler was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin's disease (a cancer of the lymphatic system that can compromise a person’s ability to fight infection).

Talk about a tough kid, after undergoing chemotherapy, and countless hours in hospitals, Tyler’s cancer has been in remission for a year now and he is doing well. Well enough to go elk hunting and this is where the Catch-A-Dream comes in.

An application was sent to the Foundation by Tyler’s family listing three of his most desired hunting or fishing adventures. After reviewing his application, the Foundation sent him notice that he had been accepted and needed to get ready for an elk hunt on the Valles Caldera National Preserve. His dream request for a bull elk hunt was now coming true.

Morning light brought a stiff breeze from the west and low clouds began to cloak the rim of the Caldera, spitting an occasional rain drop or two. Then the air cooled making it perfect weather for an elk hunt. Tyler and his dad were packed into the “hunt truck” along with his guide Dennis Trujillo (former executive director of the Trust), the Preserve’s hunt coordinator Mick Trujillo and Catch-A-Dream’s New Mexico hunt coordinator Walt Taylor. All went to the hunt area.

As they rolled up the Preserve road in the early twilight of dawn the bulls were already singing their songs. Piercing screams starting low and rising to a high crescendo and then ending in low chuckles echoed all around. It was as if the bulls thought the sheer volume of their bellows and screams would defend their cows from the constant nagging of satellite bulls. Perhaps it worked for deterring other bulls but it did little to defend the bulls from Tyler and his 30-06 “Savage” rifle. In fact, their singing would eventually draw a bull right into Tyler’s lap.

Light filtered slowly into the Preserve. Its misty glow silhouetted dozens of elk grazing the tall frost cured grasses of Valle Grande. The elk were on the move early and heading north toward the fire blackened timber that clings to the slopes of Cerro del Medio torched by the Las Conchas fire of 2011.

After spotting a nice bull in this group, Tyler and crew made their way to an interception point along the herd’s line of travel. But as often happens while hunting, the elk disappeared before a shot could be fired and escaped safely up the mountain. Now on to plan B; taking Tyler up the Rincon valley.

Bouncing their way up the VC-04 road into the ponderosa forest of the Rincon Valley the bulls were bugling loud enough to hear from inside the “hunt truck”. So guide and party decided it would be a great location to try some bugling to see if they could entice a bull in to shooting range for Tyler.

Tyler and Dennis left the truck and made their way up and over a timbered ridge to set up along an old logging road. Meanwhile, Mick took a position 50 yards behind them and began to do his best impersonation of a rut crazed bull. As Mick began to bugle and thrash trees while breaking sticks (imitating two fighting bulls) a response was promptly heard from a bull. There was a bugle and then the sound of crashing timber. The bull was on his way!

Covered in mud from head to hoof (from recent wallowing) the 4X5’s ebony colored antlers and massive body almost floated down the mountain making a bee line for the two rivals that he knew were causing a ruckus in his domain. Little did he know that the rivals were not rut crazed bull elk. They were Tyler and Dennis.

At 150 yards the bull burst into an opening and presented Tyler with a good shot angle. Tyler steadied his aim and fired. The bull was down.

“It’s a good thing he took the shot when he did,” said Dennis, that bull was on a collision course with us because Mick was calling from right behind us and we were in the middle of the two!”

All that Tyler could say was, “He’s big. He’s big!”

And big he was. The bull’s antlers were black from rubbing on the fire charred timber of the mountain and in sharp contrast to the ivory polished tine tips. A broken tine was evidence of his testosterone driven tendencies. Sure this bull was big, big like Tyler’s size 15 hunting boots. But as Tyler and his dad sat admiring this beautiful animal, its trophy sized antlers seemed to pale in comparison to the smile that Tyler wore; a smile speaking volumes about a dream come true!
2013 Hunt of a Lifetime (Cole Schwager - Catch A Dream)
2013 Catch A Dream
(Cole Schwager, 10, Dubuque, IA)

Our journey began on August 27th, 2003. I went in for my routine 39 week prenatal appointment. Things were going as planned until my obstetrician checked the babies heart tones. They were slower than they should be , so she decided to a non stress test to follow up a little further. Since things didn't look reassuring, she sent Brian and I to the hospital for an induction. We nervously left the hospital to go home and quickly grab things to prepare for our stay. It was a hot day. I remember the bright sun shining into the car windows as we drove down the highway. I kept thinking I would rather be planning a trip to the pool than going to the hospital where I was uncertain what was going on with our soon to be new baby. We nervously settled into our hospital room and tried to prepare for the day. It was a long tiring day. I had been up since the previous afternoon since I worked a night shift prior to my appointment. The labor nurses settled us in for our induction and our obstetrician followed close with monitoring and an ultrasound. The day was somewhat uneventful. I labored throughout the day until late night/ early morning. My epidural wasn't controlling my pain and the baby was not progressing down the canal as expected. So, the labor team decided to a c-section. Our baby boy was born on August 28th at 1:33 am! We were both very overjoyed! What a mix of emotions we had gone through. Not knowing what was to come.

The night was restless for everyone. Brian decided he would go to a work meeting that morning so he could tell his coworkers the exciting news and I could try to catch up on some needed sleep....though I thought. Mid morning my day nurse came into my room to inform me they heard a murmur from the babies heart and they would be doing an echo. An echo I thought?. See, I am a nurse and work on this unit. I know we don't do an echo for many murmurs that we hear. I sat up in bed feeling very nervous and sick to my stomach. Was this really happening?

Our baby was in the nursery with the pediatrician and nursing staff. The echo would be transmitted to The University of Iowa Children's Hospital and we would have results once they viewed it. Things went very fast. I remember the pediatrician standing at the end of the bed with the results. " Your baby has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome" " I am sorry" she said. What was that supposed to mean? I am sorry? Was my baby going to die? My heart sunk. I didn't know what to say or think. This can't be real. I only read about these things in my nursing books. She informed me they would need to keep him in the intensive care unit and intubate him. They would need to give him a special medication to keep a hole in his heart open and this could affect his ability to breath on his own. I was devastated!

Once they secured his airway and place a few lines to give him medications, we were able to visit him. He would soon be air flighted to the university. I remember wheeling down the hall to see him. I could hardly hold my head up. My tears were so heavy and I could not hold them back. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I had no control over what was happening with our new baby. I was so scared.

I would like to quote a special poem I learned about shortly after Cole was born. It puts it all into perspective...

"Welcome to Holland" By Emily Perl Kingsley

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans..The Coliseum..The Michelangelo..The gondolas in Venice. You may even learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting!

After months of anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland." "Holland?!?!" you say. "What do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I am supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy." There's been a change in the flight plans. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence and disease. It's just a different place.

So, you must go out and buy new guide books and learn a whole new language. You will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy and less flashy than Italy. After you've been there for awhile and you catch your breath, you look around and begin to realize that Holland has windmills..Holland has tulips..Holland even has Rembrandt. But, everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They are bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. For the rest of your life, you will say "yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special things about Holland.

For someone who doesn't know how raising a child who is " unique" feels, this poem is a little way of describing how it feels.

Hunt Details:

Remarkable, astonished, thankful. It is hard to put into words how our Catch A Dream hosts made our entire family feel. Those three words would atop the list. We got to know our host outfitters through emails before the trip. They were very curious to find out what everyone's interests were and their favorite things. They made sure they paid close attention to every detail.

We flew into Nashville where we were met by Stephen Dorris, the logger and Steven Hughes, the lawyer. Upon meeting them, one could tell these were sincere, decent, salt of the earth people. After we got our luggage loaded, "Cole, you hungry? Whatcha say we find ourselves a Red Lobster?" Steven Hughes said. Red Lobster is one of Cole's favorite places to eat. They were out to please Cole in every way. We then drove about an hour and a half away to settle in for the night and start our Catch a Dream adventure. When we got to the Best Western, the sign said Hunting Hearts welcomes Cole Schwager. I think all of us felt a little famous! We were then introduced to J.R. He would be our driver to taxi us to the hunting ground or wherever we wanted to go. As we opened our door to the hotel room, the outfitters had displayed all of the hunting attire that Cole would need. Camo boots, bibs, a coat, hats, gloves, long johns, and hand-warmers all from Cabella's. There were also shirts and hats for the rest of us. Steven and Stephen had sent e-mails prior to our departure asking what Cole, Addie, and Alyvia liked for snacks. The mini fridge was stocked and there were snacks galore! They payed close attention to the kids favorites! There were Twix bars, KitKats, Pringles, grapes, Cuttie oranges, chocolate milk and beef jerky. We were blown away.

Mornings started out around 5:15 a.m. J.R. would meet Brian and Cole in the lobby of the hotel. He would then take them to the cabin where the whole crew would meet. Blake and Mike were the 2 cooks that prepared all the food. They made sure Cole had a nice big breakfast every morning before his hunt. The first morning Stephen Dorris took Cole out in a hunting blind ten foot off the ground near some railroad tracks. They saw several does and some nice yearling bucks. Stephen said he spotted a 4 year old that he would like Cole to take. That afternoon Cole did some target shooting with a 7mm rifle. He shot very well at the target. That evening we sat in a blind looking out over an alfalfa field. There were deer all around us, but nothing would come out into the open. Stephen said something is not right. Cole then said " I see something up in the field." Stephen and I could not see anything. Then, out came three coyotes. I told Stephen that's why we call Cole "Eagle Eye" the deer would not come out because of the coyotes.The coyotes came towards us and Stephen got Cole ready for a shot. Unfortunately, something spooked them just as Cole was about to pull the trigger. That was the end of Thursday.

Friday morning we setup in a different blind than the day before. It was miserable out. Rain, ice, sleet and wind blowing right at us. Four doe came out in the corn field and so did thirty two turkeys. A spike buck came out, but he did not like what he saw and took off. Cole was getting antsy and Stephen and I knew it. We both kept looking around and then Cole said "Can't I just shoot that buck?" Stephen and I looked over and there was a twelve point buck two hundred yards away. Stephen said he had never seen that deer before. He got Cole situated and looked into the camera screen that was attached to the rifle. The camera was set up to help Stephen and the child get the crosshairs on the target. The camera also takes a picture when the firing pin hits the bullet. Cole fired, the deer jumped, and the turkeys flew away. He missed by a few inches! Stephen said that is the first deer we have ever missed. Cole was a little down about missing the big one. He was eager to shoot his first deer. It was obvious Stephen wanted Cole to succeed. We went out again that night but, did not see much. That was Friday.

Saturday morning, around 5:30, Stephen took Cole out to a blind where some turnips had been planted. Everyone else stayed behind at the cabin. By 6:15 Cole got his deer. An eight point buck "Legal by seven minutes" Steven Hughes said. Spoken by a true lawyer. Then, another call about seven. Cole got a coyote too! He was very proud. Between the morning and afternoon hunts, everyone would hang out at the cabin. The kids all played games together, the girls painted nails, and everyone snacked. It was as though we knew each other prior to this adventure. They all made us feel very at home and welcome. Saturday afternoon Cole would go out for his last hunt. His 7 year old sister Addie wanted to tag along to see what it was all about. Stephen welcomed her along. That's when Cole would spot a doe and have his last shot. Addie was able to share the experience with him. He not only got a buck, he got a doe and a coyote too! What a great experience. Cole walked away from the experience feeling very thankful he received this opportunity. He still talks about the hunt and the friends he made along the way.

As we got into the hunt, we could sense the love that these individuals had not only for deer hunting and the land which they care for, but for giving their time and their resources to others. We not only learned about hunting, but about friendship and the true meaning of giving.

The Schwager Family

Pictures coming soon!

2012 Hunt of a Lifetime (Kelsey Batterson - Catch A Dream)

2012 Catch A Dream
Kelsey Batterson, 13, Altoona, IA)

2011 Hunt of a Lifetime (Jaxom West - Catch A Dream)

2011 Catch A Dream (Jaxom West, IA)

Jaxom is a typical Iowa boy who loves hunting, fishing and everything outdoors. Last summer, August 2010, Jaxom was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in his right femur.

Jaxom, at the age of 14 began having pain in his right hip area, right about the time he began a substantial growth spurt. InNovember of 2009 he began seeing a chiropractor for the pain which was thought to be a possible lower back issue and the pain only increased. He had an MRI which showed some minor irregularity in the spine but nothing substantial. In the summer of 2010, with the pain continuing, another MRI was performed to find out what was causing the pain. When the results of the MRI came back with no issues the doctor had an x-ray taken of the leg resulting in the diagnosis of Ewing's Sarcoma. Jaxom had a tumor that was approximately 10 inches long and five inches around growing in and around the femur in his right leg. Jaxom has undergone numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments to fight the Ewing’s Sarcoma, and continues to fight every day!

The Iowa Taxidermy Association has worked with the Catch-A-Dream organization in an effort to send Jaxom on a dream hunt of his choice. We are happy to say that Jaxom is scheduled to hunt caribou in Alaska August 20th thru the 27th…Good Luck Jaxom!

UPDATE!!! Jaxom had a great and successful hunt in Alaska!
Congratulations Jaxom!

2010 Hunt of a Lifetime (Rolan Steinlage - Catch A Dream)

2010 Catch A Dream
Rolan Steinlage, 13, West Union, IA)

Rolan will be going on a Montana Buffalo Hunt this year in early December.  Rolan was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor.

2009 Hunt of a Lifetime (Dillyne Mumme - Catch A Dream)


2009 Catch A Dream (Dillyne Mumme, Mount Pleasant, IA)


This year we worked in conjunction with the Catch-A-Dream Foundation in an effort to bring a dream and a smile to one young hunter going through some hard times.  This year’s hunter was Dillyne Mumme from Mount Pleasant. 


In January of 2009, what was thought to be a pulled muscle during wrestling practice, soon turned to a life changing and threatening condition for Dillyn.  Through several tests Dillyn was diagnosed with Leukemia, and was facing treatments for at least the next 3 years…That would be a big mountain for anyone to climb, but especially when your just 14 years old. 


Dillyn soon underwent surgery to install a port, which is a central line to his heart for giving medicines as well as drawing blood.  His first round of chemo started on January 14th.  Dillyn would undergo numerous treatments, spinal taps, bone marrow tests and transfusions week in and week out.  If all the treatments and tests weren’t enough, Dillyn would suffer from vomiting, daily headaches and numerous other pains due to his illness and treatments. But through it all Dillyn would soon show not only his family, but the doctors he was a fighter, and showed great results to his treatments. 


As the weeks past, Dillyn and his family would go through numerous ups and downs, periods of good news and bad, good days, and bad, and numerous trips to the hospital.


 Then in late September Dillyn and his family received some good news, Dillyn could start what they call the maintenance phase, and would only need to go back to the clinic every 4 weeks for the next 3 years.  Well this was the plan, but still through various changes in Dillyn’s condition, he would need to make unscheduled trips to the hospital.


 In mid-October Dillyn was again admitted in to the hospital for several days, but by Halloween Dillyn had again won the battle and was looking forward to his fast approaching elk hunting trip to Wyoming. 


 Shortly before Dillyn and his family were to leave for Wyoming, I received a call from the outfitter.  We chatted for a while, then the outfitter says in a worried tone…”you know, this young man is looking to take down a bull, not a cow elk, but a bull” he says “that is going to be next to impossible with the weather we are having and the elk movement” Anyway, we chatted a little while longer and said our good-byes.


 Well, a few days later I got another call from the outfitter, the tone of his voice had changed from worried to excited and he says “the young man really did it, he got his elk, a nice 6x6, he got it on the second day”


 Well Dillyn had done it again, this time he proved the outfitter wrong, beat the impossible, and got a nice 6x6 bull elk…scoring 250 5/8.


 In 2009 Dillyn made 24 trips to the Mt. Pleasant hospital…53 trips to Iowa City for clinic procedures…79 days admitted in the hospital…and 2 days to take down a trophy bull elk!


 Dillyn’s elk was mounted by several of the Iowa Taxidermy Association members during one of our yearly meetings and was presented to Dillyn at our state show and competition.


 Congratulations Dillyn!

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