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'Hunt of a Lifetime' for Schmitz

Wadena's Brandon and Tom Schmitz are joined by Tom Benson, left, of the "Hunt of a Lifetime" foundation after Brandon dropped a 7x7 bull elk Dec. 4 near Riggins, Id.1 / 3
Brandon, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, hunted out of a jeep in the 9,000-foot Idaho Rockies.2 / 3
Brandon Schmitz, dad Tom and his 7x7 trophy bull elk.3 / 3

On a beautiful December afternoon in Idaho, Wadena's Brandon Schmitz and his dad, Tom, were waiting in a jeep when a Royal 7x7 bull elk came out of the trees.

The big elk gave the 17-year-old Brandon a 150-yard shot. Schmitz put the bull in the crosshairs of his scope and squeezed off one shot from his 7mm rifle.

When the gang of elk took off Brandon had the sinking feeling that he had missed. Actually, he was in for the biggest thrill of his young life. The 800-pound trophy was down. The rack scored 352 putting it in the trophy class.

Even the men who guide elk hunters for the Rocky Mountain Elk Lodge where the Schmitzes stayed will tell you a 7x7 is quite a prize. For a teenager from Minnesota that had never shot anything larger than a whitetail deer, it was fantastic.

"I was speechless," Schmitz said. "I had never shot anything that big before."

Brandon has a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy which makes hunting a challenge, but a challenge he happily accepts. His dad and his uncle are both good about helping him into stands for deer hunting. Brandon wheels himself around in a small, lightweight manual wheelchair, goes to school, works, drives a car, goes fishing, trapping and snowmobiling and lives the same kind of life as his friends.

When Bill Smith, president of the Wahoo Valley chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association found out about Brandon and a dream he had of shooting a bull elk, he started the wheels rolling and put the Schmitz family in touch with a foundation called "Hunt of a Lifetime." Wahoo Valley members joined Wadena chapter members and Ringnecks Forevermore members in raising money for trip expenses. The "Hunt of a Lifetime" group did the rest. Tom Benson, a member of the "Hunt of a Lifetime," foundation, coordinated the trip and accompanied Brandon and Tom on their adventure.

Smith does not consider himself an emotional person but he admitted it was quite a moment when he heard the trip was going to take place.

"I don't shed a tear but when they called and told me, I did," Smith said.

The cost of a guided elk hunt is in the neighborhood of $10-12,000. The Schmitzes flew into Boise, Id., and rented a vehicle for their 150-mile trip up to Riggins. They hunted on 12,000 acres of private land.

Elk hunting is not done out of stands. You scout and you try to put yourself in position for a decent shot. The party got around with a Jeep and saw at least 10 elk before spotting the one Brandon would shoot about 10 a.m. that morning. Their guide picked a spot for them to wait in the 9,000-foot altitude and his guess was right.

The shot Brandon took was a football field and a half from their Jeep but they had actually been preparing him for a shot of 400-600 yards.

Smith pointed out that the hunt was the result of the efforts of many people. The Schmitzes are tremendously grateful to the organizations that made the hunt come true. For Brandon and Tom it truly was a "Hunt of a Lifetime."