Teen bags big bull near Kremmling during ‘Hunt of a Lifetime’ | SkyHiNews.com

Teen bags big bull near Kremmling during ‘Hunt of a Lifetime’

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

Former cancer patient Jack Kuehneman, 14, bagged a 650-pound bull elk on Saturday during his "Hunt of a Lifetime" experience at the Blue Valley Ranch near Kremmling.

On the opening day of the second rifle season, Jack Kuehneman, 14, fixed his eyes upon a 650-pound bull elk standing 120 yards away in an opening among conifers.

At the hand signal of Blue Valley Ranch guide Josh Richert, the boy steadied his rifle and his mind, aimed and shot.

It happened that quickly, less than an hour into the hunt.

The bull fell on that spot amidst 25,000 acres of hilly sage-covered ranch land, a place where moments before the hunters had been led by the sounds of the elk’s bugles.

Kuehneman of Byron, Ill., his step-dad Brad Cary, Richert and his brother Kyle had walked roughly one-half mile, which for the self-proclaimed Illinois “flat-landers” rendered them out of breath.

“The walking part was tough,” Kuehneman said, although he noted that he fared better than his step-dad.

When Kuehneman was nearly 8 years old, his parents grew concerned of a “horrible, barking” cough from which he’d been suffering. Days later, he was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic lymphoma – a cancer affecting the lymphatic system – when doctors found a tumor beneath his sternum.

Because the lymphatic system is part of the immune system that fights disease and infections, Kuhneman could no longer go to school and underwent a then newly trialed and aggressive form of chemotherapy during a period of two years. He lost his hair, the chemo made him weak, tired and sick. It prevented him from taking part in the sports at which he once excelled.

Now seven years later, Kuhneman is deemed cancer free but is still checked annually. He has resumed his schoolwork, and according to his step-dad, has returned to being an A student.

Hunting has become a passion he shares with Cary. He has gone pheasant hunting in the past, but last week’s trip was his first time to the Colorado mountains and his first time elk hunting.

“I was amazed how you could see so far,” Kuhneman said of his first impression of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado hunting opportunity came to him and his step-dad through the nonprofit Hunt of a Lifetime program, a national network that affords youngsters under age 21 with life-threatening conditions the chance to take the hunting trip they most desire.

It’s the fourth year that Hunt of a Lifetime has sent trip recipients to the Grand County area, according to the organization’s ambassador for Colorado and Wyoming, Mike Yeary. Most of the recipients who request a trip to Colorado and Wyoming are from eastern and Midwestern states, Yeary said. “Most kids who live here in Colorado want to go somewhere else to hunt,” he said.

Hunt of a Lifetime provides travel, a rental car, processing costs, taxidermy costs and the shipment of the meat. It also donates hunting gear, a rifle and clothing. And for four consecutive years, businesses in the town of Kremmling have donated a wealth of hospitality.

Kremmling businesses provided Kuhneman and his dad free lodging at the Hotel Easton and food vouchers at local restaurants. Meanwhile, Blue Valley Ranch owners provided access to their land and a professional guide.

“They were extremely appreciative and I am as well of all that the people of Kremmling did,” Yeary said. “It made the hunt much more special for Jack.”

Prior to his five-day trip, Kuhneman had spent time training, target-shooting the 7 mm Magnum Rifle that had been donated to him through Hunt of a Lifetime. “He did a really good job,” said guide Richert. “He was well-prepared.”

The steely14-years-old, “didn’t get excited at all until after the shot,” he said.

Both he and his dad called it “the most unbelievable experience, ever,” recognizing that such chances are rare. Yeary estimated their entire trip package holds a value of at least $20,000.

At the Hotel Easton prior to their departure on Monday, Manager Nola Parkhurst presented to Kuhneman an album with a photograph from his Hunt of a Lifetime on the cover. She left the rest of it blank, she said, so that Kuehneman’s mother could share in the experience by helping him add to the scrapbook.

Another souvenir from the trip will be the cape of the old bull. And where will it be mounted?

In his own bedroom, Kuehneman guessed.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.