How I found my passion for elk hunting


As a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, I fought in the opening invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an Aviation Ordnance Technician on Cobra and Huey attack helicopters. My core and foundation as a person will always be who I am. That said, I came back from war a different person. Between injuries and PTSD, I found myself struggling for a while to find myself and a purpose in life that was both meaningful and challenging.

I have always had a love for camping and fishing since I was a kid, but hunting was not something that I had experience, knowledge, or a passion for. Little did I know, that was about to change. A few months after applying to Arizona Elk Society’s Heroes Rising Outdoors (a program that reaches out to Arizona veterans with military related disabilities), I received a phone call from Tom Wagner, the program’s coordinator.

My application info had been reviewed and I had been selected to participate in an archery bull elk hunt in Unit 8 near Williams, Arizona. What a blessing that was going to be! The hunt was to be guided by Kurt Shultz of Shultz Outfitters, assisted by SO guide Justin. They taught me the basics of elk hunting—the patterns of animals, calling, tracking, setting up ground blinds, and what angles to take a shot at. If I had a question, they didn’t hold back from sharing their wealth of knowledge. I was nervous before the hunt, especially about taking my first archery shot in front of a guide. We spent five days trying to get the perfect shot at an elk, but the weather and the animals were not cooperating. It rained and thundered almost every day, making it hard to spot and stalk elk. I decided to take a two-day break from the hunt and come back later with my family in tow as support.

I hoped that the weather would improve and that I would have better luck getting to within that 40-yard maximum I had set for myself. My luck was about to change dramatically! The first morning after my return, I got to the hunting area before the guides did. I decided to do a solo hunt that morning, anticipating my guides’ help in the afternoon. I followed my instincts and the skills I had learned from Kurt and Justin. It was still dark and as I was about to head to the top of a hill, I heard two bulls fighting nearby. I’ll never forget the sound of those antlers rattling and crashing together! I rushed to close the gap while they were preoccupied, then found I still needed to wait until legal shooting light. Hiding behind a tree, I started trying to mimic the elk calls that I had learned earlier from my guides.

My first call attempt probably sounded more like a goose—go figure! After that, though, I started to get the hang of it. With a few short cow calls, I was able to get the bulls to stop fighting and come towards me. I saw them emerge from the trees—a rag horn and a 5x5 were both walking straight towards me! I stepped out from behind a tree and took a 20-yard shot at what I now know was the 5x5 bull. At the time, I was so immersed in not screwing up that I didn’t remotely care to count the number of points on the bull’s antlers. My heart was pounding in my chest as I watched the arrow fly and hit its mark. The elk exploded out of there so fast I thought I never would see it again! After waiting a short while, I followed the blood trail and found my bull lying dead about 80 yards away. I was overcome with emotion as I realized what I had just achieved—it felt like graduation day! I was able to achieve a successful hunt putting to use the knowledge my guides had taught me. There I was, standing alone in the forest. I had taken my first elk, and it was an amazing experience! I called my guides and told them what had happened.

They were thrilled for me, arriving in a few minutes to help both field dress my bull and pack out the meat and antlers. I also called my wife, and my family soon arrived to share in my joy and excitement. This hunt was one of the best experiences of my life— absolutely surreal! My time away from civilization pursuing elk gave me a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and appreciation that I had been missing since my military service. It also ignited my passion for elk hunting, which has become one of my favorite hobbies. Since then, I have been blessed to guide my two kids on several successful elk hunts. Nothing creates more memorable experiences than seeing them enjoy the outdoors and harvest their own animals. Those hunts helped build their self-esteem and taught them much about self-reliance.

I have also been able to use my knowledge and skills gained from Heroes Rising Outdoors in mentoring other veterans on several elk hunts organized by the Arizona Elk Society. Thankfully, we’ve had success on several hunts. I am very grateful to the Arizona Elk Society and their Heroes Rising Outdoors program for giving me this opportunity. They provided me with everything I needed for a successful hunt—food, a tent to sleep in, plus other equipment I didn’t yet own. Most importantly they gave me something much more valuable—a new purpose and passion in life! I also want to give huge props to Kurt Shultz and guide Justin of Shultz Outfitters—you changed my life forever! I encourage other veterans who are looking for a way to reconnect with nature, themselves, and their fellow warriors to apply for this program. You will not regret it! Most likely you will leave with everlasting memories and (hopefully) a freezer full of meat.

"I'm now an avid elk hunter. With my military background and love of the outdoors, hunting (and HRO) was a natural fit"