Veteran Winner of Elk Hunt Scores Elk and So Much More
I don’t know about you, but for me, as I get older, there are fewer and fewer coincidences. Allen Oakes feels the same way. In August, he was selected as one of 60 veterans to be invited on the annual Pay It Forward trip up at Lake of the Woods. Allen was made aware of the opportunity through Tom Goodrich of Fishing for Life. Founded in 2004, Fishing for Life has been serving kids, families and communities through fishing and outdoor programs for more than a decade.
“I had been helping out the Fishing for Life group down in the Twin Cities. At this time of my life, I wanted to give something back. Having the opportunity to take kids fishing sounded like a great way and that’s how I have been involved in Fishing for Life,” explains Oakes. That’s how it all started, by wanting to give back and help others. Very fitting.
The Pay It Forward group up at Lake of the Woods, as a fundraiser for the 2016 event, decided to raffle an elk hunt. One trip was donated and one trip purchased from Wilderness Tracks Outfitters of Craig, Colorado. The drawing was held just prior to opening night and the winner was announced at the opening night welcome dinner. Hopeful participants from around the U.S. bought raffle tickets hoping to be the one to win a hunt for two. Wouldn’t you know, the person who won was a veteran who was on the Pay It Forward trip and in the audience.
When Allen Oakes’ name was called (pictured below in middle amongst other veterans during a day of fishing), it was clear he was surprised. Maybe a better word would be shocked. He mentioned at the time it would be a trip of a lifetime.
Oakes initially asked his wife if she had interest. Interested in the adventure, but not in shooting an elk, she encouraged her husband to find another partner. There was another consideration. “I was offered money for the trip and discussed it with my wife. She talked to me about God choosing me for this trip for a reason and she thought I should do it,” explained Oakes. The next choice, and someone he had in mind, was a good friend from his church who was an avid hunter. “I chose my friend Tom Wilson. Tom and I both enjoy the outdoors and each others company. He is much more of a hunter than I am. When I mentioned it to him, I showed him the tickets so he knew I was serious and he called the owner of the ranch. After about an hour conversation, he was more excited than I and we began planning!”
“In that time before the trip, we made sure we were ready. Our rifles were sighted in at 250 yards. We had all the necessary equipment and warm weather gear. We were ready.”
Fast forward to the end of October. The two left on a Monday taking their time to enjoy the drive during daylight hours. “Rather than driving straight through, my friend Tom hadn’t been out west for a while and wanted to enjoy the terrain and wildlife on the way out which sounded good to me. We stayed in Rapid City the first night. The second day while driving through Wyoming, boy was he excited about all of the antelope we saw. Literally thousands. That was awesome. When we arrived to the ranch, mule deer were everywhere.”
The two stayed in one of the outfitters log cabins 6 miles from the nearest highway. As Allen explained, the meals each day were provided by the outfitter Dan’s wife Gwen. “The meals were delicious. For breakfast, we would have eggs, elk or mule deer sausage, muffins, etc. For lunch, they would set out a spread of bread, meats, cheeses, crackers, cookies, fruit, etc. We were allowed to make whatever we wanted that we took with us in the field hunting. Dinners, just like breakfast, were home cooked. Kale soup, pronghorn sausage, elk lasagna, an elk roast BBQ that we put on hamburger buns. The food was really good. You didn’t go hungry.”
Wednesday was the first day of hunting for Allen and Tom. Although elk were spotted, the opportunity for a shot did not present itself. Thursday, however, Allen was glassing (using binoculars to search for animals) and noticed movement. The guide confirmed it was an elk in thick brush. “The guide Nick mentioned it would probably come out in a small opening, which it did. It turned broadside quartering away just perfectly. I squeezed off a shot of 305 yards and hit the animal just perfectly in the lungs and heart. It didn’t go far and went down. We contacted Tom who was across from us in another area and he said the animal was down as he could see the sunlight glistening off of it’s coat. Once we reached the elk, our guide gutted the animal and took care of getting the meat into the ranch jeep to be brought into the local meat processor. The lungs on these elk are huge. It is no wonder how they can go up and down these mountains with minimal effort.”
Friday was Tom’s day. That morning he and his guide saw multiple bulls. He took a nice 3×5 bull at 426 yards. The animal went right down and the two hunters were two for two.
It was clear to me while discussing this trip with Allen that the trip was about so much more than just shooting the elk. It was about God and faith. It was about forming a closer bond with a dear friend. It was about making friends with Dan and Gwen Johnson who own the elk hunting business and Nick the guide. It was about disconnecting for 5 days with no cell phone, TV, radio, but just nature. “With all of the distractions we have in our lives these days, disconnecting allowed me to experience things connected to my faith that hadn’t happened before.” It sounds like a trip many of us should consider.
“You know how people explain they get buck fever when they are about to shoot? I didn’t get that at all. I was calm as could be. Even when I approached my elk, I was very calm. Dan asked my friend Tom if I was excited as I was so calm about it all. He told Dan, ‘He is processing.’ It wasn’t until Friday night it all kind of hit me and I was emotional about it. Everything had kind of hit.”
“I don’t normally smoke cigars, but I picked up a couple for the trip in the event the opportunity presented itself. After we had our animals and reflected on our experience, Tom and I lit our cigars.”
A special “Thank You” to Wilderness Tracks Outfitters for their generous donation to the Lake of the Woods Pay It Forward veterans event. If you would like more info on a hunt to Wilderness Tracks Outfitters, check out their Facebook page, email them at [email protected] or call Dan Johnson at 970-824-7874.