A Father's Last Gift

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A Father's Last Gift

Message from Chris Denham about this story.

When Greg Krogh first told me the story about Chad, Jake, and their father I knew I wanted to publish their story.  I could only imagine how emotional the situation was and I did not feel comfortable asking them to put this story together.  But Greg was confident that it would not be an issue and Jake enthusiastically agreed when asked.  When I received the story, I was not only inspired by it, I was equally impressed with Jake’s eloquent writing. In fact our whole staff agreed that it was one of the best articles we had ever received.  

As art director Randy Stalcup was designing the layout he felt that a nice portrait-type photo of their dad Steve would complete the story. Jake and I traded e-mails and he sent me a half dozen pictures as we all tried to decide on which one would be right for the story. Then I opened one photo of Steve taken during a Dall sheep hunt and immediately recognized him.  Last summer in Volume 7 Issue 2 of Western Hunter Magazine we published a tremendous story written by Justin Hedgecock titled “True Grit” which chronicled Steve’s Dall sheep hunt in the Tok Management Area of Alaska in August of 2007. Steve had already been diagnosed with cancer and was the active stages of chemotherapy treatment against the disease. The story of Steve’s Dall sheep hunt was one of the most talked-about and inspiring articles that we have published.  I had countless sportsmen tell me that during the 2008 season they actually recalled the story of how Steve battled with the mountains of southern Alaska with true grit. 

Whether we recognize it or not, it is every person’s desire to leave a legacy of some kind. I think we can all agree that Steve’s legacy lives on with a loving family and two boys who would make any father proud. 

A Father’s Last Gift

Dad was thrilled last spring when he got the news that my 17-year-old brother Chad had drawn a non-resident late season Arizona bull elk tag. Our family has been applying for hunts in Arizona for years, and we all knew if Chad was well prepared, this special tag could lead to a great hunt. Dad immediately started making phone calls to gather information on the unit Chad had drawn, as well as top Arizona guides that knew the area.

As always, Dad thoroughly enjoyed the pre-hunt research, and this project allowed him to focus on the future and not dwell on his present state. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer over two years prior and was determined to be a cancer survivor. However, by this time it became clear that his cancer was a nuisance that just wouldn't go away. The various treatment options had not stopped the cancer from spreading. As a family, we all tried to focus on the positive and not let the thought of Dad's declining health get the best of us. Never defeated and constantly reorganizing his life, Dad pressed on with his usual zest. It was often easy to go from day-to-day feeling that he would be around forever.

After many phone calls, the first choice for Chad's guide was Greg Krogh of Mogollon Rim Outfitters. I remember how excited Dad was while telling me he was able to book this hunt with Greg. In later conversations with Greg, I learned that Dad said this was the last gift he would ever be able to give his youngest son, and he wanted him to have the best hunt possible. Dad also made it clear to Greg that he didn't think he would be alive when the hunt actually took place and desired me to accompany my younger brother on the hunt. To say it was an intense phone conversation would be an understatement.  

Our father passed away in early August. Although his death did not come as a surprise, it has been a long road of learning to live without him. December came quickly, and before I knew it Chad and I were packing the truck with hunting supplies for the long drive from Eastern Oregon to the high country of Arizona. We drove through the night with Dad’s hunting jeep in tow and arrived at Greg's camp in time to change clothes and gather our gear for the morning hunt on opening day. As arranged, Chad was one of four hunters in camp. Greg and one of his guides, Justin, would be guiding Chad and another gentleman from Texas named Roy. The group of us hunted together throughout the day. My role in the hunt encompassed locating elk, helping in any way I could, and of course, enjoying the overall experience with my brother. After the sun had set, Greg's assistant guide, Justin, let us know that he found a bull and we should come take a look before it got too dark. The bull appeared to be a good one, but it was too difficult to see him clearly in the dusky evening light, and the decision was made not to risk taking a marginal shot. 

The next morning we eagerly went back to the same area and Roy connected with the bull from the previous night, a beautiful 6X6. By mid-day, Roy’s bull was taken care of and we headed out in search of another bull for Chad. We glassed the thick pinon pine and juniper country that evening without spotting a single elk.

Early on the third morning of the hunt we were perched on the edge of a wide canyon with multiple sets of binoculars scanning the opposite side of the canyon for elk. We saw several groups of young bulls and cows before Greg noticed two bulls that deserved a closer look with his 40 power binoculars. The combination of thick cover and the vast distance between the bulls and us made judging them tricky. Greg thought one of them was an older bull with short webbed tines on top that he had seen on a previous hunt. We could only see the top of one antler on the other bull, which appeared to have a seventh tine and kept us interested. After trying to get a better look at this bull to no avail, we decided to make the three-mile journey around the canyon and sneak in on him for a closer look. I was really hoping the bulls would stay put long enough for us to make it over to them.

Chad and I relied on Greg's knowledge of the area during this stalk. We arrived at a rock outcropping, which was one of our chosen landmarks, and continued on towards where we thought the bulls would be. We soon entered the ravine that we hoped held the bulls and developed a plan. I would stay low and wait for a signal from Greg in the event the bulls pushed out of the thick timber for Chad to get a clear view of them. Meanwhile, Chad and Greg would hike up the ravine and attempt to locate the bulls where we had last seen them hours ago.             

Greg and Chad found the bulls and were able to sneak to within 200 yards of them for a closer look. Sure enough, one of the bulls was indeed the old webbed bull familiar to Greg. The first glimpse through the trees of the other bull revealed we had severely underestimated the size of his rack from across the canyon. He was a tremendous bull! Once Chad realized the size of the bull, he forced himself to focus on the shot and not dwell on counting points or determining the length of the bull's tines. Dad had taught us this useful method of minimizing big bull fever, and Chad was putting it to good use while he waited for the bull to stand up from his midday bed and step forward for a clear shot. He was all focus and determination for over an hour and a half.

The bull finally rose up and stepped out from behind the juniper and Chad's shot echoed down the canyon. Upon hearing the shot, I ran up the side of the ravine to join Chad and Greg. We hiked over to the fallen bull together with much anticipation. I approached the bull and was in awe of the natural wonder before me. None of us had seen such a unique elk before. We were all elated at the good fortune of this hunt.  

Back at camp, Chad's 8x7 bull unofficially scored 392" gross, with an inside spread of 61"! Just mentioning last year's Arizona elk hunt brings a smile to our faces. Dad would be mighty proud of his boys and I'm sure he is smiling too.

Originally published in Elk Hunter Magazine Vol 8 Issue 2 Summer 2009


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