Making Memories at Valles Caldera
By Tim Westemeier, Albuquerque Chapter Chair
On October 26, 2012, I joined six RMEF Albuquerque Chapter volunteers at New Mexico’s spectacular Valles Caldera for the tenth year in a row to help with a mobility-impaired cow elk hunt. Participating in this hunt every year means a lot to me. I love helping these very special people get out into the forest and experience the most beautiful land ever created.
The hunters’ excitement was palpable that beautiful fall day as we arrived at the Valles Caldera headquarters in Jemez Falls. While these folks are always inspiring, one man in particular made the 2012 hunt especially memorable for me.
Twenty-six-year-old Ryan Hanson from Farmington, New Mexico, was born with Down syndrome. He manages to live a full, happy life that includes winning Special Olympics medals, bowling in a league, and hunting with his father Mike.
Ryan was disappointed after not seeing elk the first day of the hunt. Hunt manager Mick Trujillo suggested RMEF volunteer Bob Nordstrum take Ryan and Mike to one of the honey holes in Unit 1 where elk frequently feed. Just before sunset, half-a-dozen cows came down the trail. Ryan picked out a nice one, but shot high at 100 yards for a clean miss.
The next evening, I had the privilege of hunting with Ryan. After planning a strategy with Trujillo and the other volunteers, Ryan, Mike and I drove to a forest clearing where we prepared for a long wait for the elk to emerge from the trees. Amazingly, five cows and a spike bull appeared almost immediately from the opposite side of the clearing. The elk never come out from that side so early in the day! It was like they were on a string being pulled across the field.
We were able to close to within 120 yards, and Ryan set up his shooting sticks and fired twice. He missed both times; miraculously, the elk didn’t spook. I told Ryan to shoot low, fearing his sights might be off. That did the trick, and the elk fell. Ryan was ecstatic and Mike beamed with pride.
I have never seen elk react as they did that day. I am convinced someone upstairs was looking out for us, and especially for Ryan.
I would like to thank Ryan and Mike Hanson, the Valles Caldera staff, and RMEF for allowing us this memorable hunting experience.