Pennsylvania Volunteer Tom Cessna Taught His Son—and 165 Other People—to Love Elk Country
By Mike Cessna, Bedford County Chapter Committee Member
Three generations—Delanee, Tom and Mike Cessna stop for a photo op in Colorado.
I was four years old in October 1969 when my father Tom Cessna went on his first Colorado hunting trip with my grandparents. Their close friends Jack and Ester McCullough had moved from where we lived in Pennsylvania to Colorado and had convinced them to visit to go hunting and fishing.
That first year they drove to Colorado Springs, where they rented a camper and then towed it over the mountains with a 1967 Plymouth station wagon to Blue Mesa Lake near Gunnison. The fresh water tank froze and broke on the way to the campground. Despite the setback, they hunted mule deer in the Powderhorn and Lake Irwin areas, and Dad harvested a nice buck. The entire hunt—including the $50 non-resident hunting license, food, travel and lodging—cost $180. Dad didn’t begin hunting elk until 1975. That year, he and his cousin drove to Gunnison, rented a small camper and drove the 20 miles to the Powderhorn area to hunt. Dad harvested a small bull—his first elk. It was the beginning of a new tradition.
Since that first trip, my father has hunted in Colorado for 46 consecutive years, and he’s helped introduce numerous people to hunting along the way, including my daughter and me. I live in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and have hunted for most of my life, but some of my best and most memorable moments have been hunting with Dad. I first went along with him to Colorado in 1978. We stayed in a lodge in Almont with 15 guys. I was instantly hooked. In 1992, I killed my first and best 6x6 elk. My younger brothers Brett and Matt have also come along over the years, each harvesting respectable bulls.
I am a RMEF member, and my father became a life member in 2013. We are both also active Bedford County Chapter committee members and volunteers. My father first joined RMEF in 2010, when he helped establish the Bedford County Chapter. He jumped right in and helped to organize our first banquet. The committee members hoped to have at least 100 people attend, but there was an unbelievable attendance of nearly 200 people! The Bedford County Chapter committee is in the process of planning our next annual banquet for August. Both Dad and I will be there to assist and enjoy the festivities.
Dad is a real estate salesman by profession, but his hobby and passion is hand loading. It’s not unusual for him to have the latest “new and improved” bullet in his pocket to show to anyone interested. Between his profession and hobby, he meets a lot of people interested in hunting. Before long a friendship gets established, and a lot of his buddies end up coming along to hunt in Colorado.
Dad has kept track of all of the guys that have gone with him to Colorado. As I write this, the count is 156. He has always planned, organized and made lodging reservations for each hunting trip himself. He’s never flown to Colorado, and most years he drives his own vehicle the 1,600 miles—one way—to Gunnison. All of his hunts have been unguided, do-it-yourself hunts on public land.
He has no expectations for those that come along. Dad feels it’s a personal choice whether they decide to hunt or not, but he always does his best to ensure that they all have a safe and enjoyable trip. Hunters from just about every profession have come along. Doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers, painters, farmers, loggers and factory workers are just a few examples.
Over the years, Dad has had many memorable hunting experiences, from meeting Mr. Jim Zumbo in the waiting area of a Gunnison restaurant to having to scout new hunting areas because of heavy snow. But Dad says his most memorable experiences don’t involve harvesting game. Instead, they’re sitting alone on a snowy mountain on calm, sunny days waiting for his sons while hunting.
This past year I couldn’t go to Colorado because of work commitments. Earlier that summer, Dad had told me he planned to hunt on foot in an area that is hard to access and has an elevation above 10,000 feet. I secretly asked one of the “younger” guys to tag along with him, just in case. I was later informed that Dad had no trouble getting around. This fall will mark Dad’s 47th consecutive year hunting in Colorado, and at 73-years-young, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Both Dad and I are proud to be a part of the accomplishments of RMEF, and I am fortunate to be able to pass hunting on to the next generation. This year I plan to return to Colorado with my dad and my 17-year-old daughter Delanee to hunt elk. She is the first female to go along on Dad’s trips, and this will be her third elk hunt. She and I plan to carry on the Colorado hunting tradition long after Dad is no longer able to go in person, and we know that he will always be there in spirit. But for now, I’m happy that we’re all able to enjoy it together.