Jeffrey's Maine Elk
By V. Paul Reynolds

Every boy has a dream. Jeffrey Nickschinski is a dark-haired, good-humored 10-year-old from Sagamore Hills, Ohio. Two years ago doctors told Jeffrey's parents that the youngster had a serious progressive disease: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Last fall Jeffrey, who loves to hunt, bagged his first deer with a crossbow. He killed the deer from his father's climbing treestand. The boy's Dad, Jeff, carries the youngster on his back to and from their hunting site.

After the fall hunt in Ohio, Jeffrey's Dad put this question to his son."If you had a chance to hunt any animal you wanted, Jeffrey, what would it be?" The Ohio fourth grader didn't hesitate, "Elk," he said.

Back in Stockton Springs, Maine, Jeffrey's cousin, Marcy, heard about Jeffrey's dream hunt and went to work. After a few phone calls and Internet queries, Marcy nailed down a donated hunt for Jeffrey. Wayne Garnett, who runs Skinner Bog Deer Farm and Hunt Park in Dixmont, Maine, agreed to put a hunt together for the boy.

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On somewhat short notice Jeffrey's hunt team got their gear assembled and flew to Maine. Accompanying him were his Ohio hunt buddies: his Dad, Jeff, Jeff's cousin Randy, and Randy's son Nate.

On a bright, windless late February morning we all showed up, as instructed, at the Dixmont deer farm and swapped introductions. Deer farm owner Wayne, who would guide the hunt, showed us around, and then we drove to his "outpost hunt camp" where he gave us all a short safety briefing. (The youngsters were driven to camp in a horse-pulled sleigh) Young Jeffrey was asked to shoot a few practice rounds with his Ruger .308 just to make sure that his scope was aligned. A perfect bull's eye at 50 yards. This boy could shoot!

Jeffrey's dream was becoming a reality. At 10 a.m we entered the hunt park. It comprises 150 acres of diverse habitat: fir thickets, alders, some hard woods, small choppings and old logging roads. The 150 acres is bordered by unobtrusive high fencing. There is a rough tractor trail through the snow around the perimeter of the park. We began the hunt. Dad carried Jeffrey piggyback. Cousin Randy carried the rifle and Randy's son Nate lugged the shooting tripod. Bringing up the rear were guide Wayne, yours truly, and videographer, Steve, from the Maine Safari TV show.

As Wayne explained, somewhere within this 150 acres there were about 22 game critters that included fallow deer, Red Stags, one big bison and, of course, two large bull elk - one with Jeffrey's name on it, we hoped. By sundown on Day One, a combination of walking and blind hunting had turned up a couple of distant sightings of a moving critter or two, but no positive identifications and no shots taken.

Still hunting through the woods off the perimeter trail was difficult because of deep snow and hard crust. "This preserve hunt (sometimes called 'canned hunts') is no cakewalk after all, " I told myself. By late afternoon, as we sat in a tent blind 30 yards from the Ohio hunt team, owner Wayne confessed to me that he was worried. "What if the boy doesn't get a shot? This is not as easy as you might think. These animals may be farm raised, but get them out in these woods, and they get wary," he said.

Day Two. "We'll have to put on a push," insisted Wayne, " I think it's the only way the boy will get a shot." And push we did. For hours we trudged through the knee-deep snow in the hunt park. Those of us who trudged were rewarded with quick glimpses of a buffalo leaving his bed and Red Stags making themselves scarce. But no elk. Lots of tracks but neither of Jeffrey's elk could be found. Late that afternoon the push paid off. The bulls were spotted near the northeast corner of the park, but the hunt team was on stand up near the West end. I hand signaled to Randy and the Nickschinskis came running our way with Jeffrey on his Dad's back.

Would the elk hang around long enough for a shot? "Not gonna happen, the cynic in me whispered." But I mumbled a prayer, for Jeffrey, for his Dad and for our big-hearted hunt host Wayne Garnett.

The elk cooperated, sort of. The big bulls were milling about in the midst of a slate-gray thicket of sucker growth about 75 yards away. While Dad got Jeffrey back onto the frozen ground, Randy got the tripod set up and the rifle at the ready. You could see brown antlers through the gridlock of saplings, but little else. As Jeffrey struggled to find a target in his Leupold scope, all of us asked ouselves, "How in the world is he ever going to get a bullet cleanly through that mess?"

Time passed. Jeffrey was not about to rush the shot. Advice was whispered from two many mouths. But no, Jeffrey would shoot when he was darn good and ready. Finally, Ka-Pow! The big animal stumbled and went down for keeps, and the hunt team exploded in exhaltation. Jeffrey just grinned. There was a sharing of joy and thankfulness all around. With misty eyes Dad kissed his boy, and then gave Wayne a thank- you hug. I looked at Wayne. Big smile, and a sigh. The pressure was off.

" Dad, I told you I can shoot," was Jeffrey's only comment.

It was a magnificent elk. We took a lot of pictures and videographer Blaine from Maine Safari's, who is a taxidermist, pledged a free head mount of the elk for the Nickschinski family. During the photo ops and the celebratory chatter, I got curious and walked over to where the elk was standing when Jeffrey decided the opportunity was right for him to finally squeeze off his shot. I looked over the sight picture from the elk's perspective. It was chockablock trees between the elk and the boy. As a deer hunter who has seen too many trees stop bullets intended for game, I was astonished!

There can only be one conclusion. Jeffrey Nickschinski was right. He can shoot. He can be proud of his marksmanship and self-control, and so can those of us who were fortunate enough to share his dream hunt at Skinner bog.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.


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