SUNDANCE — The Sundance chapter of the Muley Fanatics has made a name for itself by pursuing worthy goals to support wildlife and habitat, many of which have focused on the younger members of the community.
Of special importance to Kyndell Flint, chapter founder, is a project introduced for the first time in 2021 that gave youngsters with life-threatening illnesses the chance to experience the joys of hunting.
“We had four total kids that we took out this year. Two deer hunts, one elk hunt and a turkey hunt,” she says. “All of these kids were incredible. It’s pretty inspiring to be around them, they just have such a good outlook on life.”
The hunts are made possible through 25 special Wyoming Commissioner licenses set aside each year for youth with life-threatening illnesses or disabilities.
“We teamed up with an organization called the Holy Pursuit’s Dream Foundation. They have been doing this for quite a few years,” Flint says.
Holy Pursuits is a non-profit with a single purpose: to provide hunting and fishing trips to children who have or have previously had severe illnesses. It’s not just about fulfilling dreams, but also to get them outdoors to promote healing through the experience of a lifetime.
“They get applications from all over the United States. Depending on our available hunts, they pair us up with the kids they know can handle whatever types of hunt we’re putting on,” says Flint.
The kids have varying levels of mobility and stamina according to their illness and what stage of treatment they are at. For example, 11-year-old Grant from North Dakota suffers from muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that causes his muscles to weaken with age.
“He had to be assisted everywhere we went,” Flint says, so his hunt focused on driving and blinds.
On the other hand, 14-year-old Bryar from West Virginia is a survivor of Ewings Sarcoma, a tumor on his rib. He just got done with treatments, says Flint, and was able to hike fairly extensively.
Nine-year-old Kenny from Cheyenne was meanwhile diagnosed five years ago with an inoperable brain tumor that could eventually affect his eyesight. He’d finished a round of treatment just a day before he travelled to Crook County but, says Flint,
“He walked as far as he could – he was a trooper.”
The partnership with Holy Pursuits began in Cheyenne and spread to Wyoming’s other Muley Fanatics chapters. Overall, around 17 hunts took place around the state during 2021.
For the kids, the trip can be a rare or even unique experience. Bryar, for instance, came to Crook County for an elk hunt having never seen an elk before in his life.
“The only time he’d ever seen one was at a zoo,” Flint says. “He had about 80 head of elk run single file in front of him about a hundred yards away. He was so excited.”
The trips last five days, Flint says, but two are designated for travel, so the hunts themselves last for three full days. That means not every kid is going to harvest an animal, because, as Flint points out, “Hunting is hunting, you’re not guaranteed no matter what.”
All four hunts were successful this year, though Bryar’s last-minute harvest came at a slight cost.
“He didn’t end up seeing his elk because, when he shot, it was five minutes before legal shooting light was over on the last night. We looked and looked but couldn’t find it, so I went back out myself the next morning and was able to find it,” Flint says.
She was then able to send photographs to Bryar before retrieving the animal for processing.
Unsurprisingly, the trips can leave a lasting impression on the young hunters – not to mention their families.
“A lot of them love this area. Bryar’s dad said he wants to move here – he was going to tell his wife when he got home that they’re leaving West Virginia and coming here,” Flint laughs.
Holy Pursuits and the Muleys take care of all the arrangements for the kid, as well as their parents and one other family members. This includes covering the cost of everything from licenses and lodging to food, transportation, taxidermy, processing and shipping.
“They don’t pay for anything while they’re here, that’s part of why we’re trying to raise money,” says Flint. “They stay in local hotels and we take them to local places to eat, so all of the money is staying here – it’s all local.”
This year’s Muley Fanatics annual banquet, scheduled for February 12, is one of the methods through which the foundation will be raising funds for the hunts. A .22-caliber Crickett with an American flag wrap will be among the items offered during the live auction.
“All of the proceeds for that will go towards the hunts we take these kids on, because they’re pretty expensive to do,” she says.
Weather permitting, a couple of the kids and their families are planning to attend this year’s banquet to meet more of the Muley Fanatics and their supporters and share their stories. Holy Pursuits will also be represented, with a presentation from its founder on how the hunts work and where they began.
The Muleys are hoping to use the proceeds from the auction to fund a second year of the program.
“We’re going to try to do another three this year – one elk hunt and two deer hunts – and then try to reach out and see if we can get one or two kids who want to do turkeys in the spring,” Flint says.
The Muleys do have assistance on the financial front in the form of supporters such as C&A Meats, who have donated the processing, and Flint herself, who completes the taxidermy.
Local outfitters have also gotten involved. 19-year-old Wyatt from West Virginia successfully harvested a whitetail during his hunt with help from 7J Outfitters, for instance.
“7J Outfitters donated a hunt to the Muleys for one of these kids,” she says. “They’re going to go ahead and do another hunt next year.”
Kenny’s turkey hunt was meanwhile saved by Lee Jay of W Bar Feed & Ranch Supply, who offered his land at the last minute and sent the young man home with a box call and assorted other goodies.
Planning hunts with kids who have varying needs can be a challenge, especially when the organization needs to be completed far in advance, so the Muley Fanatics welcome any and all support from members of the community.
Whether it’s access to your land, assistance with guiding the kids, financial contributions or something else, Flint says she’d love to hear from you.
“This was our first year being able to do it and we had some amazing people that helped us to get on to some property and helped us make this happen for these kids. It’s good to have people who want to help the kids out,” she says.
The biggest need, says Flint, is for access to property that is suitable for kids of more limited mobility. Some of the kids who apply to the program are in wheelchairs, she explains, and none of the properties currently available would be appropriate.