2010-01-07 / Columns

Generous Donors Enable Fellow Hunters To Experience Hunt of a Lifetime

Outdoor Matters
A column from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Larry Burcz (left) and Chet Briggs pose with the elk that 98-year-old Mr. Briggs shot December 10 at Canada Creek Ranch in Montmorency County. Mr. Briggs had applied for an elk license for years, but always came away empty handed. Mr. Burcz was selected for a license this year and transferred his license to Mr. Briggs. (Photograph courtesy of Canada Creek Ranch) Larry Burcz (left) and Chet Briggs pose with the elk that 98-year-old Mr. Briggs shot December 10 at Canada Creek Ranch in Montmorency County. Mr. Briggs had applied for an elk license for years, but always came away empty handed. Mr. Burcz was selected for a license this year and transferred his license to Mr. Briggs. (Photograph courtesy of Canada Creek Ranch) There’s an old adage about how it’s better to give than to receive. And in at least two cases this fall, Michigan hunters discovered how much joy can be gained from giving, by giving away the opportunity of a lifetime -- a chance to harvest an elk in Michigan.

Anyone in Michigan can hunt deer. As long as they are of sufficient age, have passed hunter safety education, and have not had their hunting rights terminated by the courts, all hunters must do to pursue whitetails is purchase a license. But that’s not the case with other big-game species. Because there is more demand for elk or bear licenses than there are available animals, hunters must apply for a license for those species.

Chet Briggs (right) of Traverse City steps up to receive his hunting license at the elk hunt orientation at Atlanta High School. Mr. Briggs, 98, was accompanied by his grandson, Dave Briggs, Jr. (DNR photograph by David Kenyon) Chet Briggs (right) of Traverse City steps up to receive his hunting license at the elk hunt orientation at Atlanta High School. Mr. Briggs, 98, was accompanied by his grandson, Dave Briggs, Jr. (DNR photograph by David Kenyon) Until recently, winning the license lottery was the only way to get one of those big-game tags. But a few years ago, the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) revisited the rules, making it legal for lottery winners to transfer their right to a license to an unsuccessful youth applicant or to a person with an advanced illness.

Former Natural Resources Commissioner Bob Garner, who has been active in initiating youngsters into the hunting fraternity, said when the idea of transferring hunting lottery success came up with the NRC, he was all for it.

"We had a legislator who had an illness that gave her cause to think about these sorts of things," Mr. Garner recalled. "We passed it unanimously. It’s just a natural progression from what we were doing already and we didn't want tags to be a problem."

Mr. Garner himself has twice transferred his success in drawings for bear tags to youngsters.

"Anything we can do to get a kid out there is great," he said.

But this fall, through some very special circumstances, a transfer was approved for a wounded Iraq War veteran. Another was authorized for an old-time sportsman who is 98 years old.

Mary Briskey of Luna Pier, who has been applying for an elk license for years, drew the right to purchase an antlerless elk tag, but she was drawn to participate in the December hunt.

"I can’t hunt in cold weather," she said. "I have asthma and I can’t breathe in the cold air. I was ecstatic to get it, but I couldn't use it, so I decided to give it away to a disabled vet."

Ms. Briskey contacted Safari Club International, which helps match disabled servicemen with available hunting opportunities. The club found Sergeant Jeremiah Jones.

Sgt. Jones, 40, was a truck driver in Iraq when the vehicle in which he was traveling ran over a land mine. Sgt. Jones suffered nerve damage and a brain injury in the subsequent explosion.

"This was my first real hunt," said Sgt. Jones, who tagged a 420-pound (dressed) cow near Wolverine during the December elk hunt. "I"m a hunter, but the military has taken over my life. I don’t get to go very often."

As it was, Sgt. Jones, who joined the Army in 1989 and also participated in Desert Storm, had to jump through some hoops to go on this hunt. Assigned to the National Guard Armory in Kalamazoo, the Cassopolis resident said he had to apply for leave months in advance to be able to take advantage of the situation.

"I almost couldn't go," he said.

Because he’s fairly healthy despite his war injuries, Sgt. Jones chose to pursue his elk on foot.

"You walk and walk and walk," he said. "And that's what we did -- we walked for three days. I bet I walked 25 miles over those three days. I passed up two risky shots. Then I got lucky. I took the high percentage shot and it paid off.

"From now on I'm going to compare every other hunt to this one."

Sgt. Jones’ success delighted everyone involved in the hunt.

"The DNR bent over backward to accommodate us," said Ralph Cagle, the education director of the Southeast Michigan Bow Hunters Chapter of Safari Club International. "We couldn't be happier."

Neither could Ms. Briskey, who was pleased with who received her tag.

"I was just lucky to get someone who fought for our country," she said. "I would have liked it to have been a bull, but it didn't matter. Either way, it’s a wonderful thing for him."

Despite his status as a wounded war veteran, Sgt. Jones is a relative youngster compared to another recipient of a transferred tag. Chet Briggs, of Traverse City, was the recipient of a tag drawn by his longtime friend Larry Burcz.

Mr. Burcz, 68, thought it would be appropriate to transfer the tag to an older hunter with a medical condition. He chose Mr. Briggs, who is 98.

"I’ve had more than my share of thrills," said Mr, Burcz, who killed a Pope and Young-class bull elk in Colorado with his bow this fall. "I got to see how much those hunts mean to people -- especially those gray-haired guys who don’t have any other way to go on these hunts."

Mr. Burcz, who guides elk hunters at Canada Creek Ranch, guided Mr. Briggs on the hunt.

"I've applied for an elk license all these years and I figured I’d never get one and then this good friend of mine gave me one," said Mr. Briggs. "It shocked me. I said,' Larry, you know how old I am? Do you think I’ll live long enough?' He said he’d take that chance."

Mr. Briggs killed a 1x3 bull elk on the third day of his hunt.

"It was the hunt of a lifetime for me," Mr. Briggs said. "It was not real nice that day, cold and about 20 inches of snow. But it was just wonderful. The trees were loaded with snow. It was just beautiful out there."

Mr. Briggs, who lives by himself -- he keeps his own house, does his own cooking and shopping – said he killed a four-point buck with a crossbow this fall, too. But he thinks the elk might be his last big-game animal.

"At 98, you can’t figure you've got many more," he said.

But for Mr. Burcz, the experience was even better than if he’d done it himself, in part because Mr. Briggs was so deserving of the opportunity, he said.

"He's a true sportsman -- the epitome of a sportsman," Mr. Burcz said. "He was a gunsmith, a waterfowl hunter, a deer hunter -- he was active in conservation activities his whole life and he helped a lot of guys out when he was younger.

"It was the experience of a lifetime."

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