This story of hunters helping young people with serious illnesses might just bring a tear to your eye.
The generosity of hunters donating their time and resources to help others is a common story. Hunters do it all the time across America.
In Oconto County, Wisconsin, this instance of hunter generosity is especially heartwarming because the recipients are young people with life-threatening diseases.
The project that has brought the hunters and kids together is also a bit unusual: bear hunting in northern Wisconsin.
Oconto River Kids is a project that helps bring young people who are fighting some serious battles out into the great outdoors. The kids get an opportunity to experience nature in a way that no other outdoor activity can match.
Bruce “Bearman” Watruba, the Secretary for Oconto River Kids, says, “It’s very special, they get to bond. Most people never expect to be able to bear hunt with their child.”
“Most of these kids haven’t hunted before,” he continues, “and when they come up hunting, when they do tip over a bear, they are so excited.”
The program is entirely funded and managed by donations and the volunteering. Area businesses and sportsmen’s clubs donate money and services, and around 80 people volunteer their time and energy to help make dreams come true for kids and their families.
Wisconsin DNR Warden Lee Posusta confirmed, “Most of our kids are fighting, fighting for their lives with different kinds of cancers, and at different stages.”
Robyn Joly, whose 16-year-old daughter Lexie is battling brain cancer, appreciates the kindness of hunters and other supporters of the program.
“They’re selfless,” she says, “they don’t ask for anything. They just do it because they want to, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Lexie, who has never hunted before, also expressed her appreciation for the opportunity that many hunters themselves may never get.
“It’s really cool that people just donate the bear tag, and all this, and sponsors…I really thank them for this opportunity, I’ll probably never get this again.”
As far as her health concerns, Lexie is undeterred. Talking about her medical condition;
“At first it was scary. But now I just go through every day, and I fight. I’m all good.”
14-year-old Noah Licht is diagnosed with stage-three Rhabdomyosarcoma. Noah recounted the first outing of his hunt:
“We saw two bears, one of them I didn’t have a shot at all. The other one, I had in my crosshairs, but it looked too small, and I wanted to wait until a bigger one. I’m here to get a bear, and beat everyone else in my family when it comes to their hunting stories over mine.”
Noah’s dad, John Licht, also greatly appreciates the opportunity for his son and him to experience Noah’s bear hunt together.
“I like to see him get out, and do some fun stuff along with all the treatments and stuff like that,” he said. “That way it’s kind of nice to be able to spend the time with him, and bond.
Eric Bonatz is the founder of the three-year-old program. He expressed his satisfaction with the project:
It’s great to see the kids out, and see happy parents and happy kids having a great adventure in the Northwoods.
The support from area businesses includes taxidermy services and meat processing of any animals harvested, and the donation of bear tags by hunters who are willing to give up their own hunts to help brighten the lives of the young people who, in turn, get to enjoy a very special experience.
“In Zone B, it takes 10 years to get a tag,” Watruba confirmed, “and yet, we’ve got these people that are giving us their tags to use to hunt.”
This is what hunting is: sharing, whether it be sharing the meat from a kill with neighbors and family, or sharing the experience with young folks who may not normally get the opportunity.
Yes, this is hunting, too.