By Clint Lindemann
Helluva Hunt is an annual antelope hunting event in Wyoming for handicapped and chair-bound hunters. This event is totally funded, the only cost to the hunter and one guest is for their transportation to and from Douglas, Wyoming.
The Helluva Hunt got started over one evening when Gary and Jane Stearns got a call from their friend Bill Brown asking them to come in to meet Jim Zumbo, outdoor author. Gary and Jane were outfitting at the time and Jim had asked the manager if he knew of any good outfitters in the area. So Gary and Jane went in and met with Jim and Bill to do some brainstorming over a few drinks. Zumbo had gotten a letter from a disabled sportsman and he was touched by learning how much his articles meant to individuals who could no longer get out in the field the way they used to hunt. They discussed how all of them might be able to come together to make this happen and they decided an antelope hunt might be the best since the Game and Fish issues a disabled sportsmen permit to allow shooting from a vehicle. So Gary and Jane got together with several ranchers and they were all excited about the idea of the hunt and were more than happy with allowing the Stearns access for the hunt. The total area available to the Helluva Hunt ended up being approximately 60,000 acres. Gary and Jane have been overseeing the hunt every year since 1985.
2016 will be the 31st hunt and they have had 15 hunters participate most years, but due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances there have been some years where they have had as few as 12. The Helluva Hunt has had a 100% success rate every year except for one. That year the tags were not filled because of blizzard conditions. The whole country was shut down. So they have had over 400 hunters and all but four took home antelope!
Helluva Hunt has about 30 guides on their list to cover the hunt if some guides can't make it. Many of the guides are from all over the United States and they show up year after year. Jane explains, "We couldn't do this without all these big hearts!" There are about 150 volunteers that help with the fairgrounds, the trap club, the rifle range, the lunches, dinners, awards ceremony, the guides, and auction.
One of those guides is Andy Gallina, who travels every year to Douglas from a Chicago suburb to be part of the hunt. He has been making the trip for 20 years. The hunters are what keep bringing him back, he says "No matter their circumstance, they are also genuine and humble." The job of a guide is to make the hunter feel at home and to make sure the accommodations suit them explained Andy. "Each hunter brings with them their own challenges for us guides but we are up to the challenge," said Gallina.
The hunters and guides have access to about 13 ranches and the distance from Douglas range from about 5 miles to 50 miles. Hunters have come from all over the United States. One of those hunters that has participated in this event is Jon Lee who traveled by plane from Dothan, Alabama in 2013. Jon is in a paraplegic after an accident shattered his L1 vertebrae. Lee heard about this hunt by surfing the Internet.
Here is the story of Jon's hunt in his own words. "We drove several miles out to some farm land and started scanning for bucks. We watched one and passed. We found another one tending does and passed. We found another good buck but one of his horns wasn’t perfect and I passed because I wanted a good representation of the animal for a mount. We went back to the area where we passed on the 2nd buck we saw and he was running a smaller buck off. We sat there for about 10 minutes and he came back at about 320 yards going back towards the does and I took the shot nailing him. My buck ended up being the largest on this hunt in 2013 and I won the free mount."
Lee explained, "The guides were some of the best guys I have ever met and for sure the funniest guys I had ever met. I had one of the best times of my life and still keep in contact with the guides I was with. Helluva Hunt is the best hunting event I have ever been too. The volunteers were great and made you feel at home. I really had one of the best trips of my life on this hunt and just wish I lived closer to be a part of it more often to be honest." Jon highly recommends Helluva Hunt to anyone.
The whole community of Douglas really supports this this event. Jane can't say enough about the wonderful community and the never ending support that they have gotten over the years. Stearns explains, "The people in town are so willing to donate time, items for the auction, free mounts from the taxidermists for the awards, free meat processing to each hunter." She can't even name how many businesses and agencies help out.
On the first day it is a meet and greet, also hunters finish the paperwork for the licensing. All licenses are paid for. After lunch the hunters go to the shooting range south of town and shoot a handful of times. The first night that the hunters arrive there is a big meal where everyone gets to meet their guides. Everything is centrally located at the fairgrounds/dormitories in Douglas. During the meal the guides explain where they are going to hunt and what time they are leaving in the morning. The night of the first hunt there is meal plus a silent and live auction at the Moose Lodge in town. The next night there is a supper at the American Legion. Here they give away prizes to the hunters including free taxidermy mounts to the longest shot, shortest shot and the biggest animal taken.
Applications for participation in the Helluva Hunt are accepted all year long. Fifteen hunters are chosen in February to participate in the October Antelope hunt that year. The accepted applicants are immediately notified and licenses are applied for. Each hunter receives at least two volunteers to assist in their kill at the event.
For more information or an application, please contact:
The Helluva Hunt
Gary and Jane Stearns
1562 Esterbrook Road
Douglas, Wyoming 82633