Fire ants have learned that if they lock their legs together they can create a raft that allows them to float and weather the worst floods. A single ant will drown very quickly, but as a group united by one purpose, they can survive.
In many ways, we are like that. We need each other to rise above despair when life brings tragedy. That is where I found myself on my recent Shiras moose hunt in Wyoming. When I planned the hunt, it was a simple thing, a Shiras Moose Hunt, – another awesome adventure to hopefully harvest #27 of my Super Slam. But, when severe tragedy struck one of my best friends and his family, the purpose of the trip pivoted on a dime. It quickly turned into a lot more than a hunt to me.
This story took a bad turn in mid-July, 45 days before my moose hunt. Tanner Sinclair, son of my great friend and top-notch Canadian guide Brent Sinclair, was killed in a senseless knife attack in Whitehorse, Yukon. Tanner had a great zest for life and loved the mountains and wild places. Though young, he was just as good with people as he was with wilderness living – a rare combination. And he was a great guide, experienced way beyond his years; he had been on at least 30 successful sheep hunts and had been hunting with his dad in the mountains since he was 10 years old.
Ever since I had hunted with Brent in 2004 on a successful Dall sheep hunt, the wild 15-day backpack adventure in the Northwest Territories had forged a friendship for life. Brent, Wendy, and their family had become like my own family. Clear back in 2012, Brent had already decided to join me on my Shiras moose hunt. He lacked just one animal from having guided all 29 North American big game animals. It was just going to be a fun reunion among good friends since he had already guided a Shiras moose hunter.
When Brent called and told me about his son’s tragic death, both of our eyes were watering. I tried to convince him to stay home. I even offered to cancel my moose hunt and fly up to Whitehorse to spend time with him there, but Brent wasn’t having any of that. He insisted on joining me for the moose hunt as a friend.
I had a pair of guides for the hunt already and I didn’t really need Brent to guide, so I called him several times during the next week to try to convince him to stay home. “You don’t know how much I really need this,” he said. “I need to be there with you. The last thing Tanner would want me to do was lie down and feel sorry for myself.”
Tragically, I knew, felt and understood the unbearable pain Brent was feeling with losing my own brother Kirk at a young age. Finally, I agreed with him and knew he needed that time with me in camp, but I had no idea what to expect.
In just that one phone call, the trip suddenly went from a moose hunt to a rescue mission to help my friend who was drowning in grief and disbelief for the loss of his son from such a senseless act. What he really needed was a group of men to lock arms with so he could float above the misery - if only for a few days.
I knew I had to be there emotionally for Brent. That was my number one priority. With that in mind, and not knowing how much hunting we would really be doing, I headed for Laramie with my son, Dale, on August 31. The season opened the next day.
I had purchased one of several Wyoming Conservation tags at a recent auction; this tag is only good for hunting on public land so I knew there would be plenty of hunting pressure. My guides for the hunt were Rusty Hall and James Rhinehart. Both are very seasoned Shiras moose hunters and fantastic guides. We all studied the maps and agreed upon an area with several willow drainages I would be hunting.
I looked at them intensely and told them my top priority was Brent and not the Moose. I wanted one-on-one man-time and planned to hunt with Brent the entire trip.
We knew it was going to be a tough hunt with temperatures being unseasonably warm. We were right about that; the moose were lying in the thick timber of the valley slopes until just before last light at which time they would filter out to feed in the willow thickets that line the bottoms of the valleys.
We spent plenty of time glassing during the first four days of the hunt, and we spent lots of time as a group locked in prayer as the days passed quickly.
It wasn’t until the fourth day of the hunt that we found a shooter bull. We were glassing from a ridge into a willow thicket. It was the middle of the afternoon – a very low odds time to find a moose on his feet – but, I am not a big fan of taking naps on my hunts. I always keep hunting, regardless of how low the odds might be. If they are better than zero, I am happy to keep plugging along.
We were rewarded this time when we caught the glint of horns in the heavy timber just above the thicket. Maneuvering across the ridge, we were able to get a better look at the bedded bull and we quickly decided he was worth hunting.
This was my first good chance and I wanted Brent by my side. We were going after Tanner’s bull and this was one time I wasn’t stalking in alone like normal. We were a team and didn’t waste any time getting down into the valley and into position across the low-lying willow thicket from where we thought the bull was bedded. Though we were only about 100 yards away, we couldn’t see him in the heavy timber. We hoped he hadn’t eluded us by going out the top or the slope.
I crawled along the edge of the willows another 40 yards, concealed by spruce trees on my side of the valley. It was 1:00 in the afternoon and very hot. I sat there on my knees for two hours before crawling back out to talk with Brent for a while. Then it was back into the brush for another three hours as I sat patiently waiting for something to happen. Every 30 minutes, I rose up in the heavy spruce and studied the area to see if the bull was visible. The seventh time I rose, I spotted a moose at 50 yards to my left in heavy willows.
First, I thought it was a cow, but when it raised its head, I realized it was our bull. He was in enough cover that I couldn’t get a shot and he was feeding away from me.
I quickly crawled back out to get Brent and asked him to join me. I had dedicated this hunt to Tanner and I felt that Brent needed to be there if I was able to get a shot.
We slipped through the willows keeping the wind in our face, going another 30 yards farther than my original post. With light fading, the bull stepped out into the open; I drew my 80lb Hoyt aiming intensely and released. The arrow looked good and bull took off into the thick timber. If anything, the shot was a touch high.
Then Brent and I broke down. The scene became very emotional as we prayed together and talked about how this bull was for Tanner. I had never been a part of a hunt that was this emotional. It will always be my most memorable trophy as I shared the moment with my good friend at a time of need.
We backed out and discussed the shot with Rusty and James before deciding to take up the trail early the next morning. The shot had been just a bit high the bull died 350 yards from where the arrow hit.
That week in the mountains of Wyoming was about much more than just putting meat in the freezer. The animal became secondary to the relationships. We will always remember Tanner for his personal strength, his positive attitude and his values. Sometimes the good do die young.
The greatest sense of peace that Brent gained from our time is a lesson that any of us who grieves can learn from. He came to realize that even though he only had 27 years with his son; the quality of that time was extremely high. The two spent countless hours together in the mountains and became the deepest of friends. If an average man lives to be 80 and is survived by his son, it is unlikely that they would spend more quality time together than Brent did with Tanner. When a Christian dies, we grieve our loss, not theirs. The deceased move on to a better place. There is also great peace in that knowledge.
We celebrated one great man’s life on that mountain and helped another to bear a huge burden of grief. I will never forget the hunt for Tanner’s Bull and the friendship it strengthened.
There is a bright spot in this story. Brent and Wendy have a strong future with Tanner’s survivors: wife Whitney, three-year-old daughter, Keele, (named after the Keele River in the Northwest Territories - Tanner’s favorite place to sheep hunt) and newborn daughter Bennett Hope Sinclair (named after Bennett Lake in the Yukon where Tanner took his last personal ram in the included picture). May God bless this family and keep them strong during this difficult time with the knowledge that Tanner will live forever through them.
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