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Zack Bennett bags 700-pound Elk on Hunting Trip

Zack Bennett, a junior at Johnson County High School, has recently fought the battle of a lifetime. He was diagnosed in June of 2011 with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that can be found in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen and other sites throughout the body. Just two weeks out of intensive radiation treatment, he embarked on an adventure to make a dream come true.
During Bennett's grueling rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation treatments at the Saint Jude's affiliate located at the Niswonger Children's Hospital in Johnson City, a social worker shared information on a different type of grant-a-wish foundation. An avid hunter since the age of 12, Bennett, his parents, Beth and Jon Rushing, and his family were introduced to Hunt of a Lifetime, a philanthropic organization that strives to make fishing and hunting dreams come true for those youth under the age of 21 that have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Hunt of a Lifetime was founded by Tina Pattison, whose son Matthew was struck with cancer. As she sat by her son's bedside after a stem cell transplant, they spent many hours talking about their dreams and hopes for the future. Matthew expressed that he wanted to hunt moose with his father. Pattison soon discovered that the Make-A-Wish Foundation no longer granted any type of hunting requests. On her journey to find someone to help her fulfill her son's wish, she came across a special family in Alberta, Canada. The entire village of Nordegg, with a population of 68, had joined forces to cover the cost of a hunting trip for Matthew and his father. Six months later, he lost his fight to cancer. Hunt of a Lifetime was founded by the Pattisons in memory of their son.
After filling out an application in late summer, Zack received the phone call that an elk-hunting trip had been scheduled. During the second week of November, he and his father were advised to pack up and get ready to head to Douglas, Wyoming, a short drive from the second largest city in the state, Casper. As Zack relayed his story, he became more animated and his eyes practically danced with excitement. As soon as the plane landed, they were quickly on their way to a private range, “They gave us guns, jackets, bibs, boots and a nice gun case,” he said. All of the gear was theirs to keep. “I was pretty excited,” he continued. “You watch hunting shows wishing it could come true and then it does.”
The next morning, way before the sun would rise, Zack, Jon and three guides made their way onto a 2,000-acre parcel of land that had been donated for the hunt. “It's not like a normal hunting experience,” he said as he explained they were out in the field at 3:30 am. Armed with expensive scopes and binoculars, the group was ready. Despite finishing radiation two weeks prior to the trip, Zack, often tired and breathless, would spend hours running up and down the mountains as they stalked the animals. They would get to the top of the huge hills to discover the elk had made their way back down to the bottom. “These aren't little mountains,” he piped in. “They are very big mountains.” They spotted 60 to 70 bull elk in their hunting arena. Zack explained that while his father ran up and down the mountains with him as they stalked the animals, the elk was his to shoot.
“We had our first unsuccessful stalk on the third day,” said Zack. “It was a very sad day.” Typically, the elk should be within 400 yards of the hunter for a successful shoot. If the animal is startled, they will take off running for many miles.
“Bigger is better,” he said as he explained his theory in picking the elk he wanted to hunt. On the fourth day, he came within 280 yards of his bull. “That's when I took the shot.” According to Zack, the animal was six by six. “That's how you measure an elk,” he adamantly stated.
Because of recent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Zack was not able to touch the downed animal. His guides immediately field-dressed the elk and hoisted it up into a truck. The bull weighed approximately 700 to 750 pounds. The group immediately went to the butcher, where Zack and Jon were able to pick out their cuts of meat. It was then frozen and sent home. Beth described the meat tasting somewhere between beef and venison.
Every expense associated with Zack and Jon's trip was paid for including the food, hotel and airfare and costs associated with butchering and shipping the meat back to Tennessee. The guides donated their time and experience as their employer gave them the time off to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure for Zack.
Although he will remain under the watchful eyes of the medical community for several years, Zack's post treatment scans are looking good. As he pulled his mother close to him in a big hug, a grin broke out across his face. “It was definitely a hunt of a lifetime,” he said.