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Donated Elk Hunt a Wish Come True for Young Michigan Hunter
Some people wait decades for the opportunity to hunt elk in Michigan, so the chance to harvest a 6 x 5 bull at 14 years old would be thrilling for any hunter. But when that hunter has a life-threatening kidney disease, it's a dream come true. And when his elk hunt is also the fulfillment of a dying man's wishes, well, that's something truly remarkable.
Caleb Gothrup, a 14-year-old student at Bellaire Middle School, shot a 480-pound bull elk in December 2010.
It wasn't the luck of the draw that provided this rare opportunity. It was the thoughtfulness of a man who spent 30 years teaching kids about hunting safely.
Bill Lautenslager was selected to receive an any-elk license in the summer of 2010.
"Ironically, at 74 years old, this was the first year that Bill had applied for an elk tag," said Jeff Goss, a DNRE conservation officer who was a friend of Lautenslager. "After receiving the notification, Bill decided that he would not be healthy enough to use his tag and that he would like to transfer it to a child with an advanced illness."
When Lautenslager passed away before that could happen, Goss stepped in to help carry out his late friend's request. Goss found Caleb Gothrup though Benefit for Kids, an organization that helps grant the outdoor wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, and worked with Lautenslager's wife Patricia and DNRE Wildlife Division staff to transfer the drawing success to the young hunter.
Lautenslager was dedicated to teaching kids about hunting, serving as a local hunter safety instructor for over 30 years. A Marshall resident who was retired from the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department after 26 years of service, he also worked as a volunteer conservation officer for 15 years.
"Bill was an avid outdoorsman and sportsman," Goss said. "He always took the local conservation officers under his wing and treated them like family."
When he was just a year old, Caleb Gothrup was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease that attacks the kidney's filtering system, causing serious scarring and often leading to kidney failure. The disease, which continues to progress, has caused Caleb to go into a coma for weeks and for his kidneys to be 50 percent scarred.
"His bedroom has looked like a medical lab for years," said Caleb's father, Randy Gothrup, who jumped at the chance for his son to go on a Michigan elk hunt.
The Gothrup family knows it's an opportunity that doesn't come often, as Caleb's grandfather has been applying for an elk tag for years without success.
The news about Lautenslager's donation came at the right time for the Gothrups, who, before applying with Benefit for Kids, had experienced the disappointment of being turned down by another wish-granting organization because Caleb's disease wasn't considered terminal. For a boy who loves to hunt, the chance at a Michigan elk was truly a wish come true.
Although he saw plenty of elk, Caleb turned down several other bulls, patiently waiting until the third day of his hunt at Atlanta's Canada Creek Ranch to take the 6 x 5.
Michigan Out-of-Doors TV recorded the hunt and will air it on Thursday, Jan. 27. Visit www.michiganoutofdoorstv.com for local show times or to watch the full episode online (click on "Episodes").
Thanks to the generosity of several organizations, the Gothrups only had to pay for the elk license and their travels.
"I would like to thank the Michigan Conservation Officer Association for stepping up to the plate and funding this elk hunt," Goss said. "They worked with Canada Creek Ranch and provided Caleb with a first-class hunt."
Dowker's Meat and Deli in Gaylord processed the elk for free, and Safari Club International will pay for taxidermy.
"We had a blast, Canada Creek was awesome," said Randy Gothrup. "They made Caleb feel like he was king of the hill. They completely spoiled my kid."
And although Gothrup said he doesn't normally like to spoil his kids, he felt the hell that Caleb has been through medically warranted the special treatment.
"His excitement was contagious - just the glow on his face," said Goss, who got to watch Caleb recover the elk. "The whole weekend he had that smile on his face."
Anyone who is successful in the bear or elk license drawings can give a young person or someone with an advanced illness the chance to experience the excitement of hunting these species. Successful applicants may transfer their drawing success to a specific person, or donate their hunt to those on the DNRE transfer waiting list, by submitting a transfer request form, available at www.michigan.gov/huntdrawings starting in May.
Those with an advanced illness or young hunters who aren't successful in the drawings can get on the waiting list to receive a donated elk or bear hunt by registering online at www.michigan.gov/huntdrawings between May 1 and July 10.
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