The following appears in the January issue of California Sportsman:
By Scott Haugen
As I write these words early on Thanksgiving morning – alone, in my office where it’s quiet and my family is still asleep – the sun has yet to rise. The coffee is brewing and I eagerly anticipate that first cup as I reflect on the year 2020.
The world is in the middle of a pandemic, our country is in political and social turmoil, plus global climates are shifting. Then there are the personal issues we all face.
Still, each and every morning we get out of bed and push forward, hop- ing that one day the world will return to normalcy. Such is not the case for 12-year-old Jayden Oakes, who is fighting a tough battle with colon cancer. It’s a rare diagnosis in such a young person.
Jayden lives near Red Bluff with his 10-year-old brother and their grandmother, Jane, who is their legal guardian. Ten days prior to Thanks- giving, their grandmother lost her husband, who passed after a brief battle with a terrible disease.
Three days after her husband’s death, Jane was determined to take Jayden and his brother hunting for a Thanksgiving turkey.
“I offered to cancel the hunt,” shares Donn Walgamuth, the man from Redding who, through the California Deer Association, met Jayden a few months prior when he took the young man on his dream hunt for deer. “But the grandmother refused, saying this was a time for her and her grandsons to be together.”
Donn is just one of the many players in this story, for were it not for the heartfelt efforts of so many people – including guides, outfitters, landowners, hunting organizations, and many more – Jayden’s dreams would not have been realized. But this isn’t about those people, or how the hunts unfolded. This is about what happens when a passion to do the right thing opens doors, and minds, to bigger things in life.
FOR THE LAST 19 years, Donn has helped disabled hunters. “You know the funny thing about these hunts?” Donn asked me. “They always end in success, and the best part is, family is usually around, making for indelible memories. If that’s not a testimony to God working in our lives, I don’t know what is.”
The day Jayden shot his Thanksgiving turkey was a day I was to join Donn on a wildlife photography trip. Donn called and asked if we could re- schedule, as he wanted to take Jayden hunting after a last-minute opportunity arose. Donn, Jayden, Jayden’s brother and Jane met guide Perry Cremeans, who successfully guided the 12-year-old to his first turkey.
“I talked with Jane this week, and they were all excited,” shares Donn. “She made it a point to have an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner each evening of the week because they had so much to be thankful for. The turkey didn’t last long and they all loved it, along with some of the venison and wild boar Jayden took in October.”
On that October deer hunt – Jayden’s ultimate dream hunt – the window of opportunity came at mid- month, about the most challenging time to take a blacktail buck.
“No one cared how big of a buck Jayden got; everyone involved in the hunt just wanted him to have a fun experience and close the deal with a clean, ethical shot,” Donn reflects. “After two days of hunting and not seeing a single deer, I was getting concerned. Then a coyote stepped out at 125 yards, and Jayden made a perfect shot. He was so excited and his shot placement reaffirmed this young man was an excellent shot.”
THE NEXT MORNING THE crew was at it again, and finally they spotted two small bucks bedded several hundred yards away. As they made a game plan and started their approach, a nice-sized boar slithered out of the brush bordering a creek. Jayden had a pig tag and really wanted one for his family to eat. Again, a perfect, one-shot kill.
By the time they got the pig field-dressed and hanging in a cool place, the bedded bucks were gone. “I was really beginning to worry because the conditions were very hot and deer just weren’t moving in daylight,” Donn recalls.
“Then, the following morning, we all said a prayer to help find Jayden a buck, and at daylight we found it. It was a monster, and it was bedded beneath a single oak tree on a rolling hillside. The crew made a stalk and got Jayden within comfortable shoot- ing range, setting him up in a prone position. (He was) rock-solid with shooting bags and a bipod rest.”
For two hours they remained there and waited for the buck to stand and present a shot.
“Jayden felt really confident,” Donn says. “He dry-fired the gun several times and was very calm and collect- ed, but excited. During that time we whispered, laughed and shared stories. He asked how I got into hunting, and I shared the story of the man who took me when I was young, as I, like Jayden, didn’t have anyone in my family who hunted. Jayden was enthralled by the story, and at the end, asked where the man was. ‘Well, he passed away due to cancer, and now he’s with Jesus,’ I said. ‘He’s with God, too!’”
It was a surreal moment, one where the hunt became secondary to sharing life stories. When the buck finally stood, Jayden made a perfect shot. And yes, the deer was a monster. It was one Perry Cremeans had spent two months guiding other hunters for.
“I truly believe that God somehow picks people with the best character in the world to go through these trials and tribulations,” says Donn about Jayden’s battle with cancer. “This kid is sick, real sick, yet he wanted to jump out of the ATV and open every gate. He was al- ways commenting on how beautiful the land was and how much he en- joyed seeing the cows on the ranch we hunted. When my wife joined us for a hunt one day, he hopped out of the front seat and got in the back, offering his seat to her. For a 12-year-old to be that aware and kind-hearted is amazing, especially in his situation.”
“And not once did he complain, fall asleep or look at his phone. He enjoyed every moment in nature, and (cherished it) with the people who surrounded him. He never showed sadness or weakness, and appreciated every moment.
The time we spent together, hunting, was so peaceful.”
AT THE TIME I wrote this, Jayden’s prognosis was unknown. Each week the doctors ask if he wants to keep fighting it, and each week he responds with a resounding “Yes!”
At the culmination of their hunts, Donn and all the other adults who helped make the opportunities possible agreed that they benefited more from being with Jayden than Jayden likely did from filling a few tags. That’s hunting. So often the actual hunt pales in comparison to the life lessons we learn along the way.
May you all enjoy your life and future hunting and fishing trips as we head into a new year. And keep Jayden in your thoughts. CS
Editor’s note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author. To learn more about his books on hunting, fishing, and cooking game and fish, visit scotthaugen.com.
Sidebar: TIFFANY HAUGEN’S WILD TURKEY RECIPE
Looking to prepare the perfect meal with that harvested wild turkey from December? This is it! Taken in the fall or spring season, free-range wild turkeys are some of the best game birds you’ll find for the table. The key to success when cooking any wild turkey is to not treat it as you would a store-bought, domesticated turkey.
Wild turkey meat is very lean and should not be overcooked. Before cook- ing, ensure all shot is removed from the breast meat, including any feathers that may have been carried into the wound channels. Remove any bloodshot meat and sinew, especially from around the shoulder. The bird’s tenderloin can be included in this recipe that includes cranberry and citrus glaze.
One skinless, wild turkey breast
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1?2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil 1?2 cup Italian sausage 1?2 cup diced onion 1?2 cup diced celery
1?4 cup chopped cranberries 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning 1?2 teaspoon salt 1?2 teaspoon black pepper 1 cup dry bread cubes 1?2 cup turkey or chicken stock One egg, beaten
1?4 cup butter 1?2 cup cranberry sauce 1?2 cup orange juice 2 tablespoons lemon and/or lime juice 2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar 2 teaspoons orange, lemon and/or lime zest
Clean any silver skin, fat or sinuous tissues from the turkey breast. On a sturdy, flat surface place turkey breast between two large sheets of waxed paper. Using a meat mallet or heavy skillet, pound turkey breast to 1?4 inch to 1/3 inch thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice and 1?2 teaspoon of salt. In a large skillet, cook sausage, onion and celery in olive oil on medium-high heat until sausage is fully cooked. Add cranberries,
seasonings and dry bread cubes and sauté a few more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in bread cubes and beaten egg and mix until combined.
Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of foil. Spread stuffing mixture evenly over turkey breast. Roll – long ways – placing on foil, seam-side down. Cover lightly with foil and place in a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for 20 minutes.
While turkey is cooking, mix all glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and continue to cook five to 10 minutes or until glaze begins to thicken.
After turkey has cooked for 20 minutes, remove foil and baste with a few tablespoons of glaze and return uncovered to the oven for five minutes. Continue to baste turkey with glaze every five minutes until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Cooking time should be 35 to 40 minutes total. Let turkey sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. CS
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s popular cookbook, Cooking Game Birds, visit scotthaugen.com for this and other titles.