This story began early in 2010. Brodey Pemberton was 13 years old at the time. I wasn't there and can only imagine the fear Brodey's family felt when the doctors delivered the news that Brodey had cancer. Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, had invaded Brodey's body, and the battle began.
A few months later, as Brodey was being treated, more bad news. His mother, Tabatha Moreland, was diagnosed with breast cancer. This Jasper, Tenn., family was being sorely tested in a way few families have ever known.
Fast-forward to Sept. 19, 2013, when Brodey and his family stepped off the plane in Montreal, Canada, en route to the Laurentian Wildlife Estate and a hunt that few of us will ever experience. However, a lot of pieces had to fall into place to make it all happen.
Bill and Vicki Swan from Dunlap are co-chairs of the Pathfinder Committee for the Safari Club International Foundation. The committee's mission is to seek out deserving individuals who have overcome physical challenges and share special hunting opportunities. With the help of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the area Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Swans tracked down Brodey.
"Brodey is an avid outdoorsman," Swan said. "One of the hardest parts of having cancer for Brodey was not being able to get outdoors and do the things he loved. He literally counted down the months and days until his doctor cleared him for hunting and fishing again. When we were there to tell Brodey that he had been selected for this hunt, his mother broke down and cried."
The Laurentian Wildlife Estate is two hours north of Montreal. It is not a hunting area for the faint of heart—or wallet. The estate claims to be the most prestigious elk and red stag hunting area in the world. It backs up the claim with the world record bull elk and red stag. The website doesn't list hunt prices. If you have to ask, you can't afford it.
Swan said Brodey's hunt was donated by Safari Club member Mike McGinnis and Charles Bish, owner of Laurentian.
However, when he arrived at the estate last week with his mother and father, Brodey said, "You felt like you'd known them your whole life."
Brodey has spent a lot of days hunting deer in Marion County. He said they can't compare to the sights and sounds he experienced hunting red stags in Canada for two days. The first morning's sunrise brought a thick blanket of fog.
"It was the most beautiful morning ever," Brodey said. "We saw a lot of stags, all silhouetted in the fog ... It was just amazing. But we never saw a shooter, or we just couldn't get a shot.
"That evening, we sat in a blind overlooking a meadow," Brodey continued. "We had stags roaring and elk bugling all around us. It was great, nothing like I've ever experienced. You can't really explain it. It was just wild watching those gorgeous animals."
However, again, the opportunity for a clean shot at a stag never came.
"The elk clearly ruled the meadow," Brodey said. "They kept running all of the red stags off."
Someday, we will all get to see the sights. There was a crew on hand filming every step for the "SCI Expedition Safari" TV show on the Outdoor Channel. Of course, adding a video camera to the hunting equation always brings additional challenges, as Brodey learned on the second morning.
"We saw lots of animals, but we never could get the right angle for me to get a shot or for the camera to get a good shot," Brodey said.
Then came the second and last afternoon of the hunt—the final hours of an opportunity Brodey knew might never come again in his life.
"We'd been hunting hard for two days. I was starting to think, 'Is this going to happen or not?'" Brodey said. "That evening, I knew, was probably my last chance to get the stag I wanted."
No sitting in a blind this afternoon. It was a spot-and-stalk hunt.
"We heard some in a meadow up ahead and knew they were there," Brodey said. "We crept up toward a small tree line in front of us and saw two stags walking left to right behind the trees. I thought they were just going to walk on by and my chances at a shot were going to go with them."
But then, one of the big stags turned and started down a trail straight toward them.
"I got on the sticks, and the camera got set," Brodey said. "I was tore up. He was probably just about 40 yards away. It was a real close shot. I dropped him in his tracks."
Brodey said Tennessee whitetail hunters just can't imagine animals like these.
"Seeing stuff like that will really open your eyes," he said. "I'm used to these whitetails, but these stags and elk just have massive, massive racks and huge body weights. My stag was around 600 pounds, and they get a lot larger than that."
Brodey is back in Jasper now, going to school and working at Krystal like so many other young hunters. But he might be the only one around with red stag meat in the freezer and a memory to last a lifetime.
He is done with his cancer treatments and says his prognosis is excellent. But the experience leaves a permanent mark.
"Every little thing you see on yourself, you wonder what it might be. I have to get regular checkups and scans, but I know I'll be alright," Brodey said. "I'd like to thank Mike McGinnis, the Safari Club and everybody that helped my dream come true."
But there are more dreams ahead. Swan said the young hunter with a great outlook and maturity beyond his years is considering a career in conservation. Life dealt Brodey and his family a blow, but he has set his sights to look ahead, not back. And thanks to giving members of SCI, he has a special memory to carry along the way.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
Updated @ 3:22 p.m. on 9/25/13 to correct the spelling of Charles Bish's name, which was originally reported as "Charles Dish."
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