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A HUNT OF A LIFETIME; A LASTING REWARD UMFK student helps critically-ill woman achieve her dream

October 27, 2008


(Left to right) Amy Reed and Amber

They are young women, each 19 years old.  Both enjoy the outdoor life and hunting. One is from Maine and looking forward to a promising future.  The other is from Minnesota and looking forward to enjoying what time she has left to live.  Each one found the other last month, and both are the richer for having done so.

Amy Reed is a strapping young blonde woman from Perham in northern Maine.  She is a sophomore at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies with a game warden concentration.  She hopes to become a registered Maine guide next year, following in the footsteps of her father, Russ, who is a master Maine guide operating R & S Guide Service out of Perham.

Several years ago, Russ heard about an organization called Hunt of a Lifetime, and decided to donate his services.

Hunt of a Lifetime is a non-profit organization out of Pennsylvania with a mission to grant hunting and fishing adventures and dreams for children ages 21 and under, who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.  The organization does what it can to make a difference in their lives, and to make dreams come true.

It was through Hunt of a Lifetime that Amy and Russ Reed met Amber, a young woman suffering from neurofibromatosis.  Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes brain tumors to grow on nerves and damage vital structures, such as other cranial nerves and the brainstem.  It affects hearing, sight and balance. Often it is life-threatening.

In Amber’s case, she suffers from severely-reduced vision, particularly at dawn and dusk, and diminished depth perception.

Amber is an avid hunter, primarily of mule and whitetail deer, and turkey, in her native state.  Her dream hunt was to bag a bull moose; a dream she relayed to Hunt of a Lifetime. That’s where Amy and Russ came into the picture.

Amy and Russ began corresponding with Amber this past summer when they were notified that her hunt was scheduled for the week of September 22 to 27. They informed Amber about what she should expect during the hunt, and how she should best prepare.

Amy immediately felt a particular closeness to Amber on several counts.  One was their shared age.  Another was that Amber had the same first name as Amy’s younger sister.

Hunt of a Lifetime paid for Amber and her parents to travel to Aroostook County, as well as for their stay.  The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife donated an "any-moose" hunting permit for Amber’s Hunt of a Lifetime adventure. Fuel was donated by Northstar Variety in New Sweden and Dead River in Caribou.

Amber’s hunt was conducted in hunting district 3, an area roughly east of Route 11, and from Caribou north to the Canadian border.

The first four days of Amber’s hunt largely were uneventful.  She passed on all the cows that Amy, Russ, and others who were assisting in the hunt, spotted for her.  Her poor vision prevented Amber from seeing all of the moose that her guides saw quite clearly.

"It was very hard to watch," Amy recalls.  "Her disability prevented Amber from seeing moose, except those right in front of us, usually cows, which she did not want."

During those first four days, Amber never even got off a shot.  As the crew drove back to town Thursday evening, Amy thought to herself that the prospects of fulfilling Amber’s dream were fading fast.  But all of that would change, just past dawn the next morning.

Amber and her folks were scheduled to fly back to Minnesota on Saturday morning, marking Friday as her last day to hunt.  She didn’t wait long to make her ultimate day count.

At 6:20 a.m., outside of Van Buren, Amber’s guides spotted a young bull.  According to Amy, it probably was 2 to 3 years old.

Hurriedly, Russ mounted Amber’s rifle and set the scope for the vision-impaired hunter.  She needed only to get off the shot herself.  And she did that with precise accuracy, dropping the 700-pound bull in its tracks with the first of four shots from a distance of 150 yards.

The guide crew was ecstatic with Amber’s success, having worked hard for the four previous days.  Many of them fumbled at their cell phones to inform family and friends of the group’s success.  Their fingers were having a hard time pressing the appropriate keys, not from the brisk morning air, but rather from the excited nervousness of finally making the young woman’s dream come true.

After dragging the prize from the woods, the bull was weighed and tagged, courtesy of Northstar Variety.  Later it was delivered to Windham (Maine) Butcher Shop, working the hunt out of Ashland, for dressing.  The bull’s cape, or hide, was sent to a taxidermist in Portage Lake for preservation before being sent on to South Dakota for mounting.

Amber left for home on Saturday morning, as planned, but not before exchanging phone numbers and e-mail addresses with Amy.  The 19-year-old Minnesotan also left behind something she never could have imagined: a very changed 19-year-old Mainer.

"My week-long experience with Amber made me appreciate much more about what I have in my life," says Amy.  "It was a completely touching feeling."

Amy notes that Amber’s hunt may soon be televised on North American Safaris on the Pursuit Channel, as well as on The Outdoor Channel.  Amy worked a video camera for a portion of the hunt for the producer of the shows.

Several weeks after the hunt, Amy still was buzzing about her week in the woods with Amber.  "Hopefully, I will be able to do this again next year," she enthusiastically offers.

"This was a completely rewarding experience.  It was something I never will forget."