A Hunt to Remember

Winter 2020 Issue Written by Kayla Walker Photography contributed by the Jared Burke Foundation

Montana Outfitter Caters to Disabled Veterans

Between the setting moon quickly approaching the Crazy Mountains and the rising sun filling the wide-open prairie with light, two side-by-sides made their way up a two-track road to the crest of the rimrocks. Each UTV carried camouflaged hunters, sticking out with their splash of orange, and an excitement so strong it was almost tangible.  

In the lead, Wes Sargent, Cayuse Hills Outfitters owner, operator,and guide, pointed to bunches of mule deer and stopped to let his hunter, Paul Heimann, glass them through his binoculars. Following along, John Burke and Nick Jondro, with the Jared Burke Foundation, and Paul’s friend, Stan Kampwerth, enjoyed the views and silently judged which buck they predicted Paul would pick.

What appeared to be a typical Montana fall morning, with hunters scattering across public lands and outfitters and guides escorting their clients to a selection of private land trophies, was actually much more than that. Paul, now in his mid-70s, served in the Vietnam War, where he was decorated for his bravery.

“We went to Vietnam in August of 1965,” Paul said. “We actually got in one good-sized battle, they called it the Battle of Suoi Tre. We just about got overrun. Not quite five minutes later — we were fighting for four hours — a mechanized unit came in and bailed us out. They saved us.”

The battle was on March 21, 1967. According to the National 4th Infantry Division Association, our American soldiers were outnumbered 10 to 1 by the enemy, but by the grace of God, they declared victory in this battle. Over 650 enemy soldiers were killed in the Battle of Suoi Tre at the cost of 51 Americans and over 200 wounded warriors.

“I guess that was the worst day of my life,” Paul recalled after a long pause.

Back at the hunter’s headquarters, as he looked out the window and across the pasture as far as the eye could see, the peacefulness helped quickly change the solemn tone that had set in in the room. And after a quiet moment of reflection, the inevitable “hunt story” shifted him from memories to plans for a celebration dinner, complete with grilled steaks and a glass of Maker’s Mark.  

“It was outstanding,” Paul said of the hunt. “Wes did a super job. How many bucks did we see?”

At that point, John jumped in, noting the excitement just minutes into the hunt: “That first one, Paul said, ‘Oh, that one’s a nice one.’ Wes said, ‘No, we’re not going to shoot the first thing we see.’ That’s a good guide.”

It was fortunate he made Paul hold out a bit longer. The stars aligned and within an hour of leaving the hunter’s quarters, they had their eyes on the four-point buck Paul was sure he wanted to take home.

“He was about 300 yards, right?” Paul asked Wes as he shared the rest of the story.

Wes nodded and said, “Yep.”

“That’s the furthest I’ve ever shot,” Paul said.

It was a sure shot though. By mid-morning, the team was back to the house, carcass hanging on the meat pole and the trophy antlers carefully stored away in the freezer for mounting.  

Cayuse Hills Outfitters, south of Shawmut, Montana, is well equipped to handle a variety of hunts, including antelope, mule deer and even elk. The country available to Wes and Lydia Sargent’s clients can be rough and rugged, fit for experienced hunters, or open and sprawling for beginning hunters or even those with disabilities making hiking difficult. Wes was born and raised in the Cayuse Hills so has extensive knowledge of the wildlife they hold and the patterns of most the deer, elk, and antelope in the area. When he isn’t hunting the land, he works alongside his parents on the 100-year-old ranching operation.

This makes Cayuse Hills Outfitters a great match for hunts offered through the Jared Burke Foundation. John Burke started the foundation in memory of his brother, Jared, who died in a hunting accident. Rather than letting the tragedy of the accident be a constant agony, John wanted to turn it into something positive.  

“People say you could’ve let that tragedy go and just be a tragedy, but I wanted to do something better,” John said. “Jared deserved it.”

So, since 2014, he has been arranging hunts for disadvantaged hunters all across the country.

“I wanted to do things for those less fortunate because anybody can go on a hunt or outdoor adventure,” John said. “But guys like Paul, they went through hell and they deserve this and much more in my eyes. So, I cater to the veterans and to the disabled and disadvantaged.”

Upholding the foundation’s mission to “promote hunter safety and enable disadvantaged hunters to turn their outdoor adventures into lasting lifetime memories,” John is also passionate about teaching hunter safety to young and beginning hunters. He emphasized how just a moment in time can quickly become a life-altering decision, so that knowing proper hunter safety could potentially save a life.

It was on an elk hunt in Jardine, Montana, that John met Wes’ father-in-law, Lloyd Johnson, owner and operator of Specimen Creek Outfitters. The mountains just outside of Yellowstone National Park offer a much different, and somewhat more challenging hunt, not always suitable for disabled hunters. But John knew a triple amputee veteran, wounded in Afghanistan, who wanted to hunt antelope. And through the Jared Burke Foundation, John was determined to make what seemed a nearly impossible feat a reality for his friend.  

That’s when Lloyd suggested an antelope hunt at Cayuse Hills Outfitters. The more open country was better suited for hunting via an all-terrain wheelchair equipped with tracks. The partnership between Cayuse Hills Outfitters and the Jared Burke Foundation was born after that first successful hunt, and since then, two other veterans have harvested their dream trophies with Wes.

The partnership is a win-win-win, John explained. Getting out and enjoying the wide-open spaces and the thrill of a Montana hunt offers much-needed relief to many of the veterans John knows.  John knows that a hunt at Cayuse Hills Outfitters will fit the needs of his foundation hunters who may not be able to handle a traditional hiking hunt. And Wes earns the satisfying reward of giving back to those who served our country. 

“It’s cool to give someone an opportunity that they might not otherwise have,” Wes said.  “The appreciation you get from somebody that maybe doesn’t get those kinds of opportunities is really what I do this for.  Not everybody can just buy a hunt and to have a foundation like this for people like Paul is so neat.  It makes me feel good to be able to provide that opportunity for someone.”

Particularly with the turmoil that came with 2020, those in the room all agreed that the sense of giving and helping one another made for a particularly special hunt that day.  

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the importance of giving back to one another and we need to get it back now more than ever,” John said.  “And doing this, this is a good thing for everybody involved.”


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