KENNEWICK — James Kilgore Jr. got his chance of a lifetime to take a bull elk in the Blue Mountains this week.
The 52-year-old Kennewick man shot his elk, with a 5-by-6 rack, late Thursday afternoon following a day of shaking the brush for prospects.
It was a special hunt, arranged by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to give Kilgore what he expects to be his last shot at a big game animal before losing his eight-month fight with an incurable brain tumor.
A longtime Tri-City resident and a crane operator for six years off and on at Hanford, Kilgore's short wish list included taking a hunting trip while he could.
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As luck would have it, Micah Clark of Camp Patriot was in the right place at the right time this week.
Clark, who runs the nonprofit organization specifically to provide outdoor experiences for disabled military veterans, was in the Kennewick Ranch & Home store when employees told him about Kilgore.
He is one of their regular customers, and his story about struggling with glioblastoma hit Clark hard.
"I asked and he's not a vet, but we had to do something. This is the week before Christmas. I couldn't say no," Clark said.
His Camp Patriot board members agreed, "It was the right thing to do," but Clark had to play host for the special hunt without spending organization money.
A couple of phone calls later, Clark had roped in Bill Dress, one of the owners of Ranch & Home, and Justin Brunson of Richland, both eager to help Kilgore.
A few more phone calls connected the impromptu hunting party with contacts through the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, who arranged for a special hunt on ranch land in the Mill Creek drainage of the Blues.
Kilgore used a special DFW-issued "terminal tag" for the hunt.
The group loaded up three four-wheelers with a trailer and two big pickups Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the Blues at Brunson's hunting cabin.
Brunson took his Winchester .270-caliber rifle for Kilgore to use.
Clark said the hunt went as expected, but it was physically tough on Kilgore.
"We saw five bulls in the morning and we walked him about 100 yards, but it was real difficult. He got one shot at about 270 yards, and they all scattered," Clark said.
But the hunting party had a different strategy for the afternoon that had Kilgore positioned to wait for the bulls to wander back into shooting range.
"It was an ambush. We got the bull on the third shot," Clark said.
Kilgore and his hunting party planned to spend Thursday night in Milton-Freewater, then return with the meat and the rack today.
Dress has offered to pay for mounting the elk's rack, which will be on display at Ranch & Home.
Renee Kilgore said hundreds of people have shown kindness toward her husband since he learned in April that the glioblastoma attacking his brain was incurable.
Going on this hunt took Kilgore back to childhood when his father owned a sporting goods shop.
"My dad thought the best thing he could do was to teach me to hunt and fish. We went every weekend to be in God's nature. It kept me from going bad," Kilgore said.
The last six months have been hard in hundreds of ways, Renee said. But as a couple they realize they have to make the best of the days Kilgore still has.
"It's OK. I know. I just wake up every day with Jesus," Kilgore said just before heading out for his big hunt.
* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org