‘I Love Wyoming’: Teen With Untreatable Disease Drops Huge Red Desert Bull Elk

A Virginia teenager battling an untreatable disease fulfilled his dream of hunting elk in the West, and said he cant wait to return to Wyoming.

Mark Heinz

October 11, 20225 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Sawyer Harris has been fascinated with elk since he was a small child. 

“Back here, we really don’t have elk,” Harris told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday from his home in Roanoke, Virginai. “Ever since I was a little kid, I watched them on TV and I wanted to know more about them.”

Harris recently got the chance of a lifetime at the elk of a lifetime, and ended up dropping a massive bull from Wyoming’s famed Red Desert herd. 

“It was wild. I couldn’t stop smiling,” he said. “I love Wyoming. It’s an awesome place. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

A Rare Condition

Harris, 17, was diagnosed at age 15 with neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), his father, Shannon Harris, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. 

It’s an untreatable disease that causes tumors to grow in the brain and nervous system. The tumors are usually benign but can cause a host of debilitating symptoms, and sometimes can be life-threatening. 

At one point, Sawyer had tumors wrapped around his brain stem and spinal column and had to undergo an extremely risky surgery to remove them, Shannon said. 

He added that his son must undergo regular chemotherapy to slow the growth of his tumors and has lost the use of his left hand and about 40% of his hearing. 

A Love Of The Outdoors

None of that has kept Sawyer away from the outdoors, said his father, who serves as pastor for East Gate Church of the Nazarene in Roanoke.

“He’s always either hunting and fishing or involved in church activities, because those are the things he loves,” Shannon said. “He runs his trail cameras every day.”

When Sawyer’s left hand began failing, the teen was determined to keep bow hunting, his father said. 

“He didn’t like the idea of shooting a crossbow,” Shannon said. “He said crossbow hunting just wasn’t for him. So, he taught himself to shoot his compound bow all over again.”

But Sawyer wanted to do much more than target practice with his bow.

“He’s wanted to go elk hunting ever since he was a little kid,” the elder Harris said. 

Wyomingites Help

Sawyer was selected for a hunt sponsored by Holy Pursuit’s Dream Foundation, a Christian organization based in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, that sponsors hunts for children and young adults who have or have had life-threatening illnesses. 

A coveted bull elk tag for hunt unit 100 – which includes the Red Desert herd’s range – was procured through the Muley Fanatics Foundation. Blake Fegler of Shoshoni agreed to guide the hunt. He runs 307 Pursuit, which guides hunts for gravely ill or disabled youth, as well as disabled veterans. 

Shannon managed to keep it all a secret from his son. 

“I was at the doctor’s office getting an infusion,” Sawyer said. “My dad kept smiling at me, but he wouldn’t say why. He said, ‘I’ll tell you when we get back in the car.’”

Sawyer and both parents made it to Wyoming for the hunt. Jason Wilson, owner of Lucid Optics in Riverton, donated a pair of binoculars and a 7mm magnum hunting rifle. 

‘It Was Out Of This World’

The elk were plentiful, and Sawyer was thrilled to finally see the large beasts in the wild as the hunting party spent much of the first day scouting. 

His father agreed that the experience was amazing.

“Blake put us on several bulls, but none were quite big enough,” Shannon said. “He kept telling us, ‘Just be patient, I’m going to put you on the bull of a lifetime.’ And he did.”

When to moment came at about 4:30 p.m. on the second day of the hunt, Sawyer made a fine killing shot from 360 yards. 

“It was out-of-this world,” he said of bagging the bull. “It really got my heart pumping. Words can’t explain it. I think I called every single person I had in my contact list on my phone.”

Can’t Wait To Come Back

The bull’s rack is a 6-by-6-point that has a Boone & Crockett score of 336 4/8 inches gross, 332 6/8 inches final, making it a truly impressive trophy. The B&C scoring system for elk antlers uses a compilation of length and circumference measurements at several spots along the racks. The distance of the spread between the antlers at different spots also come into play.

The hunt’s sponsors are paying for a taxidermist to do a full shoulder mount of the bull, Sawyer said. 

And he’s already got a spot picked out for it at home.

“It’s going up in my bedroom, right next to my bed,” he said. “I might have to move my dresser out, but whatever it takes, that thing is going in my room.”

For the remainder of the fall, Sawyer said he’ll be busy hunting whitetail deer in his home state. 

But he already can’t wait to come back to Wyoming. 

“My next goal is to return to Wyoming and get a big mule deer buck,” he said. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter