By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Eleven years ago, Kenneth “Chip” Madren was a robust, healthy 13-year-old who loved the outdoors in home state of Georgia.
He was already an avid hunter looking forward to many seasons in the field, his father, Ken Madren told Cowboy State Daily.
Then everything changed.
“He was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer that had gone into his spine,” Ken said. “It was the kind of cancer where they were talking about low probabilities (of survival).”
Chip spent 180 days in hospitals and underwent numerous major surgeries “just to live,” his father said.
He survived, but was wheelchair bound and suffered significant vision loss. So, any more hunting seemed out of the question for the young man.
But Chip wasn’t that easily discouraged.
He was back in the field as soon as possible, thanks in large part to outdoor organizations that help facilitate outings for disabled hunters, Ken said. Among them is Ron Vining’s Polestar Outdoors, headquartered in Powell.
“The outdoors community has been very helpful during all of this,” Ken said. “I think it has been just as powerful a medicine as the medical things that actually made the cancer go away,” he said.
As a way of giving back, father and son founded “Chip’s Nation,” a pediatric cancer foundation.
And Chip kept taking any chance he could to go hunting.
Opportunity Of A Lifetime
Chip said he’s long enjoyed pursuing whitetail deer in Georgia, as well as wild turkeys in several states.
But getting a chance at a bull elk out West was a goal that had long eluded him.
Everything came together this fall, when Polestar Outdoors, the Outdoor Dream Foundation and others were able to arrange for an elk hunt on private land in the Jackson area.
Wyoming has a “fantastic program” through which residents may choose to donate their hunting tags to disabled hunters, Ken said. That’s how Chip got his longed-for elk tag.
Family friend Scott Hardy and his son, Will Hardy, joined the hunt. They were there to help with Chip’s mobility challenges and share in their own first Wyoming experiences.
Game And Fish Helps
When they arrived, the elk herd that usually migrates across the private property that was hosting the hunt wasn’t cooperating, Chip said.
“There was some construction work on a highway nearby, and I think that was messing the elk up,” he said. “The elk just weren’t there (on the property). But then the game warden found out there were some elk on an adjacent property, and he worked with that landowner to get us permission to go hunt there.”
Waiting For Them To Stand
It wasn’t long before they were on to four bulls, but the situation required patience.
Chip, ever-tenacious, was up to the task.
“There were four bulls, all laying down,” he said. “My vision’s not very good. I need some contrast. Those bulls were laying down where it was super-snowy, so it was tough for me to see them. I had to wait for them to stand up.”
At long last, the bulls stood.
“I think they finally got restless over us being there and they stood up,” Chip said. “Then I could see them really good. Three of the four left, but the fourth one stopped and stayed. I was able to drop him with one shot with a .300 Winchester Magnum.”
“I got a nice 6×6 bull,” he added.
Ready To Move To Wyoming
Wyoming’s cold was something to experience, Ken said.
“After they field dressed the elk, they put it on a trailer,” he said. “When they got it to the game processor, it had frozen to that trailer, so when they tried to winch the bull off it lifted up the whole trailer.”
After the hunt, there was still time to enjoy Wyoming.
“We got to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton,” Chip said. “We saw grizzly bears!”
They also saw moose, which Chip said is the next big Wyoming animal he’d like to hunt.
Even the smaller wildlife here is impressive, Ken said.
“You have very well-mannered foxes in Jackson. They always use the crosswalks, I don’t know how you got them to do that,” he said.
When asked if they plan to return to Wyoming, the father and son answered enthusiastically.
“Are you kidding?” Ken said. “I want to move there.”
“Lets go!” Chip replied.