By Mike Deming
We can’t go after that buck!" I expected my host to say that he was off the property, but that wasn’t the case. Turns out that there was a professional outdoor television crew coming later in the week and this was going to be their target buck. Needless to say, this was the end of my hunt, as I knew that this wasn’t the type of outfitter I wanted to ever work with or endorse as one of our Platinum Approved Outfitters. The guy who works and saves for years to be able to pull off the trip of a lifetime shouldn’t be treated any different than some professional hunter with a television crew in their back pocket.
This story took place over a decade ago. I vowed that I would do everything in my power when evaluating an outfitter that we wouldn’t have any of these types of guys involved and I’m confident that we have done a great job of that. The hard-working people that book trips with our Platinum Approved Outfitters are constantly giving us great feedback to validate our choices.
I knew that we were onto something and I wanted to take it to the next level. In 2013, I started doing the research on how we could do a membership program where we could give away some of these high-quality trips. Not everyone would have a chance of benefiting from our list of quality outfitters because they are never going to be able to spend $35,000 on a Kodiak Alaska brown bear hunt or a limited entry fully guided elk hunt with landowner voucher in Utah with someone like Doyle Moss. It doesn’t mean everyone doesn’t dream about it. I wanted to make these opportunities available for a limited number of people and at less than a dollar a day. Everyone, regardless of financial success could have the opportunity to experience a trip of a lifetime.
Getting the legal side of things done and ready to launch was even more complicated than I ever expected and took two full years. In March of 2015, the Pro Membership Sweepstakes (promembershipsweepstakes.com) was born. I had met with all of our endorsed outfitters and told them that I would commit to purchasing one or two of their very best trips each and every year and that we would give them away. When you want the best trip they have, you have to book them in advance and pay full price. So fortunately for me, the launch took way longer than expected and we had a full lineup of the best trips you could ever imagine when we did our first drawing. Giving away a grand prize every ten days gives people something really special to look forward to and we film the drawings as well so there is complete transparency.
We gave away over $300,000 worth of trips, guns, and gear during that first year and here we are, five years in and giving away right at a half a million dollars worth of the best things you could ever imagine. For me, this is extremely exciting to know that we get to make someone’s dreams come true every ten days. Some of the trips over the past five years have delivered experiences that will forever be etched in my mind.
One of our first big giveaways was with Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures and for a ten-day brown bear hunt. The winner Alan Steele (AKA “Red”) had just retired from 40 years of hard work. He had one previous experience on a brown bear hunt that wasn’t good and cost him a good chunk of change. We were so excited to give him this experience. I had a cameraman on the trip who was equipped with a satellite phone to give me updates. Excitement was high and they were enjoying every day of the float. Unfortunately, the salmon run had died off and the big bruins weren’t along the river. At the 10-day mark, our guys had seen a total of one bear, and it wasn’t a shooter. I called Wade Renfro to discuss the situation. He obviously didn’t have control of the run of the salmon or the bears and I knew he had put us in what he felt was the best chance for success. He hatched a plan to extend the hunt by a couple of days and move some other commitments around. The fish started showing up and sure enough, our winner put the smack down on a great bear a couple days after his regular trip would have ended. I would say that Red definitely got the experience to hunt and fish like the pros. It also said a lot about the outfitter we had chosen.
In 2018, Michael Luter’s name was drawn out of the drum for a trip to the world famous 777 Ranch in Texas. This provided a credit for over $10,000 to harvest a whitetail or any of the many exotic animals on this ranch. Michael is a hardcore hunter, to say the least, and hunting in a game preserve wasn’t something that really tripped his trigger. However, during our discussion about what he could do with his winnings, he mentioned his desire to give his good fortune to a wounded warrior. He commenced telling me about the foundation he has created to give back to these great warriors who have made his life a little better here in the good ol' USA. It took a couple of months for Michael to let me know who the lucky recipient was going to be, but once the plan was finalized, I was committed to going on the trip. Michael wasn’t just going to give this veteran the trip, he and his wife were going to come along to enjoy the experience as well as make it a bit better. December rolled around and Jake Young who was a special operator and legitimate warrior showed up in Texas with his lovely wife. We were all prepared for four full days of world class hunting experience. Hearing the stories about who Jake was prior to his combat action made all of us appreciate the sacrifices this man and his wife had given for our country. This hunt was an opportunity for Jake to do something that he once did very well. He told Michael that he had always had a desire to harvest a bison, so this was our target species on day one. By mid-morning, we had turned up a bachelor herd of three giant bulls. They had caught us in a bad situation and I was sure they were going to head into the thick brush, never to be seen again. It seemed like we had divine intervention and the wind switched and the bulls single-filed down an old road towards us. With Jake in the prone position on the ground, I was rolling video over the top of him. He made a fatal shot at just under 80 yards. The giant bull went less than 50 yards and piled up. It was a great experience for all of us, but Jake’s smile said it all. He didn’t feel disabled and he was just out hunting with the boys. We enjoyed the picture taking and retelling the story back at the lodge. With the hunt being done in only one day, both Michael Luter, and I as the owner of Sportsman’s News, contributed a few more dollars to make sure we could continue this great experience. Two days later Jake connected on a giant Aoudad that stretched the tape over 30 inches. When I got back from the trip, I made sure we edited the show right away and got copies to Michael and Jake to be able to share forever. I occasionally watch the show and relive the experience and it always brings a tear to my eye. Even though Mike won a trip that wasn’t a dream trip for him, he turned it into a dream trip for someone who will never forget this experience of a lifetime.
Every year, we give away a deer and elk combo trip with John Papierski of Papierski’s Big Game Hunts out of Craig, Colorado. This is deer shopping at its finest and since this is a Ranching for Wildlife tag, we can hunt them in the heart of the rut. Our lucky winner, Hal Perkins, is a hard-working blue-collar guy with a 16-year-old son by the name of Browning. It was like he was destined to do a hunt with us since Browning is a sponsor. He asked if there was any way to bring his son along to shoot the elk. He would shoot the deer. John and I agreed that this would be a great idea and made it happen. Their first day of the hunt, we found a group of bulls bedded in some wheat stubble about two miles away. Due to some major back problems our winner would ultimately have to do major surgery for, that two miles was more like a hundred. I was over their shoulder filming the entire experience as John got us to under 100 yards. Browning made a great shot and the bull went less than 100 yards before dropping. They hugged and enjoyed a tremendous experience. The next morning, we found several excellent bucks. The walk the day before had taken a toll on Hal’s back and walking even a few hundred yards was a chore. As if on cue, the big target buck saw a smaller buck very close to us and walked over a half a mile right at us and Hal delivered at under 75 yards. Two animals in two days and with his son was a great experience. We hoped it was one of many, but the surgery and continued deterioration of his spine has kept him on the sidelines from hunting and now that trip is even more special today than it was at the time and we have it all on film to share forever.
Bighorn Outfitters in Buffalo, Wyoming is another one of our great outfitters. They are truly one of the best in the business for everything they do. We give away a deer hunt with them each and every year. Every year, something very special comes from this trip. One of our winners by the name of Lenn Coons was able to harvest a mule deer in Montana on one day and a great whitetail the next day. He hadn’t picked up a rifle in years, but this hunt with his wife was more than he could handle and he broke down and cried at the end of it. The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever seen on film and it touches all who watch. The following year, our lucky winner wasn’t so lucky. He had passed away with cancer and was only in his late 30’s. I couldn’t reach him to even tell him that he had won the trip, but a friend who was a member let me know about the situation. I was able to get in touch with his wife, Jessica, to tell her that we would be happy to sell the hunt and donate the money to a special cause or give it to their young kids. She opted to do the trip herself in honor of her deceased husband and take along her girlfriend. They had traveled together as couples to places like Africa and New Zealand and this would be a good girls trip. When November rolled around, they showed up in Buffalo, Wyoming to hunt a whitetail. The rut was on hard and a big buck that had been absent for quite a while showed up as well. This buck was the number-one buck on Dustin Decroos’ hit list for the year and lo and behold, here he is for this special occasion. It took nearly all day for him to present a shot and Jessica made the most of it. The instances that happen during the hunt that make Jessica remember her husband are astounding and it’s obvious that he is by her side for the entire hunt. The video gives me chills every time I watch it.
These are just of a few of the great experiences that we have been able to help deliver over the last five years and I look forward to the next five years. I could write a book about all of the great trips that have included New Zealand Red Stag, Stone Sheep, Dall Sheep, 200-inch Mule Deer and more, but the one thing that is obvious is that when you do things for the right reason, it’s amazing how things come together.