Libby boy bags big bull elk in Dillon area hunting experience

Zach Haines of Libby sits astride his bull elk. Zach and his family were in Dillon for a special hunt on Saturday. submitted photo


The holiday season the past two years has been a solemn affair for the Haines family from Libby, but this year there were smiles all around as 11-year-old Zachary bagged his first elk, a fine 5X5 bull, with his dad nearby, on a southwest Montana ranch near Dillon.

Tatum Haines and his son Zachary have connected through the outdoors. The pair enjoy fishing and Tatum has taken his son along on hunting trips through the thick forests near Libby for as long as he could keep up. Tatum enjoyed the same bond with his father as the hunting heritage has been passed from generation to generation. Tatum recalls that his dad could no longer make the hikes when diabetes took a toll on the elder Haines.

Disease will also cut short the hunting partnership of Tatum and Zachary. A year ago, on the day before Christmas, the Haines family were given word at the Seattle Children’s Hospital – Zachary had a brain tumor.

“He had radiation last December and he’s been having chemo treatment, and when he had his last MRI, the tumor was growing again,” Explained Janet Haines, Zach’s grandmother. “They had said, once it started growing again there was nothing they could do. They give him three months, maybe five months.”

According to the grandmother, Zach has DIPG, a brain tumor in and around the brain stem.

“When we were in Seattle last year getting treatment, Tatum had talked about trying to get Zach up to Alaska for a hunting trip. Tatum always like hunting and Zach really likes hunting and fishing,” Janet said. “Angela just dropped this in their lap.

Angela Wolfe, originally from Libby, moved to Dillon in May. She had heard of Zach’s plight and had followed the story on Facebook. When she heard of Tatum’s desire to go hunting, she began organizing the Dillon trip.

When Tatum received word on Zach’s latest MRI and the consequences of the diagnosis, he immediately contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, explained the situation and requested that his son be allowed to hunt this year despite behind two months short of his 12th birthday, the legal hunting age in Montana.

“They were great, they sent out the tags immediately,” said a grateful Tatum. Tatum would, at least for a few short weeks, be able to enjoy the bonding experience of hunting with his son.

“We’ve got hunting around Libby, but nothing like this,” said Tatum of the Schuett Ranch south of Dillon.

Blade Schuett would be Zach’s hunting guide on Saturday. While the ranch is posted, the Schuett’s annually take out numerous groups of hunters – from Wounded Warriors and other such veteran groups, to special medical situations.

“We try to get as many as we can,” said Schuett. “We had 20 Wounded Warriors this year. We’ll take them fishing too, but most of the time it is elk hunting.”

And there isn’t a better piece of property to go elk hunting. Schuett estimated there are between 1,000 and 1,500 elk on the pasture and as many as 1,000 head of deer. Trophy bulls and bucks frolic across the hay fields in relative safety from the hunting public.

“We’re going to go find Zach a nice bull tonight,” said Blade prior to the hunt. “We’re either going to use a ground blind or we’ll sneak out to them a little bit, but we’re going to get close enough to get a shot.”

Schuett says he chose an evening hunt because the elk are a little spooky in the mornings, but at night they’re looking for food and water.

“I’m excited,” said Zach, decked from head to toe in new hunting gear. “I want to get a bull elk.”

The hunt proved successful as Zach popped his 5X5 bull with one shot from his new rifle. Zach’s shot hit the lung area of his elk and dropped the big animal.

The hero in this hunting adventure from the Haines family perspective is Angela Wolfe.

“I’ve got six kids of my own so I couldn’t imagine going through what this family is going through,” Wolfe explained. “I saw on Facebook that Zach got his hunting tags and I know what the hunting is like in LIbby – not as good as Dillon. So I got ahold of his dad to see if it was okay to have Zach come down and go on a hunt. I started that Monday and on Wednesday I had everything arranged.”

Wolfe’s efforts were incredibly productive – gas, food, meals, hunting gear, a new rifle, lodging – everything the family needed for the “once in a lifetime” hunting trip for Zach and his dad came together in a package offered by businesses and individuals from Kalispell and Libby, to Clinton and Missoula, and on down to Butte and Dillon. The generosity came for the spirit of love and compassion for fellow human beings stuck in an incredibly sad situation.

“I explained what the family was going through and the status on Zach and nobody hesitated,” said Wolfe of her successful quest.

Zach got his elk. Tatum, who had taught his young son to shot and respect guns, experienced a hunting trip with his boy. Grandma Haines witnessed the event. Angela Wolfe smiled and shed a tear. Blade helped a whole family escape the hard reality of life with an experience that will be retold at Haines family gatherings for years. And Zach got his elk. 

Everybody wore a smile.