Pat Willis’ courageous fight against cancer will prohibit him from using an Arizona hunt tag he was just drawn for this season.
Knowing the tag would be a thrill for another hunter, he donated it to Outdoor Experience 4 All.
Similar to Hunt of a Lifetime, which operates on a national level, Outdoor Experience gives donated tags to Arizona youths 18 years and under with life-threatening illnesses or disabilities.
The Phoenix-based firm’s motto is “Changing Lives One Adventure at a Time” and since its inception in September 2008, founders Eddy Corona and Chris Denham have guided children on five elk, four deer and one antelope hunt, as well as a fishing trip.
After learning of Willis’ donated tag, which is a Muzzleloader Bull Elk permit in Unit 22 South beginning Sept. 25, Corona and Denham began taking applications, which are usually sent in by parents.
Early this week, the two settled on the teenager who will receive the Payson man’s tag.
Matt is a 15-year-old Phoenix resident whose father recently died. Matt also suffers from a soft tissue tumor cancer called “Rhadomysarcoma.”
He recently successfully finished an accredited hunter education class, but admits on his application that he’s only been on a hunt one time and that was only as a non-licensed visitor.
With the recipient selected, Corona and Denham set about planning and scheduling what the two say will be a memorable hunting adventure, especially for a city kid with few outdoor adventures under his belt.
“I’ve talked to Matt and he’s really excited,” Corona said. “Heck, I’m excited.”
Outdoor Experience will plan the entire hunting trip including traveling to the hunt unit located east of Payson and south of Highway 260, setting up the camp, scouting, processing the game and mounting the bull through an accredited taxidermist.
“We take care of everything,” Corona said. “It’s sad the man who was drawn can’t use the tag, but it’s a great thing Matt will be able to use it.”
Only a few years ago tag transfers, such as the one from Willis to the teenager, could not be done in Arizona.
But, Terry Petko, an environmental safety manager and outdoorsman from Mesa, lobbied the legislature in 2004 to pass a bill that would legalize transfers.
Petko convinced Rep. Andy Briggs, R-Gilbert, to author the legislation that would allow tag holders to transfer hunt privileges to charitable organizations such as Outdoor Experience 4 All and Hunt of a Lifetime.
In 2007, Hunt of a Lifetime and the Mogollon Sporting Association used a tag that had been drawn by Bill Wilcox to take a Denver, Colo. teen on an archery elk hunt east of Payson.
Wilcox died of cancer just months before he was drawn for the tag.
Friends of Willis said Outdoor Experience 4 All was chosen to receive their friend’s tag because that would insure it would be used by an Arizona teenager.
“There was also some time constraints, this hunt is coming up so soon it would be tough to do a nationwide search in time,” said MSA member Gary Barcom.
For Matt’s hunt, Outdoor Experience 4 All will call upon volunteers to chip in and help with the many chores it takes for a successful outdoor experience.
At the Hunt of a Lifetime adventure two years ago, volunteers — including many MSA members — set up a camp near Wildcat Canyon, north of Forest Lakes, that one hunter called, “A city — it had everything.”
Other volunteers offered their guiding skills, an Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife manager also made his services available, as did two cooks from Phoenix. An Overgaard resident supplied camp firewood and the Red Onion Restaurant hosted the hunting party for an evening meal.
To volunteer for Outdoor Experiences 4 All, call Corona at (480) 529-8340.