Blind & Wounded Veteran Gets His Utah Elk
-Article by Phil Ewert-
On October 24th, 2007, Air Force EOD Specialist Matt Slaydon was critically injured by a detonated IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while serving in Kirkuk, Iraq. In addition to a broken jaw, collapsed lung, and traumatic brain injury, Matt lost his left arm and became totally blind as a result of his injuries.Eric Richey, Host of The Sovereign Sportsman received a call from Micah Clark of Camp Patriot and together they devised a plan to help Matt fulfill a dream of shooting a trophy elk in the rugged mountains of Utah.
“Camp Patriot is one of the most amazing organizations that we’re involved with. Micah Clark has done incredible work with creating an opportunity and a means to benefit and help rehab severely wounded American soldiers that are coming back to the United States.”
– Eric Richey, Sovereign Sportsman.
With elk numbers exceeding the national average over the past 30 years, Utah has become an elk hunter’s paradise. Over the past 6 years Utah has produced more record bull elk that any other state in the country. With stats like this, it was easy to understand why the Sovereign Sportsman / Camp Patriot team chose the R & K Outfitter Lodge for this historic bull elk hunt. The R & K Hunting Company owns or leases 1.8 million acres of prime hunting land in Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, and for this hunt the team would be staying at a full-service ranch 90 minutes from Salt Lake City, Utah. The unique task of helping Matt accomplish his dream with only one arm and no ability to see his target would call for a little thinking outside the box.
This is where the guys at Cross Canyon Arms stepped up to the challenge. Working side by side with Eric Richey, they delivered a custom built 300 Win Mag, developed specifically for Matt to use for this hunt. In order for Matt to shoot and kill his trophy, he had to be able to aim the rifle, and to do so, the image of what he needed to see through the scope had to be seen by somebody else. This was accomplished by connecting a unique camera system to the high-powered scope, displaying the scope’s image on an external device. To assist with this, former Marine and firearms trainer Carl Taylor will be Matt’s navigator during this hunt, helping him accurately aim to take the shot. Once the Cross Canyon Arms custom rifle was delivered, Eric, Micah, and Carl discovered that the equipment they planned to use to connect the camera to the scope was not compatible. A last minute trip to a Salt Lake City electronics store provided them with the items needed to see the image from the scope on Eric’s laptop.
“As a tech guy, I am really excited to use a computer on this…” remarked Eric.
What was intended to be the first day of Matt’s hunt turned into an unplanned, but necessary day of fine-tuning the scope-to-laptop viewing system.
“There’s no scope-sighting going on with this…” commented Eric. “
…we’re sighting this just off the image we are getting off the computer screen.”
After some tweaking, it was Matt’s turn to send some shots down range. Due to his complete blindness, Matt’s only connection to the target was through audible directions from Carl Taylor. In short order, Matt was bulls-eyeing a metal target at 600 yards! Though a day later than expected, the first morning of the hunt was here. The team, Matt Slayton, the Sovereign Sportsman crew, Camp Patriot members, and guides from the R & K Lodge, all rose early and began the hunt for a bull elk. Leading him by the arm, Eric steadily guided Matt through the Utah mountain terrain. Unfortunately, on their opening day, the elk were not cooperating.
“It seemed like everywhere we were, the elk were just out of shooting range…” said Eric.
“They were at 1000 yards; they were at 1200 yards, so we were seeing a lot of animals. We just weren’t being positioned right.”
The team attempted to stalk multiple large bull elk, but were unable to gain a position close enough to take a shot.
“The elk weren’t acting quite like we thought they were going to…” said Eric, ”
…it took an already difficult situation in elk hunting and made it even more difficult by making it unpredictable.”
Difficulties with the weather, geography, the rut, and even the size of the hunting party, all made this hunt a challenging experience. Too add to their frustration, the herd of Elk moved further into the mountains with each passing day, making it more and more unlikely that the team would get within range for a successful end to their efforts. As the last day of the hunt approached, the team grew more determined to make Matt’s dream of shooting a trophy bull elk come true.
“You know, no one likes final day hunting pressure, nobody does…” commented Eric.
After 5 unsuccessful days stalking elk, a decision was made to set up on the property line of R & K Outfitter’s land where elk had been crossing in the evenings. As the shadows started to grow, Eric suggested that the Sovereign Sportsman crew and Camp Patriot team come together for a moment of prayer over their difficult situation. As they finished, the group helped Matt into position for one final attempt before calling this trip a bust.
Only 20 minutes of late daylight had passed, and, as though some movie director off camera shouted “Cue the elk!”, a trophy 6 x 6 bull elk stepped into view. Approximately 250 yards away from where they were staged, the bull jumped the property line fence and stood broadside, in full view.
This gave the team a single opportunity to set up for the shot. The bull began to move toward a small stand of trees where a moment later it could be out of sight for good. Acting quickly, the R & K hunting guide blew his elk cow call and stopped the massive bull in his tracks just as it was stepping behind the trees.
Moving fast and listening carefully to the quick verbal cues from Carl, as Eric watched the laptop screen, Matt fired.
6 days, miles upon miles of stalking, the last few moments of the final day… and Matt listened to the excitement as the team watched his trophy elk stagger and drop only 30 yards from spot where Matt took one amazing shot.
Being totally blind, the only way Matt could experience harvesting the beautiful mature elk was by the sense of feel. Eric guided him to the bull elk Matt explored the almost four foot tall rack and still warm body of elk with his hand. Overcome with emotion, the R & K guide stated,
“We stopped the bull to get the shot, and it just ended up being awesome. Just awesome…thanks to Matt.”
Reflecting on the depth of the moment Eric said,
“There’s only one way to describe a moment like that, and it was very powerful for everybody there. Something I’ll never forget.”
The team congratulated the one-armed and blind war hero on the successful harvest of a magnificent trophy elk. A fitting end to a challenging multiday hunt in the rugged Utah mountains.
“We might have lost our sight, but we have not lost our vision.
I think this proves the point that we can’t see, but we can visualize and we can look forward to things.”
- Matt Slaydon, disabled United States Air Force EOD Specialist.
By Phil Ewert
Phil Ewert, an avid hunter, fisherman, and outdoor enthusiast, is a firearms specialist, with a wealth of training and skill as an instructor in weapons safety and performance. His experience includes SWAT Team training, firearms and use of force instructing, and previously served over 10 years with municipal, county, and federal law enforcement units. With complimentary skills in writing and broadcasting, Phil has found a perfect home with the Sovereign Sportsman family.