Today’s blog comes from Executive Producer of Skull Bound TV Jim Kinsey. You can watch Jana & Jim’s adventures on Skull Bound TV Wednesdays at 8:30 PM ET, Tuesdays at 1:00 AM ET and 12:00 PM ET.
Lying in the prone position overlooking a massive canyon filled with thick brush Retired Navy SEAL, Bo Reichenbach, waited patiently for a creature that had eluded him all week long. Five hours he laid in wait while Bo’s father Don watched intently for any sign of life below. The sun had become our enemy as it inched ever closer to the steep rugged mountain range off to the West. Jana and I were smack dab in the middle of one of the lowest of lows we’ve been through in our hunting careers. I looked at Jana and shook my head in disbelief that a weeks worth of hunting was down to one hour of light left to make Bo’s first elk hunt come together. Suddenly Don caught moment below. As if in a dream, two bull elk materialized 450 yards away and began to feed on the surrounding foliage. Powering up the camera I began to capture one of the most emotional endings to any hunt I’ve had the privilege to film over the last 15 years.
Jana and I have long had a love for our military. I was a Marine from 1988-1992 and many in my family serving our great country. Many of our sponsors for Skull Bound TV are veterans who have a deep love for country and understand the sacrifices our servicemen and woman make to ensure our freedoms remain protected. We don’t have an affiliation with any particular veteran-related organization but we follow our hearts when we meet a veteran who’s story should be told. In Season four of Skull Bound TV alone we’ve hunted and filmed with Medal of Honor Recipient Clint Romesha, Retired 23-year Green Beret Greg Stube, 2010 International Sniper Champion and retired Green Beret Chance Ginannelli to name a few.
Late last summer we were invited to meet up with Jared Ogden, currently on Ultimate Survivor Alaska’s Team Military. Jared runs an organization called the Phoenix Patriot Foundation and wanted to introduce us to a local Navy SEAL out of Billings, Montana that lost both his legs above the knee to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Jana and I dropped everything to attend his fundraiser and spent the weekend learning more about Bo’s story and the Phoenix Patriot Foundation’s mission to get disabled veterans back in the saddle. Moved by his incredible story we felt our paths had crossed for a reason.
Jana and I came to learn about another piece of Bo’s story that pulled at our heart strings. Bo and his father Don had never hunted together. Don was an active hunter in his younger years but once his son Bo showed interest in playing hockey at the age of five Don put all his efforts towards his son’s new found love. Instead of spending their time in the mountains, Don and Bo were traveling across country to hockey tournaments throughout Bo’s youth. Bo joined the Navy and become one of our Nation’s elite…a SEAL. During his first deployment in Iraq Bo and his Team were headed back to the base when he stepped on an improvised explosive device or ‘IED’. The blast took both Bo’s legs and severely damaged his right arm. He would spend the better part of two years in the hospital recovering from his life threatening injuries before he could start the next chapter in his life. His wife Lacey and their young son Landin were there for him every step of the way! “ I always told Landin I was overseas fighting monsters.” Bo explained. “When I lost both of my legs he was a little set back until I told him I was getting ‘Iron Man legs’ and then he was ok with it.” Jana and I stayed in contact with Bo and offered to take him on a hunt in the future if time would allow.
We approached Steve Decker, VP of marketing for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation about our time with Bo and how much he inspired us. We wanted to get Bo into the mountains for his very first elk hunt. Steve went to work and lined up an incredible elk hunt for Bo which would be hosted by Rich Birdsell, owner of Northern Rockies Outfitters Ltd. near Cascade, Montana.
The day finally arrived for Jana and I to head East of the Continental Divide and meet up with Bo and his dad. After some quick hello’s, Jana reached into the back of the truck and pulled out a bunch of goodies for Bo. “Many of our sponsors wanted to thank you for your service to this great country of ours. Kryptek sent an assortment of their apparel, Nosler went all out and built you a custom Model 48 .300win mag rifle complete with the SEAL Trident engraved in to the floor plate. The rifle would be complete without our good friends at Vortex who wanted their Viper 6-24x50mm rifle scope to make the package complete. And Tenzing wanted to give you their new shooters pack.” Jana said with a smile so big it was contagious. Bo was beside himself as we headed to the range to sight in the new Nosler custom rifle for tomorrow’s hunt. Opening day of Montana’s general rifle season was a wake up call away and our anticipation of chasing bulls with Bo made for a long night in the rack.
Opening morning found us at the base of the mountain a solid hour before daylight. Bo brought two types of prosthetics. The first set are full-sized robotic legs that help him walk on level terrain. The second set he uses are called “shorties”, designed more for climbing and challenging inclines. Bo is only one of two double amputee Navy SEALs in the world that is “above the knee”. As we headed up the mountain in the dark Bo was surrounded by our guide Jay Prybl, Don, Bo’s dad, and Jana. Each person worked hard to help Bo maintain his balance as he moved up the hill on his full sized prosthetics. I began to capture the arduous task Bo faced as he worked to navigate over the rocks and brushy terrain. A half a mile into the hike I realized this wasn’t a handicapped at all. Bo was smack dab in the middle of a regular elk hunt that any able bodied hunter would experience. There weren’t any alpha fields to sit on or a box blind stand to wait in. This was one man against the mountain and over the next seven days we were about to learn just how tough this SEAL was both inside and out.
I vividly remember holding back my tears on that first hike. I guess I never really thought how much freedom my legs bring me. They’ve allowed me to travel the world, to run, jump, swim and hunt. It’s times like this that you really have to be thankful for the things you do have and not harp on those things that you don’t have. We finally reached the top of the steep hill an hour later. Daylight began to break and what a sight it was to behold. Off in the distance Jana spotted a pack of five coyotes making their way across the open hillside. Several mule deer watched the pack meander off as we glassed intently for any sign of elk. Jay eventually spotted a lone bull moving through the timber a mile above our position. As the sun began to climb higher into the sky we decided to go further up the mountain as well. Bo wasn’t about to let anything get in his way of taking his first elk. Switching out his robotic legs to his shorties seems to do the trick. Lower to the ground, these four inch tall prosthetic would be his only option over the next week if he wanted to traverse the terrain.
Imagine crawling throughout the day on your hands and knees. Now imagine doing so while holding your feet in your hands. Add to that some of most rugged and steep mountainsides imaginable. The balance and core body strength Bo had to endure, not to mention the strain on his arms and chest was remarkable. Watching him conquer hill after hill was inspiring to say the least. As the beads of sweat poured down his temples Bo would simply pause for a breath, look over at us and smile then continue on. I think for Bo just being out in nature, attacking each day’s challenge made him feel like a SEAL in training all over again.
We saw some huge bulls on day two that were several miles away from our position that afternoon but there was no way for Bo to get to them before dark. Later that same evening we found an overlook high above a massive meadow. Jay informed us that many times the elk liked to move through the meadow in the evenings. We held tight waiting for signs of movement as snow showers pelted our faces. Light mews and random bugles echoed off the towering canyon walls in front of us. Within minutes of hearing the herd of elk Jana caught movement in the timber directly across from us. Tan hides moved through the timber just over 700 yards away. Minutes later a massive 6×6 bull made an his entrance into the only opening on the hillside. Bo slowly traversed over several blowdowns to get himself in to position for a better rest. The bull bugled again and again as he worked through the center of the herd. Settling in against a small sapling, Bo readied his new Nosler Custom rifle for the cross canyon shot. Jay called windage and elevation as we watched the bull graze among the herd. Bo dialed his top turret on the Vortex Viper, something he did regularly as a SEAL. When Bo vocalized he was on target, Jana whispered “Send it”. Jay and Don watched for the bullet’s trace through their binoculars. “Waboom” the Nosler barked and we watch the bullet streak across the canyon and sink just under the bull’s vitals and into the grassy slope beneath his hooves.
Bo stayed behind as Jana, jay and Don scaled the vertical cliff face to make sure no blood was drawn. As they suspected it was a clean miss. It was back to the drawing board so to speak and with daylight disappearing quickly we collected up our gear and helped Bo back down the mountain. Day 3-6 had Bo traversing more country on his hands and shorties than most guys cover during an entire hunting season. On the morning of day seven Bo and Jay spotted two different herds of elk through their spotting scope. The first group showed serious promise. In that herd Jay found a nice 340 class bull and a bunch cows. Bo watched the herd work up the side of the mountain nearly 2 miles away from our position. Unfortunately the wind wasn’t in our favor for a stalk so all eyes turned to the second group. “ There’s two shooter bulls in the this herd Bo along with four spikes”, Jay said while peering through his spotter. The wind would be in our favor for the second group but we’d have an additional mile to cover and for Bo that wouldn’t be an easy task.
Bo would have to dig deep and make one last last stalk in hoping to notch his tag. There are no guarantees that those elk would even be in the same vicinity but with this being our last afternoon on the mountain, Bo was fully committed to taking the hill. Three hours later we were in position high above a massive coulee blanketed with thick brush. Hours ticked by slowly and I can remember seeing a few heads bob from sleep deprivation. Five hours had passed without seeing anything but a few mule deer does. At this point Bo had been laying in the prone position the entire time. “I see the spikes”, Jana said as we turned our attention to the group of young bulls feeding along an open hillside half a mile away.
We were loosing light fast and with zero cover to make another stalk our hearts just sank for Bo. If the two bigger bulls were with that group of spikes it was game over but our only option was to stay put and pray the bigger bulls were bedded below us. A half an hour later Don caught movement in thick coulee. “I’ve got tines and tan hide” he said excitedly. All eyes moved to that location and sure enough it was one of the bigger bulls we’d watched earlier that morning. Quickly we ranged the bull at 436 yards. Bo’s hands shook as he dialed his current for the correct bullet drop. I quickly hit the record button on my video camera as Bo settled in on Tenzing’s new shooters pack. Minutes ticked by when suddenly a second bull got up out of his bed and turned broadside. Two bulls in the bush are better than any bird I’ve ever had in my hand! It was game on! Bo’s elk hunt had come down to the proverbially moment of truth. If there was any moment during the hunt when we needed that SEAL to make a one shot kill it was now! Bo took a deep breath, let it out and slowly squeezed the trigger. The accubond bullet spiraled downrange disrupting the mountain air. We watched intently as the bullet struck the bull high in the shoulder. Tears of joy fell after the bull collapsed in his tracks.
Jana turned to Bo welling up with tears and shouted “You dropped him Bo”! Don’s eyes said it all as he watched his son overcome seven days of adversity to come out on top of not only the hunt but life itself. Bo had never moved faster than any other time that week. He crawled down one side of the mountain and up the other to claim his hard earned trophy. As we approached the bull Bo said “Look he’s missing a tine. He’s an amputee too”! We all laughed and cried while celebrating the hard work and success Bo had obtained over the course of the week long hunt. We must remember that so many have given up so much for our freedom. Jana and I have been blessed over the last few years to meet some amazing heroes. One quote came to mind as Bo reached down to grab a hold of his first elk with his father by his side. That quote graces the pages of our personal copy of American Sniper. It reads…“ It’s our duty to serve those who serve us” signed CPO Chris Kyle, The Legend.