CATTARAUGUS - Daric Rupp Jr. has grown up hearing his grandfather's stories about hunting in the open spaces of the American West and wondering if he would ever have the chance to experience it himself.
Daric suffers from cerebral palsy, an incurable disorder that affects his movement and posture as well as limiting his ability to participate in activities. Despite his disability, Daric has had a love of hunting since his youth, his father said.
''When he was younger, we carried him - now he's a little bit too heavy,'' Daric Rupp Sr. said of taking his son into the woods on expeditions. ''Now he either rides on the four-wheeler or in the truck, or he walks in the woods with his walker.''
Thanks to Hunt Of A Lifetime, a nonprofit organization that grants hunting and fishing adventures to children who have life-threatening illnesses, Daric had the chance last month to take his love of the great outdoors to Montana.
And not only did he get to enjoy the all-expenses-paid trip, but he got to bag his very first trophy buck in the process.
''I was just so excited when we were driving up to it,'' Daric said. ''I never thought I'd get to do that.''
A SPECIAL SHOT
Daric did all the work to apply for the Hunt For A Lifetime trip himself, his father said.
''He went online and went through and applied through these organizations for special hunts, and they accepted him for this one,'' Daric Sr. said. ''They set everything up, and he and his grandfather went back and forth talking with the outfitters and the people.''
The trip was provided as a collaboration between Hunt Of A Lifetime, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association's Big Hearts under the Big Sky program, Cabela's, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Montana outfitter Russ Kipp. Daric and his grandfather were put up at a guest lodge in the Grasshopper Valley region of Montana.
''It was a first-class lodge,'' Daric said. ''We had a nice breakfast, lunch and supper every night, and there were other people there who we talked to. I got to interact with other hunters.''
A special shooting range was set up for Daric to practice on, and he was also provided with a custom shooting bench for the hunt and a Trophy Shot gun-sight system that allowed him to view the sight picture on a screen.
''I have trouble holding my head down to the scope to see through it right, so this camera looks through the scope and it projects the image that the crosshairs are seeing onto the screen,'' Daric said. ''That way, I didn't have to hold my head down and look into the scope. It worked out really good.''
Because of his disability, Daric received a special permit to allow him to shoot from a vehicle. The shooting bench was set up in the back of a pickup truck and Daric, his grandfather and Kipp went gunning for game.
It wasn't long before they found their target.
''The herd of deer was out in the field,'' Daric said of what he saw before he pulled the trigger. ''I think I shot the deer at 330 yards. It was really just incredible.''
SHARING THE JOY
Back home in Cattaraugus now, Daric said he is waiting for the deer's rack, cape and venison to arrive in the mail. But more valuable to him than the trophy deer was the experience he was able to share with his grandfather, he said.
''My grandfather and I are really, really, really super-tight and close with each other,'' Daric said. ''Just being able to be there with him and to share the joy after I got my animal - I think he was almost more excited than I was.''
Despite the lack of amenities and special equipment at home, Daric said he spends a lot of time in the woods.
''I got a turkey last spring, just a little drake,'' Daric said, adding that its beard is hanging on his wall at home. ''I haven't gotten a deer yet - I'm still trying. It's hard, but I'm doing the best I can.''
An honor student at Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School, Daric doesn't let his disability hold him back, his father said.
''He's hard-working, happy and energetic,'' Daric Sr. said.
It was Daric's hard work to make the connections with Hunt Of A Lifetime and its co-sponsors that made his trip to Big Sky Country possible.
''I'm just glad there are people out there like that who will do stuff,'' his father said. ''These people have property and sponsor the hunt - without people like that, you wouldn't have things like this.''
A sidetrip to Yellowstone National Park was also included in the package, and Daric's father said his son's excitement about all he had seen and done was evident as soon as he stepped off the plane on his return trip.
''When I picked him up at the airport, it was about an hour and a half ride with nonstop jibber-jabbering about the country and the animals,'' Daric Sr. said.
Daric's excitement was more than expected - after all, he had just experienced a dream come true.
''It was really, really special for me,'' Daric said. ''I never thought I'd be able to do it, to be honest with you.''