Life has Ups and Downs; the Trick is to Seize the Moment
Rick Carone lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on June 29th, 2017. In his memory, we have decided to re-post his article he wrote for Western Hunter. His courage in the face of this disease was an inspiration for everyone. Determination, passion and faith made his last years truly remarkable and he will be missed by all. #TeamCarone
We sometimes take for granted the beauty of a sunrise; the echo of Canada geese; or the crunching of leaves from a whitetail buck on the frost-lined forest floor. Sometimes, we do this because we’re in a rush to get to work, attend an event, or even catch up on our favorite TV show. Sadly, more often than not, it takes a life-changing event to truly open our eyes, ears, heart, and soul to what truly matters.
Growing up in the hard oaked bottoms of the Fox River Valley in the small town of Cary, Illinois, and being the middle of three brothers and the son of a blue-collar bowhunter, I spent most of my time on the baseball field, playing with friends, or in the woods with my bow. I was raised to respect nature, my elders, and myself.
I consider myself lucky – even blessed – to have had opportunities that most only dream of. I worked hard to earn baseball scholarships, was drafted to play professionally for just shy of five seasons, and am the father of two beautiful daughters. The relationships I made while playing baseball would set the foundation of a career in the outdoor industry and ultimately land me right in the middle of the Yukon. I knew God had a plan for me and I give all the glory to Him. What I didn’t know is that I was about to receive some news that would change my life forever.
Prior to attending my daughter Karsyn’s Sweet Sixteenth birthday, I started to feel sick to my stomach, light-headed, and extremely fatigued. I did what most men do – I took some Imodium, lay down for a bit, and went to see my daughters. Once I felt a bit better, I pounded a Red Bull and went to the festivities.
I felt miserable those two days, but sucked it up. The next day on my flight home, I passed out on the plane and woke up in a sweat. I chugged two bottles of water and all was good…or so I thought.
On my drive home, I started to pass out. I had my brother meet me at the nearest hospital. I was run through a series of tests. My blood work came back elevated, so they did an x-ray, an ultrasound, a CT, and ultimately an endoscopy.
Upon waking up, I knew something was wrong. My brothers, their wives, and several doctors were there. I had tubes in my arms and wires on my chest. My family had been crying and I received the news no one wants; I had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer – the same diagnosis my mother received in 1998 at age 50. She passed only two months later.
Sadly, those diagnosed with this aggressive cancer only have a 15% chance of surviving year one, and a 5% chance of living past five years. I looked at my family with conviction and told them we’ll fight like hell and when I can’t fight they better fight for me. We’d beat this with God, family and friends.
The plan of action was to start chemotherapy immediately along with massage therapy, acupuncture, essential oils, and lots of prayer. Since surgery wasn’t an option, we were leaving no rock unturned.
The next few months were more than a challenge – partial blindness, full body cramps, nausea, and more. My support group was amazing. My hometown rallied and started a non-profit called Team Carone and its #ShutDownCancer campaign. The outdoor industry came to my rescue and I was blessed with an outpouring of support. Each day I’d receive several emails, messages, and phone calls. These messages inspired me and helped me fight.
Last May I received a private message from Chad Hall of Reel Wild Creative. They were putting together a project called Sheep Shape that would document four hunters and their individual stories while training to hunt the FNAWS – the four North American Wild Sheep. These four hunters would all have compelling back stories and challenges that would capture the audience and plant a seed of doubt whether they had what it took hunt and get within range of the elusive wild sheep. These four hunters would be documented training, spreading their inspiring messages, and ultimately hunting.
Chad asked if I’d like to be a part of it. I was more than excited, but also questioned whether my doctors and my family would support this monumental challenge. After several scans, exams, and physician appointments, my family was in full support. I would be the fourth hunter on Sheep Shape TV.
Chad had asked me if there was a certain trainer I was comfortable with; someone who knew what it would be like. One name came to mind: Cameron Hanes. Cam is a friend that has made a name for himself as a hunter-athlete. He has written books, conquered mountains, run extreme races and road races including the Boston Marathon. He was a bowhunter, like myself loving the challenge of getting close to his quarry. Cam is also a master motivator and inspiration to masses of people.
Cam was game, and brought along good friend and his personal trainer, Nick “The Trainer Dude” Hammond, and Kenton Clairmont of Train To Hunt. Our team was set. I accepted an invitation to Oregon to work out with Cam, Nick, and Kenton. It was a great week, consisting of mountain work, gym work, and agility training. It set the foundation of what I’d need to do back home. The only difference was I didn’t have mountains in Illinois.
The next eight weeks consisted of training and a nutrition plan customized by Nick, Kenton, and good friend Mark Paulsen of Wilderness Athlete. I knew I’d need a science-based nutrition company to supplement my nutrition plan. These very supplements would play a major role later in my trip.
The day was here. My bags were packed, gun case locked, and my Mathews bow, arrows, and release safely stowed away in the SKB case. It was the moment I was waitng for. In two days I’d be in the Yukon.
Our final destination was the main lodge and airstrip in Hart Lake – home to Midnight Sun Outfitting, owned and operted by Alan Young, his daughter Jessie, and son Logan. Jessie and I had exchanged many emails and she was prepared to take me on as her client. It put me at ease that she had just received her RN degree.
The Youngs are the definition of true, honest, hardworking Yukon outfitters. They do all of their hunts by horseback or river rafts. They know their land, their animals, and are prepared for whatever mother nature throws your way.
Another bonus was that good friend, Ty Cary, was my camerman. Ty and I met last year while filming a piece in Oregon. We hit it off and when Chad gave me the option to pick a camerman, I knew Ty was my guy. He is more than a cameraman; he is an artist, producer, and editor. It was a great match.
I was daydreaming of the beautiful landscape and animals as I heard the pilot say that we were approaching the landing strip. Upon touching down, I was greeted by Jessie, Logan, and Alan, along with their team of cooks, wranglers, and guides. They helped me unpack my bags, Mathews bow and Gunwerks muzzleloader and then we made sure they were still sighted in after the journey. After a good meal, we settled into our cabins and went to sleep, dreaming of big rams!
The next morning came quick. We left camp on a ten-hour horseback ride into the bush. We had four in our group – Jessie, her wrangler/cook Kaylee, my camerman Ty, and me, along with two extra pack horses.
The ride was breathtaking. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be that beautiful. Every stream, creek, and lake was spring fed. It was the coldest, cleanest, and most pure water I’ve ever tasted. The hills and mountains were covered in blueberries, lichen, and hummocks. The leaves had just started to change and temperatures were in the mid-50s.
We arrived at our “home” for the next ten days. We had a stream 50 yards away and were on high ground with large boulders surrounding us, great for a grizzly lookout. Kaylee set up camp and we unpacked the horses. Believe it or not, it was my first time truly camping in the wild and sleeping under the stars.
The next two days we were socked in by rain and fog. In fact, we couldn’t see 30 yards! On the third day, we set out on horseback to a high area to glass. We saw several lambs, ewes, and young rams. Feeding on the green hillsides.
On day four, we headed out on a short horseback trip. We climbed off the horses, climbed a couple hours, and halfway up we spotted sheep – eight lambs and ewes. Jessie said we needed to turn around to not bump them and clear out the mountaintop. Jessie wanted to head down and go right, but I had a gut feeling to go left. She agreed.
Two hours into our climb, she asked for the Meopta spotting scope, settling in on a single white spot 2,000 feet above us. She looked back with a smile and told me to take a look. My heart stopped; he was beautiful!
We started back up the mountain with a huge boulder between us and the ram. He looked to be alone, but Jessie wasn’t sure. For the next hour, we climbed to the base of the boulder. Jessie went to the side of the boulder to glass and I saw her lift her rangefinder What?! She turned and told me that our ram was at 8 yards!
My heart was in my throat as I unstrapped my bow from my pack. She would be on my left, Ty on my right, and all I needed to do was sneak two yards and draw back. Simple right? Well, I just had to sneak a peak at the ram…
Prior to doing as told, I peaked, only to be looking eye to eye with the ram. I quickly swung my head back and pretended like he didn’t see me. We crept around he right side only to see him walking off at a steady pace away from us. Jessie immediately told me to drop the bow and grab the muzzleloader.
I grabbed a primer from my pocket, closed the bolt, and settled into prone position. Jessie stopped the ram with a few bleats as I acquired the ram in my scope settled my breathing, and squeezed off the shot. It felt good…real good.
As the smoke cleared, the ram was walking away like it hadn’t been hit. I quickly reloaded, only to see my ram crest the hill. He was gone! I missed; I blew my shot!
Jessie imediately started to pack up and we were back climbing. We had an 800-yard climb straight up loose shale and boulders, not to mention my adrenaline was getting the best of me.
We made the climb and came to another small shelf. As we crested the peak and looked over, there he was lying dead. I hadn’t missed; I had killed a beautiful ram with Bobbie, the gun named after my Mom, and on top of that, it was my late Dad’s birthday.
Emotions were flowing! Ty had captured it all on film and Jessie and I were crying in each others arms! This is what Sheep Shape TV is all about. All the hard work; the blood, sweat, and tears had paid off.
Once we gathered ourselves, Jessie looked at me and asked me if I realized what I had just done. I told her I was so thankful and proud of our whole team. She told me again to look at my ram. I knew he was a good representative ram, but he was bigger than I realized. Jessie told me most sheep hunters go a lifetime without killing a ram of this caliber. To put it in perspective, Jessie said I had killed the equivalent of a 200-inch whitetail! I was speechless. To this Midwestern boy, that made sense!
Now the work began, a task complicated when high winds, rain, and sleet came in. We had to take cover under a rock shelf for two hours. It was now 9 p.m. and we had a three-hour trek ahead of us.
Relaxation and Bonus Celebration
We slept in the next morning and cooked up my first sheep tenderloin and eggs breakfast! We ate this ram for the next six days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By the last day, the four of us had eaten most of the animal.
My body had taken on quite a bit that day, so we took it easy in the days following my ram kill. The combination of adrenaline, physical fatigue, and emotional ups and downs were all adding up. My saving grace was Wilderness Athlete’s Hydrate and Recover and Energy and Focus mixes. It allowed me to have a rapid recovery and get me back in the game.
It was now time to head out to hopefully find a caribou and/or grizzly. However, the weather threw us another curveball and we were once again socked in.
Our final day, we got to the top of a small knoll and spotted a beautiful silver-tip grizzly. The sun was reflecting off the hump in his back and I was more than excited. With one great shot from my muzzleloader, I had my second animal. We had done it again!
This hunt was more than just a hunt. It was an adventure and spiritual journey. It taught me how short and precious life can be. It allowed me to experience a piece of nature I never thought or dreamed I would ever experience.
The amount of respect and admiration I have for the Western mountain hunter is off the charts. I only hope that God blesses me with another opportunity to hit the mountains. If not, then I’ll replay this memory in my mind and view the footage we captured.
This article originally appeared in Western Hunter Magazine Summer 2015.