|Partners Profile with Cole
Donating Elk Passion
glances at the frustrated girl, Baileigh Rodriguez, trudging
along beside him. She's worn out from the hiking and
disappointed at the shot she missed earlier. It's 2008 and
they're following elk across some Wyoming hills near Arvada.
"You want to know the good news?"
Benton asks, his voice low. She looks up at him, curious
despite her disheartened demeanor. He tells her, "Sure if
you miss the elk, we both have to walk back. But if you
make this next shot, I have to walk all the way back to the
pickup and you get to rest here with your elk the whole time."
A big smile spreads across the
Rodriguez face and his words give her the motivation she needs. Pretty soon, she's shot herself an elk and Benton has started
trekking back to the truck, albeit with a grin of his own.
"The one thing you never get over is
the look on a 12 year old kid's face when he walks up to his
very first elk," says Benton. He ought to know, since he's
donated and guided more than 20 elk youth hunts in only the last
two years through his business, Grizzly Outfitters.
With the hunts lasting up to three
days, Benton manages the impossible - finding enough time and
energy for all of them. "We take these kids out and we
work off our hind-ends for them, but it's such a great feeling
that when you finish, you just want to start all over again."
Benton volunteers his time and resources to make the hunts as
costless as possible for the kids. Including the 15 future
hunts for this fall, Benton will have donated about the
equivalent of $50,000.
Others have caught on to Benton's
generosity, offering their help in producing the youth elk
hunts. Four ranches, Padlock Ranch, Buffalo Creek Red
Angus, Sheridan Ranches, and the OW Ranch lend their land to
Benton for the elk hunts, free of charge. Jeff Shelley,
with Big Horn Meat Cutting, offers some free meat processing to
the kids. Benton says their help is "instrumental" to the
youth elk hunts. Benton donates many of his hunts directly
to the kids and even the organizations that sell the donated elk
hunts use most of the proceeds for youth oriented projects, such
as hunter safety courses.
Benton believes a relationship with
wildlife goes two ways, "You take from the wildlife and you give
back." For seven years Benton has worked as president and
vice president of the Wyoming Chapter of the North American Wild
Sheep Foundation, and he's been on the organization's board for
"Cole Benton is a rancher and an
outfitter that has helped wildlife more than most wildlife
professionals and I'm very proud to have him as both a Rocky
Mountain Elk Foundation supporter and my friend, says Rick
Pallister, the Wyoming Regional Director, who has worked with
Benton on the RMEF banquets and other events. Four
generations of Bentons actively support RMEF, from Cole's wife,
Elaine, to his father, to his son Tyler and wife down to his
Benton has guided hunts since the
age of seventeen and run the Grizzly Outfitters for the last
twenty years, serving delicious home cooked meals alongside its
great hunts. When the Game and Fish put pressure on Benton
and his partner landowners because of the increasing elk
population, Benton reacted with the idea of the youth elk hunts
and he soon talked others into the idea. As the elk
numbers increased, so did the number of interested kids.
"I didn't really intend for it to get this big," Benton says,
"But I haven't really found a decent place to stop.
The Grizzly Outfitters donated hunts
to just about everywhere, including the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation. He donates to three different RMEF chapters in
Wyoming, to two chapters of the Foundation for North American
Wild Sheep, to Montana youths through the Game and Fish and
directly to youths from Wyoming and other states. The
Buffalo Chapter of RMEF uses an essay contest to select the
receiver of the elk youth hunt.
Stephen Wadsack, one of the essay
contest winners, says that initially Benton appeared a little
scary. "We had to show up there in the really early
morning and meet him at a sign near the road. It was still
dark out and he drove up, all alone, in his pickup."
However, Wadsack has good memories of the Grizzly Outfitters and
remembers Benton immediately sharing entertaining stories about
his own hunting experiences and warmly welcoming the boy into
Wadsack was especially impressed
with Benton's investment in the elk hunt. "Cole was
someone who I'd never met before, but he cared about me getting
that experience so much. He went far above and beyond what
he had to do," Stephen says, and this holds true for all of the
elk youth hunts that Benton guides.
"He cared a lot about what was going
on, and made sure we were in the right place, that we had a nice
good shot, and that it was just really fun," says Baileigh
Rodriguez, the girl that Benton offered motivation to last year.
She had never hunted before, but she loved hunting with Benton.
"Just the way he knew hot the animals moved, and where they
moved, and where you could approach them, it was awesome.
Cole Benton knows a lot about what he's doing."