Nevada Guides Provide ‘Hunt of a Lifetime’ for Wounded Veterans

By Dianna Troyer

Robert Evans with the elk he took down during his hunt, which he described as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Photos courtesy of Jason Molsbee.
Robert Evans with the elk he took down during his hunt, which he described as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Photos courtesy of Jason Molsbee.

Getting up at 4 a.m. was no problem for Robert Evans, an Army veteran going on his first elk hunt last fall near Montello in northeastern Nevada.

“I couldn’t sleep anyway, wondering what the day would bring,” says the 34-year-old Reno resident. “This was a dream come true for me—a hunt of a lifetime. I’d been trying to draw a bull elk tag in my home state for 15 years.”

Robert finally checked it off his bucket list last year, thanks to the Wounded Hero Project—a philanthropic program offered through the Nevada Outfitters and Guides Association. Since 2010, a wounded veteran has been chosen annually to receive a free weeklong elk hunt valued at thousands of dollars. Guides, a butcher and a taxidermist provide their services for free.

Robert, his wife, Karen, and their son, Duane, are still feasting on the elk steaks, roasts, and burger. They plan to hang his 5-foot-tall elk mount on a living-room wall when the taxidermist completes it.

The association will choose this year’s recipient soon, says Secretary Rachel Buzzetti. A committee picks the veteran from a pool of nominees.

“We get nominations by word of mouth and require the hunter to be a Nevada resident and Purple Heart recipient,” Rachel says.

Robert was nominated for the project by April Wolfe, a recreational therapist for the city of Reno. Robert met her while participating in a wounded vet summer camp she organizes. She takes vets to the Reno air races, waterskiing, wakeboarding, bowling, and land sailing. The hero project was the brainchild of Dwight Lindquist, a guide who lives in Wells.

“I wanted veterans to know they’re appreciated,” says Dwight, who owns Bristlecone Outfitters. “Getting donations was like pushing a snowball downhill. All I needed to do was keep the momentum going. I just asked, and people were glad to contribute. Once it was established, I turned it over to the association.”

Members of the guide association volunteer to take the lucky veteran hunting. Several guides, including Jason Molsbee of Cottonwood Ranch Hunting Services, took Robert last year.

Honored to Guide

“We feel honored to guide veterans as a way to give back,” says Jason, who also guided wounded hero recipients in 2015 and 2017. “We owe these guys.”

A guide for 20 years, Jason, 37, says he shares his admiration for elk with clients. “When you hear them bugle, it’s a real treat,” he says. “When you’re in the middle of elk, calling them in, hearing them scream … it just gets you hooked. There’s nothing like it.”

Robert agrees.

“A bull elk is majestic and beautiful,” he says.

When Robert learned he was chosen for the free elk hunt, he felt disbelief.

“It didn’t seem real until I held the tag in my hand,” he says.

He hung the tag on a refrigerator magnet to remind him that his long-awaited hunt would become reality in November.

In mid-October, Rachel invited him to a planning meeting in Elko without telling him what she had on her agenda.

“I thought I’d meet the guides there,” Robert says. “Instead, it was Christmas in October.”

His first stop was to meet Elko County commissioners, who read a proclamation honoring him for his military service.

Robert was born in Elko and grew up in Crescent Valley 60 miles to the southwest.

He was then taken to a local sporting goods store and given hunting clothes and a Remington long-range rifle with a Vortex scope.

“When I saw that rifle, my blood pressure went up,” says Robert, a competitive shooter. “I was so excited. I shoot high power rifle and pistol on my own and with M1 for Vets.”

M1 for Vets is a nonprofit that helps wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan take up competitive marksmanship as a means of rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life. Robert competes in several classes, including across-the-course service rifle, 1,000-yard F-class, service pistol, tactical rifle, and action pistol.

Jason Molsbee, a guide with Cottonwood Ranch Hunting Services, says it’s an honor to participate in the Wounded Hero Project.
Jason Molsbee, a guide with Cottonwood Ranch Hunting Services, says it’s an honor to participate in the Wounded Hero Project.

The Hunt

Well-equipped and eager for the hunt, Robert says he packed more than what he took to Iraq. With his new rifle, he felt optimistic about his first day of hunting on the Winecup Gamble Ranch, where he and the guides stayed in a guest lodge.

About 30 minutes before dawn, Jason drove him several miles to where elk had been seen. On the way, he learned how Robert was wounded.

After joining the Army in 2003 when he graduated from high school, Robert was deployed to Iraq in 2005. In May 2007, he was commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and was part of a convoy clearing a route of explosives and weapons.

“As we were passing under an old Iraqi Army guard post, an IED on top of it detonated and amputated my right hand an inch or so below the wrist.”

After numerous surgeries and being fitted with a prosthesis, he retired and moved to Reno.

“I was right-handed, so I’ve learned to do everything left-handed,” he says. “I don’t regret losing my hand. If I had known I would have been injured, I’d still have signed the dotted line, like most veterans I know.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to join the Army.”

As he and Jason stopped at a fence to open a gate, they noticed elk about 1,800 yards away coming toward them. They hid behind sagebrush, patiently waiting as the elk came within 80 yards and jumped over the fence.

Robert picked one and took a shot. It was an impressive elk with six points on each antler.

“What a phenomenal experience—a 6 by 6,” Robert says. “My only regret was that it was over so quickly.”

Robert says when people call him a hero, he politely disagrees.

“To me, the heroes are my friends— my brothers and sisters—who weren’t fortunate enough to make it home,” he says. “I think of them often.”

Donations of hunting gear or money for the program are accepted at Nevada Outfitters and Guides Association, P.O. Box 28-1251, Lamoille, NV 89828. Checks should be made payable to Nevada Outfitters and Guides Association.