Special memories: Catch-A-Dream takes Brandon hunting

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Terry Drury (far left), Shan Wells, Shane Wells, Brandon Bradley, and Mark Drury pose with a big 8-point buck that Brandon shot at Tara Wildlife near Vicksburg, Miss. “The guys named Brandon’s buck “Johnny Cash” because it was so dark.” It rarely snows that far south and skies were very overcast the afternoon of Brandon’s hunt, prompting his elite cameramen to dub the “buck in black” with its moniker.
Photo courtsey of Tara Wildlife

Brandon Bradley was laid to rest Wednesday, March 1, 2017, but the fond memories of this Lewisburg youth live on.

Like many other local sportsmen, Brandon loved deer hunting. One of the highlights of Brandon’s deer hunting experiences was his invitation to hunt with brothers Mark and Terry Drury at Tara Wildlife near Vicksburg, Miss., January 2014. The hunt came together because of his mother, Shan Wells’, application to Catch-A-Dream (CAD), which is an organization that grants hunting and fishing trips to children with life threatening illnesses.

“I filled out an application on January 17 for a hunting trip for Brandon with Catch A Dream,” Shan said. “I got a call from Brian (Chisholm) at CAD the following Tuesday asking if we could go on a hunting trip this Thursday in Vicksburg, Miss. He told me this trip was a big one, he would be hunting with some real big names in the hunting world and it would be televised on the Outdoor Channel.”

Catch-A-Dream grants once-in-a-lifetime hunting and fishing experiences to children 18 years old or younger who have a life-threatening illness. Catch-A-Dream’s singular purpose is to provide consumptive use outdoor experiences to fill the “gap” created when the Make-A-Wish Foundation established national policy that precludes granting a child a wish that involves hunting or use of “…firearms, hunting bows, or other hunting or sport-shooting equipment.

“I had the pleasure of being on the trip with Brandon in 2014,” Catch-A-Dream’s CEO Marty Brunson said. It was one of many hunts we did that year. Brandon was one of the fortunate children who got to go on one of the hunts we do with Mark and Terry Drury every year.”

“We try to give youth another reason to get up the next day and to fight to recover,” Brunson continued. “Brandon had spiritual quality to him and was an inspirational young man.”

“I wasn’t sure the doctor would allow us to go,” Shan continued. “Wednesday morning we were on our way to Mississippi. We met up with Brian (Chisholm) and Marty (Brunson) on Thursday and we followed them to a hunting lodge at Tara. As we pulled up to the gate there was a welcome sign for Brandon. Then we rounded the curved drive and seen all these people with cameras. Panic set in!”

Mark and Terry Drury and the Dream Season team was there to welcome Brandon. For readers who don’t know the Drury brothers, they own Drury Outdoors and have produced hunting videos and television shows for more than 25 years.

A recent conversation with Mark Drury revealed that Brandon made a big impression. Some of the things recalled were “He was very close with his parents,” Mark Drury said. “He was quiet, but when he spoke he was very bright and articulate. Brandon was just 17 at the time, but you felt you were talking to someone who was 35 years old. Brandon was mature for his years. He was a sharp kid, and an extremely devout Christian. Hearing that Brandon has passed just tears my heart out. He was such a good kid.”

When Brandon and his parents arrived at Tara Wildlife, about 30 people were there to greet them at the lodge. “We walked in to the lodge and all of the hunters were eating lunch,” Shan said. “They all were very nice and welcoming.”

After lunch, Brandon headed to the range to sight in a new rifle given to him by Catch-A-Dream. That task completed, it was time to head to the woods. “At 2:30 Brandon was on his way with Bobby, Shane, Terry and Mark Drury to the hunting stand,” Shan said.

Tara Wildlife is a special place, and it is superbly managed for mature whitetails. It is owned by Maggie Bryant, who has a passion for wildlife conservation. The Tara property lies just up river from sister property Halpino. To this writer’s best recollection, both properties total more than 9,000 acres of pristine bottomland forest. To share a bit about Maggie Bryant; If you rode an elevator in the United States before 1999, you probably have her to thank for it. She sold Dover Corporation in 1999, and it was then, and probably still is today, the largest producers of elevators in the country.

By 2:30 that afternoon, Brandon and his hunting entourage were on their way to hunt “Little Africa,” a large savanna surrounded by towering oaks. The field has held a reputation for producing big bucks for the past 30 years.

As the crew climbed into a shooting tower, snow started to fall, worrying the guide that the area’s deer would stay in cover to avoid the unusually harsh weather for a part of the country that sees very little snow.

Not long after the hunter and his camera crew got into position, a huge 8-pointer stepped to the edge of the field. It cautiously stood on the field’s perimeter testing the wind and looking for danger. Finally, it stepped out and presented a shot at 193 yards. Brandon got steady, held the scope’s crosshairs steady and sent a well-placed shot from his new 7mm08 bolt-action rifle through the buck’s ribs.

Brandon’s mother was surprised when the group of hunters came back to the lodge before dark. “At 4:30, Marty (came) to get me to tell me I needed to come outside,” Shan said. “They pull up and Brandon and Shane come out with the biggest smile I have ever seen on their faces.” Back as the skinning shed, Brandon learned that the buck weighed 180 pounds, and its rack scored 129 2/8 on the Boone and Crockett scale. The buck was aged at eight years old, which is very old for a whitetail. The average buck that is killed in Tennessee is less than 3 years old.

“How amazing is that,” Shan exclaimed, “to get to go hunting with Mark and Terry Drury and harvest a buck like that! We had been there for every bit of four hours and he already had his buck. We were supposed to hunt for three days.”

“I thought, what are we going to do the rest of the time?” Shan wondered. “Catch-A-Dream kept us busy. We got to go to the Civil War exhibit and tour Vicksburg. We got to watch them film a Dream Season competition, and then they interviewed us so we could tell Brandon’s story. Then they had a huge banquet and it was mostly all about Brandon. He racked up on so much stuff I didn’t think it was going to fit in the car. We got to meet so many wonderful, caring people.”

Catch-A-Dream “is a wonderful organization,” Shan said. “They go out of their way to make each child feel special and minister to the family. Thank you Catch-A-Dream for letting Brandon forget about his illness, if only for a moment. Thank you, Mark and Terry Drury and the Dream Season Teams. Thank you, Gilbert and Bobby from Tara for making us all feel welcome. These guys are genuine, good hearted people.”

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