Thursday, September 6, 2018

Retired Firefighter Gets the Hunt of a Lifetime

Mark Long, retired volunteer firefighter and Dwight Mission Road resident, on the right, harvested a pronghorn antelope on his dream hunt of a lifetime, awarded by Dave Watson, left, of “The Journey” television show. The show is to be telecast on Sept. 24.

Everyone harbors a dream of a lifetime. Not everyone gets to realize that dream.

Mark Long, 50, was able to realize his dream last weekend, with a little help.

Long, a lifelong hunter, wanted to hunt, with bow and arrow, a pronghorn antelope buck. He began hunting as a child of 7 or 8 when his father Bryan Long, took him to deer camp.

“I begged him to go,” Long recalled. “He said I wouldn’t like it. It was cold.”

But Mark persisted, and was allowed to go on the November hunt. 

What he remembers is, “It was cold! My dad, my uncle and I slept on a mattress on the ground, out in the open. I must have had 10 or 12 pounds of blankets on top of me. But it got me hooked on hunting.”

Long has been hunting ever since, with bow and arrow and rifle and in black powder season. He prefers bow and arrow, and has harvested white-tailed deer, hogs, predators, all kinds of birds including two of the four wild turkey species. Not easy with a bow and arrow. And if he can add the other types of turkeys to his list, he will have achieved a “grand slam,” he said.

Still, his dream of an antelope archery hunt remained unfulfilled.

Until Aug. 13.

That’s when Long’s girlfriend of three years, GuDonna Clawson, made arrangements for him to meet her at Ruger’s restaurant in downtown Sallisaw for lunch.

“It should have been a red flag when I saw all my relatives having lunch there,” Long said with an amused chuckle.

Shortly after arriving, Long realized his dream of a lifetime. Dave Watson, host of “The Journey” television show, and cameraman Tim Walsh joined Long and Clawson to announce Long was chosen for a four-day pronghorn antelope hunt in Wyoming. 

Long was nominated for the honor by Clawson. Watson, creator of the show, chooses those honored based on their service to the community without expectation of reward.

“The Journey” website explains it is “A TV show that says thank you. Thank you to our veterans, our first responders and our teachers. We take everyday heroes on their hunting or fishing adventure of a lifetime. The Journey is a lot of hugs and handshakes. A few tears. Each and every episode is an emotional roller coaster as we say thank you to the people who have helped others.”

Long was a firefighter for 21 years before his retirement last year. He fought fires for the Brushy Fire Department for six years and for the Marble City Fire Department for 15 years. He also introduced Fire Safety programs to the students at Brushy Elementary School, with the help of Farm Bureau Insurance Safety House.

Long said, “I got so much out of the kids being thrilled by being around the firefighters, and the trucks, and just wearing our helmets. I got so much enjoyment out of watching those kids in the fire safety house.”

Long believes he got the most benefits from service to his community, but Watson saw Long as a contributor who needed to be thanked, and so was chosen for the antelope hunt of a lifetime.

“I was overwhelmed,” Long admitted about that afternoon in a Sallisaw restaurant, especially when he got an ovation. He also admits to shedding a few tears that were “tears of joy.”

On Aug. 31, Long flew out with Watson and Walsh to Wright, Wy., where he was to hunt antelope – one buck and one doe – on a 25,000-acre ranch owned by Tom Groves. He, Watson and Walsh stayed at Wright Lodge, and were escorted on the hunt by Table Mountain Outfitters.

Long said of his hosts, “They are super good people, down to earth just like us.”

He explained the hunts were held on the ranch where water is provided to attract the game and where blinds were set up for the hunters. It was a bit crowded in the blind, Long said, because it had to accommodate him, the cameraman Walsh, and Watson.

Nearly the entire hunt was filmed, Long said, and editing began immediately. He has seen some of the raw video, but not the finished half-hour show.

Long said he took his time deciding on which antelope buck he was to harvest.

“We had a lot of encounters,” he said. “But I held off for the right one.”

Long hunted with his own PSE compound bow and he shoots Easton arrows with Muzzy broadheads.

He chose and harvested his buck late one afternoon, then collected the buck after dusk.

But the hunt of a lifetime still wasn’t over. Long’s pronghorn antelope buck is being measured as a possible new record. He explained the horns are being measured, and, if he has truly scored a new record, his name will be in the archery record books.

That’s in addition to the 30 pounds of jerky and sausage he is expecting from the hunt, and the pronghorn cape, that is the head, horns and shoulders of the buck, which will be taken to KD Graham in Sallisaw to be mounted.

Long, who just returned from his trip of a lifetime early Monday, said he is still overwhelmed.

“It was quite a surprise,” he said of the hunt, and he credits Clawson for making the dream of a lifetime come true.

“She is a blessing to everybody,” he said. “She helps anybody who needs help, and she loves little animals.”

But now Long must choose a new dream of a lifetime. It didn’t take him long.

“I want to try for a mule deer or an American bison,” he announced eagerly.

Long said his pronghorn hunt will be telecast on Sept. 24. According to the show’s website, the show also airs at 7 a.m. on Mondays, at 7 p.m. on Sundays and at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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