While a high school senior in Atlantic, Iowa, during the fall of 2020, Steele was waterfowl hunting with a group of friends. During the hunt the weather turned bad, and the boys decided to head home. Steele rode in the back of a pickup to keep their gear from flying out. Somehow, during the trip Steele fell from the truck and hit his head on the road suffering a severe head injury.
First responders attempted to get a medical helicopter on the scene, but couldn’t due to the snowstorm. An ambulance rushed Steele the 60-mile trip to the Nebraska Medical Trauma Center in Omaha, Nebraska, in critical condition where he underwent surgery and was placed in a medically induced coma. Steele would not leave the hospital for five months after the accident.
Upon his return home, there was an outpouring of community support from his hometown of Atlantic, Iowa, with the motto “Strong as Steele” prevalent throughout the town of 6,577 people.
Heartland DSC, the Iowa/Nebraska chapter of DSC, has an ongoing program of taking youth that face life-altering situations on a Dream Hunt each year. When Heartland DSC became aware of Steele’s situation, he was identified as the perfect candidate for the next Dream Hunt. Working in cooperation with Gunwerks, the NRA Whittington Center, and DSC Steele was notified that he was the recipient of a hunt to be held at the Whittington Center in New Mexico during January of 2022. Steele would also be shooting the latest rifle provided by Gunwerks during the hunt. Steele was accompanied by his father, his uncle, a Heartland DSC representative, and the Gunwerks Training Instructor during the hunt.
Growing up in Iowa, Steele had experienced whitetail deer hunting with a bow, but a western U.S. mule deer hunt with a rifle was going to be a new experience for him. While meeting with Steele and his family to plan the trip a few months in advance, Steele was very excited, but slightly hesitant about his ability to accurately shoot a rifle.
Upon arrival at the Whittington Center, Ian Miner, Training Instructor for Gunwerks, worked with Steele to familiarize him with the rifle and shooting techniques. After some time indoors for instruction, Ian took him to the range, and it wasn’t long before he had Steele repeatedly and confidently hitting targets up to 300 yards.
During the first morning of the hunt the group headed to the high country in pursuit of a mule deer. In the early morning they came upon a small herd of elk in a river bottom that had been frequented by a nice mule deer buck according to the Whittington Center guides, but he was nowhere to be seen. Heading higher into the backcountry, fog settled in, and visibility was greatly reduced. While a recent snow in the higher elevations should have made for perfect glassing conditions, the fog made it difficult, and it was determined that the group would head back down to lower elevations to continue the hunt.
Not long after reaching the lower elevations some smaller bucks were located, but none of the quality the group hoped to find for Steele. Then, during the late morning while glassing from a ridge a very nice buck was spotted bedded down under a pine tree. However, the buck was much too far for Steele to confidently take a shot from the vantage point he was spotted. The guides determined that the only opportunity was to see if they could work Steele, along with Ian Miner, down the ridge from a different angle and attempt to close the distance for a better shot. The group worked their way closer to the trophy buck but could only get within about 300 yards by crawling under some pine trees. Steele was set up prone under a pine tree. The shot proved to be very difficult, and it was a clean miss high over the back of the deer. While the deer ran off after the shot, it was thought he likely stayed in the area, so Steele was set up on a hillside ahead of the direction in which the deer ran and the guides and other party members attempted to push the deer towards him. The deer was not to be seen again.
Once again in the early afternoon, several smaller bucks were located but none of them were the right one. Then as the afternoon wore on and the day was coming to a close, a group of deer were spotted in a small valley. The group contained many does and some small bucks. As the group was watched for a considerable amount of time, a majestic buck appeared from the trees and joined the group. Steele was definitely looking at the mule deer of his dreams.
The guides set Steele up on shooting sticks with Ian Miner at his side approximately 100 yards from the group. There were so many deer in the tight group that there was concern about being able to hit only the deer Steele was shooting at, and he had to wait for a clear shot. As time went by, excitement rose, and then finally, the buck stood clear of the group. With a single shot, Steele dropped the deer. His dream had been fulfilled.
Everyone involved was thrilled to provide such an exciting adventure for a young man that has faced challenges most of us will never experience. Heartland DSC has also made arrangements to have Steele’s trophy mounted so that he will have a lasting memory of the experience. Since the time of the hunt, Steele has continued to make progress in his recovery, returning to finish his senior year of high school and recently attending his senior prom.
Heartland DSC arranges Dream Hunts on an annual basis for youth facing life altering situations. If you are aware of a youth that would benefit from their Dream Hunt program, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.