Strength often has very little to do with physical muscle and mass. It can be forged in the spirit, then nurtured in the will and the determination of an individual.
Based on those elements, Katelyn Spalding is probably stronger than any Olympic weightlifter.
The petite senior at Anthony Wayne High School returned last fall from an ultra-challenging hunt in the wilderness of Alberta with two of North America’s most prized trophies. Spalding took a bull moose that weighed more than half a ton and carried a rack measuring 40 inches with 16 points. She then closed out the 10-day hunt with a black bear that was pushing 375 pounds.
But that is just the raw summary of this hunting trip that Spalding shared with her father, David. The details of the pursuit of these two big game animals, and the ordeal that followed, make up the chapter and verse of this father-daughter adventure that morphed into a strenuous test of the human psyche.
David Spalding takes his daughters on an unconventional “senior trip.” Five years ago, his older daughter Jessica did a caribou hunt in the wilds of Quebec. Katelyn, 18, decided she wanted to go on a moose hunt, which she had hoped to complete with a bow, but a mysterious illness over the summer had weakened her to the point where an archery hunt was not an option.
But to make the hunt as taxing as possible, she opted to take a muzzleloader along and use that if the opportunity for a clean shot presented itself. She also carried a 30.06 rifle for longer shots. The Spaldings met with an outfitter that works in the rugged region northwest of Edmonton, near the British Columbia line.
The day-long Detroit to Chicago to Calgary to Grand Prairie flight path was followed by an hour drive north to the camp, near Spirit Lake, which on the map sits roughly parallel with the lowest reach of Alaska. This is difficult terrain, with patches of rolling prairie and expansive stands of woods, bordering the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.
There were several days of scouting and calling involved initially, but the rut had ended and the bull moose were keeping a low profile. The Spaldings saw close to 40 moose, but only three bulls were big enough to consider, and none were within range. On their fourth October morning in the woods they were greeted with cold temperatures, heavy frost, and no wind. Katelyn’s opportunity was about to appear.
Just before sunrise, they saw two bulls feeding about a mile away, along a clear cut made for a pipeline. They reduced the distance to 250 yards, but by then the glare from the sun was making a good shot next to impossible. Given the distance, Katelyn put the 30.06 on the shooting sticks, and waited.
When the circumstances allowed, she got the firing line she needed and the round dropped the big bull where he stood. “All I could see was their breath, so I’m not sure how she did that,” David Spalding said. “It was a very difficult shot but perfectly placed.”
On the same trip, the pair spent many evening hours in a tree stand, hoping to see a brown bear come in to bait that had been placed by the guide. Late in their stay, they first saw a big bruin at about 140 yards out, but he worked his way into the bait after about seven or eight minutes. A short time later, the bear turned broadside, and Katelyn raised her .54 caliber Thompson/Center Hawken muzzleloader, peeked through the iron sights, and let a round fly. The bear went down after a 75-yard run.
The Spaldings brought a cache of moose meat home with them, and donated the rest, plus the bear meat, for the outfitter to share with others and put to good use.
Katelyn eventually will get a head mount of the trophy moose and a bear rug from the hunt, but by the time the trip home started, she had much bigger concerns. Constant abdominal pain left her miserable on the long flight, which was lengthened further by a hop-scotch leg through Houston.
“That last day at camp, I could barely walk,” the 18-year-old said. “But as hard as it was, I felt like I had to pull myself through it. I couldn’t let it ruin this experience.”
When Katelyn was ill during the summer and had lost a lot of weight, David Spalding and his wife, Kathy, were distraught over what possibly ailed their daughter. The doctors had conducted a battery of tests and scans, and initially thought she might have cancer.
But this episode as the hunting trip ended was worse, and when Katelyn went in for surgery shortly after getting back to Ohio, the procedure lasted 6 ½ hours. A 6-pound, benign tumor the size of an ostrich egg was removed, along with 9 inches of her intestine.
Two weeks after returning from her dream hunting trip, Katelyn was in the hospital, critically ill, and her weight had dropped to 68 pounds. She slowly recovered following the surgery, but her doctor told Katelyn to forget about the rest of the 2013 hunting season — she would be far too weak to venture out.
But on December 29, she took a nice 10-point Ohio whitetail buck that she had seen earlier on trail camera images.
“She’s that determined,” David Spalding said about his daughter. “She was upset about missing the best part of the season here due to her surgery and disappointed she wasn’t able to spend much time in the woods.”
Katelyn, who started hunting with her dad when she was 8, harvested another 10-pointer last year.
The most prolific hunter at Anthony Wayne High School also is a remarkably strong young woman with a significant grasp of the outdoors world.
“My dad has gone above and beyond to be a great role model and teach my sister and I how to do things right,” she said. “He let us learn about hunting and the outdoors at our pace.”
The Canadian hunting trip is now a piece of the family lore, and the health scare Katelyn weathered has further cemented the bond between father and daughter.
“I was in a lot of pain during the last day in Alberta and on the flight home, but my dad never left my side. He showed me how strong a person I am,” she said.
“It was difficult, but I don’t regret it a bit. This whole thing has made me realize that no matter how young you are, life is short. If there’s something out there, you have to quit dreaming about it, and just go do it.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.