By Joseph Robertia
Stalking through the woods in search of a bear may be some people’s idea of a frightening, near-death experience, but for Hunter Paustian it doesn’t come close to the real life-threatening experiences he’s already faced and overcome.
“The more of a challenge it is, the more I want to do it,” he said, after returning from a 10-day hunt in the Drift River area across Cook Inlet from Kenai.
The 18-year-old, from LaGrande, Oregon, came to Alaska to hunt with guide Mike Cowan of Crosshairs of Alaska through the nonprofit charity Hunt of a Lifetime, which grants dream hunts to children with life-threatening illnesses.
Paustian was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma — a rare form of bone cancer — when he was 1. A year and a half of chemo and radiation therapy followed, which caused substantial damage to his young heart, requiring a heart transplant in his teen years. At 16, a cancerous tumor returned to one of the ribs in his back, requiring it to be removed.
Despite his illnesses and all the resultant treatments, Paustian has lived as much as possible like any other kid his age, and one of his hobbies has always been hunting. He primarily targets mule deer and elk using his bow or rifle, and also likes duck hunting from time to time. He started hunting with his father when he was 5, and over the years has refined his outdoors skills. His progressing led Paustian to want to hunt one of the apex predators — an Alaska brown bear.
“He doesn’t let his illness dictate his life,” said his father, Jon Paustian. “As parents, we’ve always tried to make sure the disease didn’t define who he is or what he does in life, and he makes it easy for us.”