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Locals make a boy’s wish come true with bear hunt in Barnes

By Kelsie Hoitomt

BARNES, WI — Braden Massey and his mother Kelley of Dyersburg, Tennessee traveled all the way to Barnes, Wisconsin to embark on a bear hunting trip through the United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA) Child’s Wish charity.

The Child’s Wish charity grants bear hunts to critically ill and/or disabled children 10-17 years of age.

Earning a bear tag takes time, roughly seven years for those who wish to draw a Class A Bear Tag in the Barnes (Zone D) area. However, because of the selfless people who wish to donate their bear tags to the charity, children like Braden are given the opportunity to hunt.

A donated tag is then transferred to a special hunter and then that person is paired with a guide/crew of hunters by Brigid O’Donoghue, the Founder and CEO of USSA.

It was locals, Brian and Cari Cassellius that O’Donoghue paired the Massey family with for their bear hunting experience, which took place at the Cassellius’ cabin in Barnes.

After arriving to the cabin and traveling 1,164 miles one way, the hunt began.

“Our first day in the woods began with a promising chase. The dogs treed a bear about 800 yards deep in the Chequamegon National Forest. Because Braden is 100 percent wheelchair dependent, we had to pass and hope for a treed bear closer to a trail so we could carry him in. The day progressed with two more treed bears, one just steps off the trail, but both were too small to harvest. The next morning the dogs jumped a bear off of one of our baits and then the chase was on. We went zig-zagging, circling through the woods for about an hour when the dogs began to tree. Thankfully the treed bear was just 60 yards off the trail,” explained Cari.

With Braden’s condition, Brian and Cari decided the best way to make the hunt work would be to set him up on his mother’s lap, brace them against a tree and let him shoot. There were back up gunners in place as well.

“Kelley is an accomplished hunter and we had high confidence in her and Braden both. The bear turned slightly in the tree, giving them a perfect shot… success! Braden harvested a beautiful Northwoods Wisconsin Black Bear. The woods roared with cheers and tears from the crew. It was a very special moment for Braden and his mother to experience together and all of us present were honored to have witnessed it,” expressed Cari.

Alongside Brian and Cari in the bear hunt crew were Larry and Deb McNamara as well as their son Michael and his wife Rhonda, Jim and Carol McCarthy as well as their son Phil and his family, Barry and Mary Mahoney and their family, Dave Bartz, Jon Bartz, Kyle Hoffman and Ron Benck.

Brian and Cari, along with their crew, have guided for a critically ill child every year since 2009. It began when Cari was contacted by a friend of O’Donoghues and they were asked to guide for a young man with Leukemia. This young man has since made a strong recovery and he, along with his family, now are bear hunt guide for Child’s Wish themselves.

More information about USSA and the charity itself can be found online at