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  • 11/30/2016 12:00 PM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    Dear friends,

    Awesome, blessed beyond measure, holiday greetings from the desk of the National Director at Cross Trail Outfitters. The other night my phone rings and the caller ID said that it was Chase. Naturally, I answer it since Chase is a very good friend of mine. “Hey Mr. Mike, are you going hunting tomorrow?” asked Chase. “Yes I am,” I replied. “How about you?” I asked. He replied “yes” he was hunting also. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I’m thinking about going to Juniper Bay,” answered Chase. “What about your blinds at Gull Shoal?” he asked. I replied, “I haven’t been there to look, but you’re welcome to use them.” This is a regular conversation that good friends might have during any hunting season.

    I would like to take a moment to tell you how Chase and I became such close friends. In June 2010, I hosted our very first ever CTO summer camp in North Carolina, and Chase was one of the boys at that camp. Like most of the 13 boys there, Chase was junior high school age. Chase loves to fish, and I love to fish too, and God used that common interest between Chase and myself to start a lifelong relationship. That summer, as the week progressed God also used our common interest of fishing and hunting to cause Chase to trust my spoken words. We had questions of the day every morning and spiritually deep campfire discussions every night all centered on a common theme of Jesus Christ. Before the week was over, Chase asked Jesus Christ to be the Lord of his life. We now had something else more permanent in common. Oh and by the way, throughout the week 10 more of the 13 boys asked Jesus into their lives as well.

    Chase is now a freshman at East Carolina University. Chase volunteers as a Guide at our North Carolina summer camps. He is an amazing Christian man now and a dear friend of mine. The relationship that we have is even as strong as that relationship between my own son and myself.  There are a lot of Chases in my life now thanks to CTO. There are a lot of Chases in the lives of all the Outfitters and Guides at CTO across the country.

    As you read this letter, relationships like this one are being formed all over the country in many CTO chapters nationwide. This year CTO conducted 16 week-long summer camps, more than 200 youth hunting/fishing outings, more than 130 sportsmen’s skills nights, 41 family events, and over 100 bible studies that all contributed to leading the next-generation to Christ through the outdoors. As God worked through those events, we witnessed 108 kids and 24 adults accept Christ as true discipleship starts with a relationship and ends with victory.

    I want to thank every outfitter, guide, prayer warrior, volunteer, root partner, sponsor, donor, landowner and friend of Cross Trail Outfitters. All of you are part of building “Chases” all over the country, and we cannot do it without you. Before we move into 2017, please prayerfully seek where you might fit in to our team. If you are already part of our team consider “stepping it up” as this is our 2017 team vision for the Ministry of CTO. We are looking for more chapters, more outings, more donors, more financial support all adding up to more salvations and an army of strong Christian young men. Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime.

    Oh and by the way as I was sitting home typing this letter, Chase called to tell me what he how his hunt went yesterday.

    In his service,

    Mike Johnson

    National Director Cross Trail Outfitters

  • 11/21/2016 12:00 PM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    A story of overcoming fear, learning to trust, and success!

    “Fear is the Devil showing us where we need more faith.” is a saying that got during my prayer time about the time I started CTO. I have it written on my white board in permanent marker in my office because it means that much to me.

    This past firearm season we had a new First Hunt Sportsman, Garrett drew the short straw and had to have me for his Guide. He was extremely excited to be on this hunt and was ready as anyone could be after working with our First Hunt worksheets. Friday Night Garrett became a master of the tic, tac, toe, pick your spot, and squeeze. I was very confident that if given the opportunity Garrett would harvest his first deer.

    The biggest problem we were going to have to deal with was the weather. It was supposed to be cold and rainy with some pretty heavy wind to deal with while in the tree. We were ready with the correct gear and had a great stand, but the wind would definitely be at our faces.

    It wasn’t until we reached the stand that Garrett surprised me by telling me he had a fear of heights and couldn’t climb into the stand. In fact he didn’t share this with me until I was already in the tree some 20 feet in the air. Since I was already in the tree I set up all my guiding materials and then made my way back down to Garrett. He said, “I’m afraid of heights.” I responded with, “Well that would have been some good information to have before we got out here, but now we are here we don’t have a ground blind or any of the materials needed for hunting on the ground so let’s get in the tree.” He was having no part of it. That is when I decided that the hunt was probably not going to happen, but that we needed to work on overcoming his fear.

    Garrett had some other fears that we had to overcome at summer camp this year too, but we had conquered all of them. This was no different. It turns out Garrett didn’t have a fear issue, but he had a trust issue. Garrett had never been in a tree before, he had never used his harness before, and he had never sat in a stand before. He didn’t trust his equipment, he didn’t trust the tree, and he didn’t trust me when I told him he didn’t have to worry because his equipment would keep him from falling. Also the wind was howling and that didn’t help either.

    I then began to walk him through every part of this stand. First we were sitting in the biggest tree on the farm. I mean this tree is large; probably 6 feet in diameter. Even with all the wind it barley moved. Also we were using a TV tower for the climbing sticks. I shared with Garrett that I din’t know exactly how much weight it could hold, but that it definitely could hold more than he and I weighed. Next we spoke about our safety rope which is rated for much more than us both as well and that it had a Prussic knot which would catch him if he fell. Lastly we went over the harness and stand again how they were rated for men larger than us. After going through all the equipment I asked Garrett if he would like to go up first and then have me follow so that if he fell I would be there to help him.

    We went slowly, but Garrett did it! He was able to climb up the tree! After he was seated und then strapped into his tree belt I asked him how he was feeling. He shared with me how beautiful it was in the tree and how he enjoyed being able to see over the farm from the tree stand. That’s when I told him, You lied to me.” He looked at me perplexed. I responded, “You’re not afraid of heights otherwise you’d be freaking out up here. You’re afraid of falling.” He laughed at me and said, “Yes, I guess you’re right” That’s when I ended our conversation with, “It’s okay to be scared of falling, it hurts when you suddenly stop hitting the ground.” He gave me another one of those patented Garrett looks and we sat in silence for at least two minutes before the questions started coming. Garrett didn’t have any problems getting into any other trees throughout the outing. 

    It was because of this experience that the Lord scrapped what we had planned to talk about and had us use Garrett’s experience in the tree as the teaching lesson. We looked at Matthew 5:1-16, and talked about trusting in the Lord. Garrett had to learn to trust in order to overcome and that is what we see in the scriptures here. When we read the first half of these scriptures known as the Beatitudes. It’s not that they are blessed because they are poor in spirit, because they mourn, or because they hunger and thirst. They are blessed because they can trust that because of Jesus they receive the kingdom of heaven, be comforted, and be satisfied. Jesus is saying that these hurts will come, that we will suffer, but because we trust in Him we are already blesses because he is the source of the satisfaction, comfort, and kingdom! 

    Fear of falling out of the tree almost kept Garrett from experiencing an opportunity. Because he was able to get in the woods the next morning, climb into the tree without incident, and learned how to be quiet while in the tree, he was able to see 6 deer on the last morning of our hunt. He saw several majestic bucks during this morning. Unfortunately he only had an antler-less tag, but he was excited to see what he will be able to harvest next season.

  • 10/31/2016 12:00 PM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    Often when working with the Boys In CTO I ask them to tell stories about the adventures we have together. The big part of telling a CTO Story is starting the story correctly. We ALWAYS have to start a CTO Story with the words “And there I was…”. Without those magical words the story wouldn’t have that special something that makes it a CTO adventure.  It’s a kin to “Once upon a time…” when telling a bedtime story. With that being said I’m gonna tell you the story about the archery hunt we had in October.

    And there I was with Shaun on a Saturday morning sitting in the east stand.

    It was about 7:00 in the AM and was pushing 68° much too hot for deer hunting, but then all of a sudden it happened a deer was making his way south briskly walking the path that went right in front of us. Shaun was ready as the deer moved into the first open window he had. The deer stopped, but only for a second, it was a Buck! He started to move forward again and Shaun lost the first window of opportunity! Then Bear sprung into action with a soft grunt. To no avail the deer kept moving then Bear, not to let this opportunity slip away sounded a GGGRRRUUNNNNTTTT that was both sound and obnoxious and sounded nothing like a deer would sound, but oh my it worked! He stopped in his tracks and started to look around.right then you heard the sound of the crossbow release its bolt just as the bolt reached the ground, both Bear and Shaun thought that he might have shaved the belly, but I watched the Buck as he ran off he ducked into the tall CRP grass and was making his way to safe ground when all of a sudden he stopped! I couldn’t believe it the buck was on Wobbly Leg Street! the Buck swayed first to the right then to the left back to the right then to the left and fell over! I said, “Shaun I’m not sure what you hit, but you definitely have a deer down over there.” Being that it was early in the morning we waited to see if another doe was going to show up. We joked about recreating this picture. 

    As the morning went on the excitement of shooting his first deer got the better of Shaun and he wanted to get down to go see his deer. D’Lige and our other Sportsman Trevor met us at our stand and we began to track Shaun’s buck. We went to the bolt that Shaun had used and sure enough there was blood all over it. This was promising!We tried to look for a blood trail but we couldn’t find any. None at all. Luckily I was able to watch the whole path the deer took and was able to look back at the stand to estimate where he went into the grass and started to walk the CRP in hopes to bump into Shaun’s harvest. We eventually found the buck and then the test of hauling him out of the grass began. It was a exciting and fun hunt & I look forward to seeing how well the shoulder mount will come out.

    Our campfire time consisted of walking in your calling we discussed how God has a plan for us and that even when it seems like He isn’t with us that He is preparing us for our future. We talked about how God often puts challenges in our life to help us develop into the spiritual warriors that He wants us to be. We shared the hurts we had in our lives and how God used those adversities to make us stronger.

  • 10/11/2016 11:36 AM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    I have often wondered with the rise of social media and virtual friends do young people today have a lack in genuine relationships? During our youth hunt weekend our campfire discussions were about Proverbs 27:17 Irons sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. We spoke of true brotherhood; what it means to hold each other accountable, and that sometimes we have to have the hard discussions involving confrontations rooted in love in order to help our brothers see when they are in need of correction. It was during these discussions that one of the young men revealed that he has over 200 “friends” on Facebook, but none of them were really “friends” that he could turn to in times of need; moreover they were definitely not going to fulfill the proverb of helping sharpen him.

    It was then that CTO Guide Charlie Woodard brought a great word inspired by Holy Spirit. He reached into the campfire and pulled out a log that was burning well, he then yawped at the sportsmen that the log represented them. “How easy is it for the log to be engulfed in flames while in the fire with the other logs that are also on fire!” The youth answered, “easy.” Then Charlie threw the log over his shoulder and it landed about 10 feet away from the campfire. “Notice how when the log is all out there by itself that it begins to loose its flame. That is us! As men, when we don’t surround ourselves with other Christian brothers how easy is it for us to loose our flame?!”

    It was after this demonstration that the young men began to see the value of Christian brotherhood. Their eyes were opened to how bad we need each other. We also had a successful hunt with two of the boys harvesting their first deer ever. Please see the pictures with the link below.

    Click here for pictures

  • 09/12/2016 10:00 AM | Paul Hansen (Administrator)

    The Jo Daviess chapter took a small group of boys out for some sporting clay shooting instruction done by Will Pick, certified instructor and elite shooter.  Evangelism strategies was the topic of discussion on the way to and from the event. Once there, the boys were taught shot-gunning techniques while shooting nearly 100 rounds each at various stations and presentations.  Progress and improvement was clear in everyone's shooting. A final demonstration by Will dazzled all attendees and gave them all something to "shoot" for in the future.

  • 07/17/2016 4:43 PM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    As we close out our 5th year of summer camps I was reflecting on all the lives of the young men we have influenced for the cause of Christ here at Cross Trail Outfitters of Illinois. As the State Director I have had the privilege to witnessed many boys turn into responsible young men. Moreover watching these young men make responsible choices for their futures as they leave high school and start planning for adulthood. These boys continue to choose Christ, and grow in their faith.

    When the youth arrived at this summer camp I began to realize the Lord was blessing us with a whole new crop of young men. All but two of the boys in attendance were new to the CTO Ultimate Summer Camp Experience. All the young men came eager to learn outdoor skills and were excited to get to use all the equipment from archery to clay shooting. We spent time with each of these youth helping them develop their skills and then gave them the opportunity to use what they had learned.

    While on the river as we experienced the jumping Asian Carp. Many of the boys were capable of catching a carp or two with their new found archery skill. Making time on the range we the youth were able to experience many different types of firearms including rifles, revolvers, and pistols. Lastly we worked on clay shooting allowing the youth to learn how to shotgun hunt for upland birds and waterfowl. Each sportsman discovered the tools and methods at which he excelled, and which ones challenged him. All the Sportsmen were able to demonstrate their abilities for the Sportsmen’s Challenge.

    Our campfires were lead by our Jo Daviess Outfitter Paul Hansen. Many of the young men in attendance may have been new to CTO they weren’t new to church. Many had a background in religious tradition, but needed a lesson in scripture. We had discussions about the difference between what the scripture says and what man has added over the years. We discussed how tradition may not be bad if the “why” is understood along with the action. As we read in Mark 7:1-13 tradition for traditions sake is powerless, but tradition wrapped in scripture can be spiritually powerful. A great example of tradition mixed with scripture in 1 Corinthians 11: 1-2 & 17-34 where Paul (the author, not our Outfitter) gives us instruction on the Lord’s Supper and the tradition in which we are to participate. 

    We were able to share with the Sportsmen that we must first go to the scripture and learn first from what God’s word is telling us. Then if tradition parallels Holy Scripture it honors God, If the tradition is not rooted in scripture then it is useless and has no power. We asked them to look into their traditions, and to measure those traditions against Scripture. If you are reading this I ask that you do the same thing. We can only grow in Christ if we study to show ourselves approved, if we follow blindly we have no power just like the the tradition so many cling to.

    Click here to see pictures

  • 06/06/2016 9:03 AM | Paul Hansen (Administrator)

    Unlike the weather for the fishing outing, God provided us with AMAZING weather for this event.  We started out with a picnic lunch followed by a short devotion.  The 10 boys were challenged by the story of the rich young ruler: Does God have first place in your life or is money, sports, video games, music…your “god”? 

    Then on to the marina where Lee Butler (from Freeport) brought 4 kayaks for the boys to try out.  Some of the boys had done some kayaking before, others had not; but they all gave it a try and had fun paddling around Lake Le-Aqua-Na here in northern Illinois. Three of the boys brought their own kayaks so the remaining 7 boys had to share the four kayaks.  They did a pretty good job sharing, but it was hard for some of them to be self-less.  So - back to the Bible question: Does God have first place in your life — or do you?  The boys were each able to get 2 opportunities to try their skills at kayaking.

    When not paddling, the boys broke into groups and did some hiking and just horsing around in the water.  Dead fish seemed to be a pretty exciting find, along with a snake (Hey! What if it’s a cottonmouth?).

    When time came to load up the trailer, the boys all chipped in to help and gave Lee a round of applause for giving up his time and kayaks so we might have some fun.  Another lesson in selflessness. 

    I had a chance to meet some of the moms when they dropped off their sons.  The Gospel message was shared with some of them and they were all thrilled at the opportunities CTO is bringing to their sons (& their son’s friends). They all — moms and boys — are excited to know about the next Jo Daviess County CTO adventure — and of course, so are we.  Please pray for the boys (and their moms) that the soil would be ready to receive the seed of truth as we move forward serving God through outdoor experiences!

    See more pictures

  • 05/30/2016 3:22 PM | Paul Hansen (Administrator)

    Well, we didn’t feed 5,000 and there sure weren’t any leftovers — but we did see God at work in Jo Daviess County! God did not send us the weather we were expecting for a fishing outing, but he did send us boys with good attitudes and enough fish (25 large mouth bass) to feed them.  Jerry, our expert fisherman on hand, showed the boys how to clean, prepare, and cook the fish that were caught. He must have done it right because everyone was a member of the “Clean Plate Club”.  We had some interesting conversation while watching the movie “Do You Believe?”.  Most of the boys had good knowledge of Scripture but there is still work to be done in the hearts of the others.  Continue to pray for the boys as they continue to learn about the love of God here in Jo Daviess County.  Our next event on the calendar is a kayaking experience at a local state park scheduled for June 6.  Can’t wait to see what God has planned for that!!

  • 05/02/2016 7:02 PM | Eric St. Pierre (Administrator)

    When we first began doing hunts here in Illinois our biggest challenge was shelter. We had many a landowner willing to allow the CTO Sportsmen to tromp all over the property to harvest game, but they didn’t always have a place for us to lay our heads. Over the years we have become very creative in finding ways to be comfortable and catch some Zz’s while in the great outdoors; some of which included trailers, sheds, and more times than not - tents! To keep warm, some of us even had to go to two sleeping bags.

    In recent years we have seen God’s blessings as our landowners have built shelters, cabins and homes. Theses shelters allowed us to leave the tents in the trailer and stay warm and dry. Although those initial outings helped build character there is something to be said for the warmth a home provides. This was the case during our Turkey Hunt Outing the final week of April.

    Turkey hunting has limited hours starting thirty minutes before sunrise through one o’clock the in the afternoon. Another caveat to hunting turkey is that you are only allowed to hunt the males, called toms. As you probably guessed, every time we should have been able to hunt, it rained. On top of that, the only turkey that was seen was a female turkey, called a hen. These conditions did not leave us hopeful for a successful turkey hunt. However, as the rain let up we discovered a different hunt - morel mushrooms. It took a few minutes to find the first one but it wasn’t long before the boys couldn’t stop finding them. Each sportsman was able to find at least one, while most found several (some even underfoot but a success nonetheless.)

    The lack of success with the turkey hunt coupled with the surprise mushroom hunting success mirrored our campfire time as we discussed the question “What does success look like?” The Lord lead the group to review the passage of the rich young ruler. Boys gave answers to the question that echoed much of our society - money, big house, nice cars, fame. The boys were challenged to think of success in the way Jesus describes in Mark 8:34-38. So often the trappings of this world can lead us to fulfillment in ourselves, our successes which can lead down a road of pride and ultimate unhappiness. Jesus calls us to lay down our ideas of success and trust His plan. True happiness comes from our relationship with the Lord as He shows us the deep contentment of a life lived for Him.

    See Pictures

  • 04/29/2016 6:55 PM | Paul Hansen (Administrator)

    Hooray! The first outing for the Jo Daviess County chapter of CTO is on the calendar!! Our first official event is scheduled for May 13-14. The agenda will include a pizza dinner, casting competitions, a movie & camp out Friday night.  Saturday will start with devotions, breakfast, and clean up, then off to do some fishing at a pond on a local farm.  The boys were excited to hear about CTO at at the after-school program at “The Hangout”, a Christian based gathering spot for kids in grades 4-8. We are praying God will send the boys who need to hear the truth and experience outdoor life up close! Please continue to pray for God’s truth to be realized in the lives of all who attend. Stay tuned for more details and pictures.

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