By: Ryker Ridge Kern
The washboard road had been jolting and rattling my bones in my uncle’s old beater 4x4 pickup for what seemed like hours. Being sandwiched between two grizzled old loggers, who refused to bathe during hunting season, was the only thing that kept me from bouncing out of my seat.
To be fair to my mother’s brothers, they only brought their scrawny little 13-year-old nephew on their big hunt because they were guilt-tripped into it by their broken-hearted younger sister, whom my dad had abandoned a few years before.
I was only 13, but I was quite proud of myself for having aced my hunter safety course. So I was not pleased when my uncles carelessly tossed my 6mm Remington Model 700 rifle into the bed of their old truck. The gun was technically my mom’s – one of the few things she had left after dad divorced us. I realized my mother was hoping her brothers loved her enough to help her son become a man. As for me, I had done nothing but dream of the day I could become a bonafide big game hunter, just like my dad, the man I wanted most to be like.
When we finally arrived at our remote hunting spot, I pestered one of my uncles into rummaging around in the bed of the truck to find my rifle. Taking aim with it, I immediately realized the rear sight was bent over against the receiver. My uncle took a look at it himself and said, “I wonder how that happened?” “Yeah, I wonder?” I mumbled under my breath.
“Don’t you fret. I can fix that,” my uncle told me. He pulled a pipe wrench the size of my arm from his “gunsmithing tool box” and straightened my sight with it. Quite pleased with his jerry-rigging skills, he gave it one last look and handed the gun back to me, saying, “There, that ought to do it.
“The hunting is out there, boy,” he said, pointing. “Be back before dinner.”
So, there I was, trekking alone out of the woods, hunting for blacktail buck across a grassy plateau on top of Hat Mountain in Northern California. After seven-hundred yards or so, the mountain dropped off into a sweeping valley. At the ledge, I sat and watched for deer while talking to the only father I had – the only father I thought cared about me anymore. I told Him how much my first hunt meant to me and how amazing the view was. I was awestruck by the work of His hands and told Him so.
I hunted the whole ridgeline all day, without success. All the time, I had been talking to God and telling Him I wanted to be a great hunter. I asked Him if He would provide me a buck. The sun was close to setting, though, so I disappointedly decided to give up and head back to camp. I walked toward the tree line, pulling myself over the rim and up onto the plateau.
Waist-deep in grass, I scanned the terrain. Suddenly, a blacktail buck burst forth from the tree line and ran along the edge at full speed. My heart was beating out of control! A six-hundred-yard shot, with bent iron sights? That’s impossible…
Or so I thought.
Taking a prone shot in the tall grass was not an option. All I could do was chamber a round and take a standing sight. Pacing my bead with the buck’s speed, I took a deep breathe, raised the bead about 18 inches above his shoulder, and released my breath slowly. When the bead fell to his shoulder, I squeezed off a round.
I saw the buck take an impact. I hit him! But he gathered himself and took off again in the same direction. I chambered another round, followed the same procedure, and squeezed off another round. Once more, the buck took an impact. And again, he gathered himself and bolted, this time into the woods. I was so excited that I shook all over.
I recalled my dad telling me not to rush in, so I took a breath and collected my wits. Calmly, I cleared my rifle and began the long walk toward my first buck.
I stealthily followed a significant blood trail. Thirty yards later, I stepped around a bush and found my prize. I was giddy. I wished my dad had been there to see it. It was nothing huge, a young 3x3 buck. To me though, it was the trophy to beat all trophies. I was admiring my buck for a few moments, when I suddenly realized it was starting to get dark. So, I dressed it out just as dad had shown me and returned to camp.
My uncles were laughing it up about something as I approached their campfire. They turned and asked teasingly if I had gotten anything. Quite matter-of-factly, I replied, “Yes, got a nice buck.” One of them said, “No way – you’re kidding us right?” I showed them my hands and said, “Looks like deer blood to me.”
We jumped in the truck right then and there and were able to drive right up to my prize in the dark and load it in the truck. Later, at home, my mom cut the deer up, packaged it, and froze it. It fed us all that winter. And yes, I kept the antlers. After some 40-plus years of moving around, I don’t know what ever became of them, but the memory is still so fresh in my mind, it could have happened yesterday.
Lying in my sleeping bag in the dark that night, I talked to my Father, the one who had provided the deer. I said, “God, You and I both know it’s impossible for a 13-year-old kid to make two successful shots at over six-hundred yards, with iron sights straightened by a pipe wrench. And to do it from a standing position while the deer is at a full-speed run? That would take a miracle. God, thank you for the miracle.”
Falling asleep, I mumbled, “Lord, I change my mind. I don’t want to be like dad. I want to be like You.”
Ryker Ridge Kern is a gunsmith writing from Montana. Contact him at rykerridgekern@gmail.
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