This year’s Youth Pathfinder hunt was awarded to sixteen-year old, native New Yorker, Nathan “Nate” Wagner. Born in November 2003, Nate grew up the youngest of three boys and was active in sports playing basketball and lacrosse. He developed an interest in hunting with friends who hunt that later turned into a passion he and his father, Rich, now share. Nate harvested his first whitetail deer this past season and he regularly hunts pheasant and upland game with his father and friends. Two years ago, his life changed when he was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Neuroblastoma, which affects approximately 800 children annually and is rare for kids over 10 years old, but Nate does not let his illness stand in the way of his connection with nature and love of hunting.
Nate was over-the-top excited when he learned that he had been chosen for this once in a life time New Mexico elk hunt and counted the hours until it was time to finally go. New Mexico offers some of the best fair chase elk hunts in North America and the special youth elk tag awarded by New Mexico State Game Commission makes it possible for this hunt to be taken anytime during the season, anywhere in New Mexico. Nates hunt was scheduled at the end of September 2019 and took place in the Datil Mountain range of Cibola National Forest, which is home to diverse animal species and know for its great elk herds.
Hailing from Magdalena, Eric Kern, volunteered to guide Nate on this special hunt. With twenty years of experience guiding hunts in New Mexico, Eric knew right where to take Nate to call and stalk elk. The first day proved to be challenging climbing hills while trying not to make noise on the loosely bedded rock found in the area.
Not having much luck that morning, they headed out in the afternoon following a tip from another scout in the area where elk had been seen.
Patience is a hunter’s virtue and it proved to be true after Nate waited several hours before elk were finally heard bugling in the distance. As the sun started to creep toward the skyline, they headed down to a position where the elk were expected to pass on their way to feed in the flat grasslands. Eric called a couple of times and they could hear a bull running toward them. Exhilarated by the sound, Nate situated himself into position, but couldn’t get in the right position, so he didn’t take the shot. A good day of hunting ended with dinner and stories at Eric’s home joined by his wife, Kelly, and their five children.
Charged up from a good night’s sleep, they headed out to a different area the next morning and tracked elk through a wooded ravine. The elk were bugling as they made their way up the mountain and Nate positioned himself for what he thought was a sure shot, but some cows came by instead and “ratted him out” to the bull he was stocking. It was close, but the bull eluded him.
Not giving up, they headed to another area where Nate was able to see a bull at 260 yards and had a perfect shot. He aimed the custom, 280 Ackley, named by Eric as “Bad to the Bone,” with precision and took the shot. The shot was true and a fine bull was taken by Nate. The elk was a beauty, measuring roughly 340-points and weighed around 800-pounds. Nate beamed with continued excitement as he engaged in field dressing and into the evening as he relived the details of his amazing experience.
Nate thanks New Mexico Game and Fish for the elk tag and Eric Kern and his family for hosting he and his dad on the hunt. And he gives a special thanks to SCI Foundation and the Pathfinder Committee for making this hunt-of-a-lifetime possible. Nate hopes these hunting opportunities will continue as it was such a remarkable experience and he hopes other youth get to do this, too.–Kathy Butler SCIF Education Department