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Nelson Kemmer

Nelson Kemmer poses with the calf elk he shot during a hunt this fall, his first in more than 25 years.

With a friend on each side of him applying pressure to steady his aim, Nelson Kemmer shot his first big game animal in a quarter century this fall.

The long delay in hunting wasn’t by choice.

“In ’86 I became ill, and it just took a lot out of me,” Kemmer said.

At the age of 16, he was infected with a virus that eventually ravaged his central nervous system, leaving the right side of his body weakened and afflicting his speech.

“He’s very independent, but he can’t do much with his right leg or arm,” said his sister, Kären Cremer, of Miles City.

Wheelchair bound for the most part, Kemmer nonetheless works at his family’s Roundup feed store where he always answers the phone by saying: “Feed!”

This summer, following flooding that forced his mother from her home, Kemmer offered to let her stay in his house while he moved in with his longtime friend, Kevin Wagner. It was while living there that Kemmer met neighbor Eli McCord. When McCord asked Kemmer if he might like to go target shooting with him, “his face lit up,” McCord recalled.

“Hunting and fishing is just something I like to do,” McCord said. “It seemed like no one had taken any interest in taking Nelson out.”

New friend

McCord, who works as a seasonal fisheries technician for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is an avid shooter whose favorite long-range toy is a custom-made 7mm STW. The STW stands for Shooting Times Westerner, a gun built for a necked-down 8mm Remington Magnum round.

Kemmer was impressed with the rifle.

“He’s got the most bitchin’ gun you’ve ever seen,” he said. “He has a daughter who is 12 years old and she shot an elk at 604 yards with the same gun.”

After target practicing, McCord suggested Kemmer buy a hunting license and become permitted to shoot from a vehicle. From there, the experience moved on to hunting this fall when a landowner gave Kemmer access to hunt on his property outside Roundup.

“We were going to go up for deer and turkeys,” Kemmer said. “We took his diesel, which is the most obnoxious truck you ever heard. We were looking at deer about 1,000 yards away when they thought they saw a hunter, but it was an elk. Twenty-two of the buggers piled out of the woods.”

Unfortunately, the truck was positioned wrong to shoot from, so McCord waited for the elk to drop into a draw out of sight, then got out and gave Kemmer a hand to get behind the truck. Sitting him on the ground, McCord deployed the rifle’s bipod to steady the gun for a shot. Kemmer got excited as the elk reappeared, including a six-point bull that was bugling.

“I began shaking something fierce,” Kemmer said. “I took aim at the lead cow, then a bull stuck his horn in the scope. That really got me going.”

Steady aim

When his friend, Wagner, saw how badly he was shaking, he went to steady Kemmer on one side, then McCord braced him on the other. McCord encouraged him to take his time, but the seconds seemed to drag and he didn’t think Kemmer would pull the trigger before the animals bolted.

“Some of the calves were running circles around the group,” Kemmer recounted. “Finally I got steady enough to shoot one and she dropped.

“It was just a little calf, but she was good eatin’,” he said.

Asked how he felt after the excitement of the hunt, Kemmer said, “Pretty darn good, man.”

The tale is an emotional one for Cremer, Kemmer’s sister, too.

“For him to tell the story makes me want to cry still,” she said. “He has a lot of awesome friends.”

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