Scott O’Konek usually ends his yearly hunt at Minnesota’s Camp Ripley military reservation by harvesting a doe. In 2009, however, he came home with something totally unexpected.
By Duncan Dobie
Photos Courtesy of Scott O’Konek
The first of two scheduled bowhunts at Camp Ripley, Minn., last season could be described as organized chaos. Yet South Haven archer Scott O’Konek isn’t complaining.
The vast 53,000-acre military reservation about 90 miles northwest of Minneapolis is teeming with deer, and the public hunts are necessary to keep the numbers in check. This past season marked Scott’s seventh to participate.
“Even though it’s a public hunt and hunters are everywhere, I enjoy going there,” he said. “I’m really a meat hunter at heart, so I always try to shoot a doe. A bunch of us 3-D shooters usually apply in groups every year. It’s something we look forward to in spite of the almost circus-like atmosphere.”
Scott had more than one important reason to hunt the reservation in 2009.
“My wife, Susie, and I have been gun-hunting together for a number of years, and she had just started bowhunting with me in 2008. I really wanted her to get her first deer with a bow, and I thought she’d have a good chance of doing it at Camp Ripley,” he said.
After getting drawn for the mid-October archery hunt, Scott, Susie and Susie’s Uncle Jason headed to the reservation with a 6x12-foot ice-fishing house in tow — to be their home away from home.
“I knew the area fairly well since I’d hunted it so often, and we had several spots in mind where we thought about going in and setting up our stands,” Scott said. “On the morning of the hunt, you have to stand in line to get your permit, and we had to wait quite awhile just to get through the gate because there were so many other hunters.
“After that, we ran into lots of people everywhere we planned to go. Finally, we went to one last spot I knew. It didn’t look too crowded so we parked the truck and grabbed our climbers.
“It was just getting daylight as we got into the woods. Uncle Jason went off in one direction, and I got Susie situated in a spot that looked like it might be a good funnel,” he continued. “Since it was already breaking day, I walked over a little hill away from her and found a suitable tree for my climber inside some woods overlooking a small grassy opening.
“I never would’ve set up in that spot under normal conditions, but time was a factor and all I really hoped to do was shoot a doe that day ... besides hoping Susie would get her first deer with a bow.
“Once I got up the tree, I saw some cars parked over by a main road about 50 yards behind me. It didn’t really matter, though. I was there for the duration. While I was setting up my stand, it started raining and snowing, and I knew the sounds would probably cover any noise I made,” he said.
It was almost 8:00 by the time Scott settled into his stand. His tree was inside a finger of woods about 40 yards from a small clearing. After sitting quietly for almost an hour, he was looking out into that opening when a doe seemed to spring up out of the ground.
“Thank you,” Scott whispered. “You’re just what I’m looking for!”
The doe started ambling toward him, in no hurry at all, and Scott prepared for a possible shot.
“While she was wandering around in the grass, a large buck suddenly stood up, too,” Scott said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was enormous! I ranged it at about 120 yards. Unlike the doe, it immediately walked over to a little patch of woods that was about 40 yards wide. The main road was just on the other side.
“The moment it hit those woods, it turned and started walking directly toward me. It stopped behind two large oak trees about 45 yards distant, which gave me a moment to calm down and collect my thoughts. Actually, it disappeared behind those trees for just a second, and I wondered where it had gone.
“That gave me a scare, but then it started shaking the snow off its back and stepped out into the open at 44 yards, looking at the doe,” he continued.
Everything felt right for Scott. Having made hundreds of practice shots at 3-D targets at that distance, it was almost a reflexive action to draw back his Mathews bow and release his arrow in one fluid motion. To Scott’s utter amazement, the big buck collapsed instantly.
“That’s when I lost it,” Scott said. “I didn’t know what to do. My arrow had gone a little high and clipped the spine, and the deer was down for good.
“I immediately grabbed my gear and started down the tree. When I got to the buck, I couldn’t believe it. I dropped my bow and arrows on the ground and it took me a good 45 minutes to regain my composure,” he said.
“The brow tines were more than 11 inches long, and the rack had points going everywhere. I later learned that there were 27 in all. The buck field-dressed at 192 pounds, and it was thought to be 5 1/2 years old.”
Scott called Susie on his cell phone.
“You have to get over here and see this,” he told her in a very emotional voice.
“I had no idea I’d see, let alone shoot a buck like that,” Scott said. “I was very blessed. The entire hunt was almost surreal. I never would have picked that spot under normal circumstances.
“Later, at the checkpoint, the DNR biologist who works at Camp Ripley said he had never seen or heard of a deer that big. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I think it’s that a hunt like this gives hope to every other hunter out there that it could happen to them!”
As an interesting side note, Scott's late godfather and bowhunting mentor, Dan Hudek, made the cover of a bowhunting magazine about 25 years ago when he shot a runner-up to the Minnesota bow record. Ironically, he also arrowed it at Camp Ripley.
Hunter: Scott O’Konek
Official Score: 212 4/8
Composite Score: 232 3/8
-- Reprinted from the September 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.