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Ultimate Hunting

Hunter: Kelly Gustafson

Lesnar falls to K.O. Gustafson in opening-day bout!

By Mike Handley

Three days before the 2008 firearms opener, Kelly "K.O." Gustafson and her husband, Rich, saw an enormous buck with split brow tines in their headlights. They were on their way home about 9:30 at night when a couple of deer crossed the dirt road in front of them. One was markedly bigger than the other.

The Gustafsons' first thought was that it was an elk that had escaped from a nearby farm. To be sure, they turned around and went back for a second look.

It wasn't an elk; it was a huge whitetail, bigger than anything they'd seen roaming the countryside near Welch, Minn. (about a mile and a half from where they do most of their hunting). It and a 10-pointer were dogging a doe. The two bucks even sparred while Kelly and Rich watched slack-jawed.

Because of its bulk, she decided to call the buck "Lesnar" after Brock Lesnar, the former University of Minnesota wrestling champion who is now one of the biggest names in the sport of ultimate fighting.

Finding a babysitter for their 8-month-old daughter, Peyton, someone willing to come to their home early enough so Kelly could watch the sunrise from a deer stand on opening day, wasn't easy. She was relieved when her sister-in-law, Becky Otto, offered to do it on condition that she didn't have to rise before roosters (she came by the house that night).

Kelly's favorite stand is close to a river, but navigating her way to it in the dark wasn't easy because of the previous summer's tornado damage. In trying to decide where she'd go, she called her father-in-law, Larry Gustafson, that night to see if he was going to hunt. If not, she wanted to sit in his 12-foot ladder stand, which was set up in the 120 acres she and Rich own.

Her choice of stands wasn't just a matter of easy access, however. She'd bowhunted out of Larry's ladder a couple of days earlier and found six or seven fresh rubs and some scrapes.

He told her that if his light was on, he'd be going; if not, she was welcome to use it.

No lights shone at Larry's house.

The mix of sleet and snow wasn't enough to keep the Gustafsons indoors the next morning, though they waited almost an hour later than usual to lessen the time they'd be getting wet. En route to the metal ladder, Kelly noticed three or four new scrapes, which primed her pump.

The valley in which the ladder was set up was like a wind tunnel that morning, which was bad enough. Even worse, it was a swirling wind.
Close to 7:00, Kelly heard what sounded like a grunt. Maybe.

Hunter: Kelly GustafsonAnd then she saw a doe barreling through the woods, buck in tow. The buck's body was enormous. And when Kelly looked at it through her binoculars, she saw what looked like 12 points on ONE side of its rack! It was so ridiculously big, she was ready to look around for the hidden camera recording what surely must be a practical joke.

The doe had taken a trail that would lead her right to Kelly, but the deer stopped short when her nostrils filled with human scent. Of course, she began snorting.

Thank you, wind.

The doe turned at that point and bolted uphill, while the buck with tunnel vision paid no heed to its girlfriend's warning and came in on the same path to within 40 yards of Kelly, who was ready.

Kelly couldn't see if she'd hit the deer at first. But when she stood to peer around the smoke her .50-caliber T/C Omega had belched, she saw that the buck had tipped over just a few yards into its retreat.
She made it a little farther in her trip down the ladder, tipping over as she forgot the bottom few rungs.

When Kelly reached her deer about 10 minutes past 7:00, she couldn't even lift its head. She counted the points five or six times, always arriving at a different number.

"It had a bunch of sticker points, even some that were broken," she said. "And the mass was unbelievable."

Since there were no cell phone bars in the woods, Kelly walked the 450 yards back to the house, where she bided her time looking at a cousin's trail-cam photographs to see if she recognized her deer in any of them.

Not having seen the buck at that point, her in-laws were convinced she'd shot the buck they'd nicknamed "Big Boy," of which there were probably 100 photos.

Kelly's buck, however, seemed bigger. And it had split brow tines, whereas Big Boy didn't. That's when she realized she might've shot Lesnar, the elk-deer she and her hubby had seen and drooled over three nights earlier.

She eventually called Rich, who was still out there hunting. He'd heard the boom.

"Did you shoot?" he whispered.

"Yep. It's big ... like a 20-pointer," she told him.

"No, seriously," he said.

The back-and-forth went on for maybe five minutes.

Subscribe Today!"Would I lie?" she finally asked. "Would I miss?"

"Come get me," he said, no longer whispering.

"He was way more frazzled than I was, and that was even before he saw it," Kelly said. "When I got there on the four-wheeler, he was running out of the woods. He took the wheel on the way to my stand, and he was driving like a maniac."

Within an hour after getting the 200-pound (dressed) buck to the nearby house, which required a full family effort, a hundred people showed up to admire it - testament to the power of cell phone photos. By Minnesota standards, hers is the largest buck ever shot by a muzzleloader-toting woman.

"It was crazy," Kelly said. "Everyone was so excited. I was pretty calm, though. Rich asked me, 'How can you not be excited?' I guess I was in shock.

"What are the odds that I'd shoot that same buck - one and a half miles from where we saw it?" she exclaimed.

Hunter: Kelly Gustafson
Official Score: 191 5/8"
Composite Score: 210 1/8"

-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.

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