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Camp Ripley & The Minnesota Monster

Camp Ripley & The Minnesota Monster

When Scott O'Konek and his wife, Susie, walked into the woods at Camp Ripley, a Minnesota National Guard facility, they were hoping for Susie's first bowkill. When they walked out, it was with the new state-record non-typical bowkill!

Scott O'Konek's public-land Morrison County giant tallied an official Pope & Young score of 227 3/8 inches as a non-typical, enough to claim the state record.

Sometimes, good things just seem to happen to good people. Scott O'Konek was just trying to help his wife shoot her first deer with a bow but ended up killing a buck himself that he will not forget in his lifetime.

Anyone who knows Scott O'Konek knows he is a die-hard hunter. It is something he loves to do and has been a way of life for him ever since he was a young boy. He is an experienced outdoorsman who keeps busy all year. He chases bears in early fall and is still shooting snow geese in the spring. It is a year-round obsession.

In his down time, O'Konek is also a family man. His wife, Susie, and two daughters, Rylee and Skyler, spend hours in the summer months shooting their bows with friends and family on their backyard range. It is a way to keep sharp for the bow season and spend quality time with his wife and kids, who also enjoy his outdoor obsession.

"Shooting together has been great for our marriage," said Susie, who started bow hunting whitetail deer with her husband two years ago. Her first year proved to be difficult, and O'Konek was determined to help Susie shoot her first whitetail with a bow during her second season. Little did he know that helping his wife would lead to a hunt of a lifetime that would later rewrite the Minnesota records.

In hopes of setting Susie up on some good hunting, O'Konek and and his wife applied for a special hunt at Minnesota's Camp Ripley. Camp Ripley is a 53,000-acre military and civilian training facility operated by the Minnesota National Guard. The camp is located near the town of Little Falls in the central part of the state. Camp Ripley is also a state game refuge with the resources managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Military Affairs.

The camp offers three special two-day hunts per year for whitetail deer -- a special gun hunt for disabled veterans and two archery-only hunts. Because the hunts take place on an active military base, they are very restrictive. There are military checkpoints, and a lot of coordination goes into running the hunts. The costs are expensive, but so far the Camp Ripley hunts have been paid for by the hunters through application fees. O'Konek had hunted Ripley before, so he was glad when he and his wife drew for the first two-day season at the camp.


O'Konek's earlier experiences at Ripley had been unsuccessful, but he knew the deer numbers were high and felt his wife would have a good chance at filling her tag there.The Minnesota DNR "does not manage Camp Ripley for trophy animals," said Beau Liddell, the local DNR wildlife manager in charge of the Camp Ripley hunts. "We manage with goals to keep the deer numbers under the camp's carrying capacity."

Even though Camp Ripley is known by some hunters as having good trophy potential, the main goal is to keep the deer numbers down so the vegetation does not suffer and the deer herd stays healthy. The end result is fewer deer, and this means better habitat. The better habitat results in healthier deer with heavier body weights. Healthier deer are more likely to survive from season to season, allowing some bucks to grow larger antlers.

However, "the average deer taken is still 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years old, and not that many of them are large bucks," said Liddell.

Hunting Camp Ripley can be difficult. With no fewer than 5,000 permits split between both two-day hunts, it is not your typical bow hunt. If you are looking for peace and quite, this is not the spot for you. "You will see other hunters," said Liddel. There is a good chance someone will set up close to you or walk by you. Hunters' success rates at Camp Ripley have been around 8 percent over the years. "In order to be successful here, sometimes it takes a little luck," Liddell said. There is competition from other hunters and no way to scout other than past hunting trips or aerial photos. You just never know if you will be successful until you get there.

The first hunters at the gate in the morning get the first choice of stand sites. O'Konek had hunted Ripley several times before without success, but he had a good idea of where he wanted Susie to set up. The morning they arrived other hunters had beat them into the spot he had in mind. It was now time for Plan B. They moved to another area that had some potential, but O'Konek had not hunted this part of Ripley before.

After looking around, he and his wife located a nice funnel at the bottom of a ridge.

There were several heavy trails. They decided the sign looked good, so she climbed up her tree and he went up to the top of the ridge 100 yards away and found another tree.

After a short climb up with his Lone Wolf climber, he was now perched in another promising area. With a little luck, his wife would get her first bow deer and he might also get a deer to fill the freezer.

The morning was typical of late October. It was drizzling a mix of snow and rain as the temperature hovered just below freezing. But what was about to happen wasn't typical at all.

Not long after O'Konek got set in his stand, he had a nice 10-point buck run past him with no opportunity for a shot. O'Konek was disappointed, but at the same time, he knew that other hunters had some deer up and moving. A few minutes later, he caught some movement in a clear cut. A doe stood up and slowly started O'Konek's way. He started to get ready in case she came close enough for a shot. He was not going to pass up a chance to fill his tag on a tasty doe.

As he watched her, something else caught his eye. Just then another deer stood up. This one was much bigger than the doe and even bigger than the first buck that ran past him a few minutes earlier. The buck stood for a bit, roughly 120 yards away looking in O'Konek's direction, and then started walking straight at him. O'Konek knew this was a nice buck, and he prepared himself for a shot. The deer stopped near some oak trees and O'Konek lost sight of it. Then the buck reappeared near the oak trees. He ranged the trees. They were 44 yards away.

The big buck just stood there and shook the wet snow off its back. The deer slowly started to turn to walk away and O'Konek knew it was now or never. He had practiced for hundreds of ho

urs in his backyard. He felt confident he could make the shot. He drew his Mathews Reezen bow and found an opening in the trees. As he released, O'Konek still didn't truly know how big this deer was. The arrow hit the deer and he then saw the buck fall. It took him some time to calm himself down before he was able to lower his climber down the tree. O'Konek was still shaken up as he reached the base of the tree. As he approached the buck, the reality of what he had just shot started to set in.

"It was unreal to see this animal laying in the woods," O'Konek recalled. He called his wife who was still sitting in her tree. As he told her about the buck, she didn't believe him. When he finally convinced her that he was telling the truth, Susie recalled that she "couldn't get down the tree fast enough."

O'Konek and his wife admired the deer for some time together. While he dragged the massive deer to the road, Susie went ahead to get the truck. Shaken up herself, Susie locked the keys in the truck after she started it and the couple had to break a window to get back in. "It was all worth it," she said. She was proud of her husband. Even though she didn't get her first deer, it was a day that she will never forget.

The buck had 32 points and caused quite a stir at the checkpoint, where the military police said people where coming out of the woods just to see the buck. O'Konek's buck weighed 192 pounds after being field dressed. "The buck wasn't all that old," said Liddell. Tooth wear indicated the buck was between 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years old. A detailed cross section of a tooth had not been completed at press time, but the weight of the deer was also typical of a deer in that age class.

O'Konek's buck was shot on Oct. 15, 2009, and green scored two days later at 228 3/8 by official Minnesota measurer Bob Rocheleau, who is also an official Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett scorer. After the mandatory drying time, Rocheleau then scored the buck again, giving it an official score of 227 3/8. That score officially made it the largest non-typical rack ever taken by archery in Minnesota.

"Pictures do not do this buck justice," said Rocheleau. The buck has 27 scoreable points and a couple of sticker points. "It is a truly unique animal."

The basic 6-by-6 frame was very symmetrical, with the greatest difference being only 1 4/8 inches. The total overall difference was 5 0/8 inches, "which is very rare for a non-typical," said Rocheleau. The net score on the main frame is 182 3/8, and there are 45 inches of abnormal points. The right beam carried 22 1/8 inches of abnormality, and the left beam had 22 7/8, Rocheleau's favorites being "the two matching dagger points" coming off both brow tines. "The brow tines alone are something else," stated Rocheleau.

Both brow tines were more than 11 inches long. With 25-inch main beams and a 19-inch-plus spread, this buck has it all. The O'Konek buck broke the Minnesota state record for a non-typical taken by an archer. The previous record was 226 3/8 set by Ben Spanjers in 2008. The record prior to that was 225 6/8 set by Glen Bullick in 1989. "Shooting this buck was a dream come true and breaking the record was really cool, but the truth is I'm just like any other hunter out there," said O'Konek. "I just love to hunt."

Hunters harvested 477 deer during both of the two-day Camp Ripley bow hunts in 2009. About 60 percent of the 2009 harvest was does or fawns. "Even though some of the bow hunters have been selective for bucks, the overall increase of the does and fawns has helped keep the population down," said Liddell. Seven of the bucks harvested in 2009 had body weights over 200 pounds. The largest was a 265-pound buck.

Even though O'Konek's buck wasn't one of heaviest body weights to come out of Camp Ripley, it will be a buck that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

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