Scott O'Konek may have rewritten the Minnesota record books when he tagged this 32-point buck around 9 a.m. on Oct. 15, the first day of Camp Ripley's annual two-day archery hunt. Bolstered by good mass and long brow tines, the big deer's green score--conservatively measured at 228 nontypical--would be more than enough to dethrone the current state-record archery buck, a 222 5/8 nontypical taken in 1992 by Gary Martin a 226 3/8 nontypical taken in 2008 by Ben Spanjers. O'Konek's deer weighed 192 lbs. field dressed, and the highly symmetrical rack netted 183 7/8 typical.
Camp Ripley, a National Guard training site in central Minnesota near Little Falls, welcomes 2,000 lottery-winning archers each year for the two-day hunt. It also hosts deer hunts for disabled veterans, youths and deployed soldiers.
O’Konek, of South Haven, Minn., was hunting Ripley for the fifth time. He brought along his wife, Susie, and decided his main goal was for her to tag a deer.
O’Konek is familiar with the 53,000-acre base and had a spot picked out. But when they arrived, they found the area already crowded. “We went to plan B,” he says. “I got her settled in a stand area north of our original site, then I walked off about 100 yards to the south to set up my climber.”
He saw only does before a nice 10-pointer came crashing past his stand at 20 yards. “I thought, ‘Man, I’d like to shoot that,’ because he was nicer than anything I’ve ever taken.” Fifteen minutes later he was watching a doe approach his stand when a buck stood up 120 yards away. “As soon as I saw him, I knew he was something else,” O’Konek recalls.
The buck walked along the wooded edge of grass field toward O’Konek’s stand, which was 40 yards back in the woods. As the deer approached, he lost sight of it “for what seemed like an hour.” Then the buck reappeared, shaking snow off its back.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I was getting a little on the edgy side, and I knew if he came any closer I was going to get way too excited. I still had enough composure to make a good clean shot at that point. I ranged him at 44 yards, and waited for him to step out.”
The buck turned to look at the doe and gave O’Konek a quartering away shot. “I pulled the release and he dropped to the ground,” he says.
Susie O’Konek didn’t believe her husband when he called with the news. When he finally convinced her, she couldn’t get down from her stand fast enough. “Everyone who knows him, the first words that come out of their mouths is ‘It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,'” she says. “I’m just so happy for him because I know this is something he’s always dreamed of.”
O’Konek says he stood over the buck for 45 minutes, awestruck. Once he got the deer loaded in the truck, he called everyone he knew to tell them about his 30-plus thriller.
Even Camp Ripley’s Military Police were impressed with the buck and the stir it caused. “After three hours of craziness one of the MPs said to me, ‘You really need to get that deer out of here. People are starting to leave the hunting areas to see this thing!”
Believe it or not, after dropping the deer at his local taxidermist O’Konek and his wife packed up and drove back to the base that night to get ready for day 2. “I’ve got a lot of hunt in me,” he says. “If I’d seen a doe on Friday, I’d have given it another go.”
“It was the most inspiring moment, to see that beautiful work of nature lying in the woods with a grown man crying over it,” says Susie, who notes that strong hunting genes run in her family, too: Her 70-year-old grandmother is an avid bowhunter.
No surprise, then, that both daughters are enthusiastic about Dad’s trophy. “My two-year-old says, ‘Dad, that’s a huge-mongous deer,'” O’Konek says. “And the 4-year-old says she wants me to take her hunting next time. When they do that it makes it even more exciting.”
Despite the crowds that flock each year to Ripley, O’Konek says he was not shocked to find such a bruiser on the base. “Over the years I’ve seen firsthand the size of the deer up there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another one that big come out of there.”