Local hunter bags record-setting deer at Camp Ripley

Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
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We have a bit of a celebrity in our midst. A reluctant celebrity, but a media star for the week, at least.

Scott O'Konek of South Haven headed up to Camp Ripley Oct. 15 for his fifth time bow-hunting there. This time he had his wife Susie, also an avid hunter, along, as well as her uncle Jason Cleveland. This was Susie's first time bow-hunting at Camp Ripley, and Scott's biggest dream for the day was that she would shoot a doe.

Scott got Susie situated in a good spot, then found a spot of his own not too far away. He wanted to be ready to help her when she got that doe.

At around 9 a.m. a spectacular buck wandered near Scott's deer stand, just 44 yards away, oblivious to Scott. It shook some snow off its back and turned to walk away. Scott's single shot from behind entered below the rib cage and pierced the buck's heart, killing it instantly.

Scott walked over and just studied it for a good 45 minutes, without even touching it.

When reality caught up, Scott called his wife.

"When I called my wife on her cell phone," Scott told the Star Tribune, "I told her I had a big buck and that I think it had 37 points. She didn't believe me."

He then called Jason and told him he needed help with a 37-point buck. Jason thought it was a joke; he told Scott that he had one with 52.

The buck that Scott shot was a record-setter. At about five years old, the buck field-dressed at 192 pounds. That's not so unusual for Camp Ripley. What was unusual is the rack of asymmetrical antlers on the beast. Preliminary score for the unique rack is 228, three points higher than the previous bow-hunting record. A final score won't be available until the antlers have dried for about two months. The point-count will probably stay at 32 points longer than an inch.

Word spread around Camp Ripley about the amazing deer shot by Scott on the first morning of the hunt. After a few hours of gawkers and people huddling around to get a shot of it with their cell phones, a DNR officer asked them to remove the deer quickly as hunters were coming down out of the woods to see the spectacle.

The O'Koneks brought the deer to a taxidermist right away. (The meat, which was their ultimate hunting goal, has already been processed.) They went back up to Camp Ripley for more hunting, but Susie didn't get her doe ... at least not his time.

Hunters from around the country apply for the privilege of hunting at Camp Ripley. Oct. 15-16 was the first of two seasons there; Oct. 31-Nov. 1 is the second. Scott, Susie and Jason obtained three of the 2,500 permits issued for the first hunt. A total of 171 deer, mostly does, were harvested in the first season. Scott's deer wasn't even the biggest, but it may well be the most spectacular. News of the deer can be found in newspapers around the country now, and is featured in Field & Stream this week.

Scott told us he and Susie go hunting whenever they can get away. Their daughters, at age 2 and 4, were thrilled with the deer, and likely they will be out hunting when they're old enough.

Hunting runs deep in both sides of the family, Scott told us. He told the Star Tribune earlier this week that Susie's 70-year-old grandmother, Karen Cleveland, a TCN reader in South Haven, has been out hunting four times this year. She hunts with bow, rifle, shotgun, and muzzle-loader.

Camp Ripley is a 53,000-acre reserve just north of Little Falls. Besides the two seasons of archery hunting, Camp Ripley also hosts special gun hunts for disabled veterans and for deployed military. This is the largest organized hunt in the United States.

Jason Cleveland, a member of the O'Konek hunting party, snapped this shot of Scott with his trophy deer at Camp Ripley.