It's been a year, but Missy Brown can still see him - the big buck that got away.
For Jim Brown, it's been six years, but he hasn't forgotten him - the hunting buddy he lost all too early.
Vicki Brown remembers, too. She playfully teased her daughter about that big buck and related a story of her father's fallen friend.
And she remembers last year's Camp Ripley archery deer hunt - the first for the three generations of Browns at that special place.
They left empty-handed, if there is such a thing at a Ripley hunt. But the Browns, of Brainerd, returned to Ripley on Sunday and Monday with hopes of finding that special buck - and possibly retiring a special bow.
Missy Brown (left), Vicki Brown and Jim Brown prepared to take aim at another Camp Ripley weekend archery deer hunt Sunday and Monday.
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Brained Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
Maybe even reaching a milestone.
Approximately 2,500 hunters were expected to be on hand for the second and final Ripley weekend archery deer hunt of the year. Hunters are allowed to harvest two deer apiece in the hunt, which Jim Brown said would give him 100 for his hunting career, which spans more than 50 years.
"It could happen. But it's not that big of a deal for me," the 69-year-old said.
No, this year's hunt was about family. And friends. One in particular.
"I'm using his bow," Jim said of Curt Heikkenen, a longtime friend and hunting buddy who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2002 at the age of 62. "I used it last year, but didn't get one. If I get one this year, I'm going to retire it."
The three generations of Browns huddled in the rain Wednesday near a stone memorial for Heikkenen, not far from one of the gardens at the Northland Arboretum.
"We hunted together for years and years, since 1960," said Jim, who started bowhunting in '60. "(The hunt will bring back) memories of our past, lost hunter."
This will be the second Ripley hunt for Missy, 17, a senior at Brainerd High School. Although unsuccessful, last year's hunt is etched in her mind.
"It was huge," said Missy, still awestruck by the size of the buck that passed her way last year. But she was unable to get off a shot.
"I've had dreams about it," added Missy, who will hunt from a ground blind this year - she tore an Achilles tendon in gymnastics and is still unable to climb a stand. "It was bigger than the ones on mom's calendar at home."
Which had her excited about this year's hunt.
"At Camp Ripley, I always think of big bucks," Missy said. "When I was little, I said I wouldn't shoot anything less than a 10-pointer."
"Then," her mother chimed in, laughing, "she shot an 8-pointer."
"I'll shoot anything now," added Missy, who got her first deer, an 8-pointer, in December.
Vicki, 45, arrowed her ninth buck - fittingly, a 9-pointer - earlier this month as she prepared for the Ripley hunt.
"There are big bucks," Vicki said of Ripley.
"The chances of seeing big bucks are more (at Ripley) than outside of Ripley," Jim said. "The first year I hunted there was in '55, rifle hunting. I shot three right away."
Two will do this year. Or, with his friend's bow, just one.
One is fine with Missy, too. If it's the one.
"I want that one I saw last year," Missy said excitedly.
"He may be there," Jim said matter-of-factly.
Like all hunters at Ripley on Sunday and Monday, the Browns' names were drawn in a lottery for the hunt.
"It's something you can't always get into," Missy said when asked why this hunt was special.
For Jim, hunting with his daughter and granddaughter - and his old friend's bow - was the draw.
"It," he said, "is definitely the highlight."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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