Camp Ripley is famous for its trophy bucks, but like buck deer anywhere else they don't come easy.
Just ask Steve Graham, who has hunted the 53,000-acre military reservation for eight years but who had never shot a buck.
Graham's string of buck-less seasons finally ended Oct. 19, when the 35-year old Fridley resident downed a 10-pointer at 8:20 a.m. in the first of Camp Ripley's annual pair of two-day hunts.
"It was outstanding, just a great day," said Graham, who had hunted from the same stand the day before and had seen just one doe. "I got into my stand at daybreak and saw him walk into the field at about 8 o'clock. He started rubbing and scraping. It took him about 20 minutes to get to me. I was watching him come, thinking he could hear my heart beat. It was brutal. Finally he got done doing his rubs and came right at me."
The buck was 30 yards out when Graham released his arrow. He said he thought he missed, but later discovered the shot had hit the chest cleanly. Persistence had paid off. And to make the event extra special, Friday was Graham's birthday.
Mark Smith, Lexington, also had a successful Ripley bow hunt but with a strange twist of fate. The 8-point buck he brought to the weigh-in station had antlers on just one side.
"He took off after I hit him," Smith said, "and all of a sudden I heard this explosion. He ran into an oak tree. It was like BOOM! I found the broken antler about 15 feet away."
But Smith had no regrets about bringing home a half-racked deer.
"In '90 I shot an 8-pointer that scored 145," he said. "I usually wait for the big ones. But I've been working a lot of overtime lately and figured I better take this one."
The Oct. 18-19 hunt brought 180 deer to the scales, six fewer than the first hunt last year. The 10 percent success rate was slightly above the long-term average of 8 percent. The harvest included 105 bucks and 75 does.
Nine bucks weighing more than 200 pounds were taken. The biggest was a 243-pound 10-pointer shot by Gary Hemmesch, Richmond. The next four biggest bucks weighed 229, 228, 217 and 213 pounds, respectively.
The biggest doe weighed 146 pounds and was taken by Jay Brezinka, Little Falls. Two other big does weighing 145 pounds and 142 pounds were also brought to the scales. Hunters also took 10 fawn bucks, seven fawn does and two collared does that were part of an on-going reservation study.
A total of 1,854 hunters took part in the hunt, a 17 percent increase over last year. The DNR's Beau Liddell, who took over supervision of the Ripley hunt after the retirement of long-time staffer Gary Johnson, said the increase in hunters reflects the 11 percent increase in permits issued.
"We wanted to provide some additional opportunities based on the feedback we got from the hunters," Liddell said. "The herd is in excellent shape and there's no question we could issue 3,000 permits. There's probably more than 2,000 deer in Camp and we're taking out about 400 per year. But we have to balance the permits with the quality of the hunt. There's already a lot of situations where guys set up right next to someone else without knowing it."
Other than some variable winds on Thursday, making stand placement a hit-or-miss proposition, the weather cooperated. Thursday's high temperature topped out at 53 degrees, though strong winds gusting to 25 m.p.h. made the afternoon hunt less than ideal. Friday saw a high of 55 degrees.
The second two-day hunt gets underway Saturday and concludes Sunday. If tradition holds, a few more deer will be harvested as well as a few more larger bucks.
Since the Camp Ripley Archery Hunt went to a lottery system in 1983, the largest single-season harvest was 406 deer in 1992. Last year 375 deer were taken.
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