Minnesota's Top Bucks Of 2009

It seems the quality of our bucks gets better every year. Check out these trophies from last season and see if you don't agree.

The 2009 Minnesota deer season was a good but not great one. More than 600 whitetail antlers, moose and black bear were entered in the Minnesota Record Book at the 28th annual Minnesota Deer Classic in March.

Sixteen of those whitetail bucks made the Boone and Crockett permanent records with a typical score of 170 or more, or a non-typical score of 195 or better. Eighty-nine deer qualified for Pope and Young with a minimum typical score of 125, or at least 150 non-typical. Another 31 qualified for the Long Hunter records, at a minimum typical score of 130, or 160 non-typical.

Looking back at more than 28 years of records collecting, the 600-plus entries this year is about average. The record number of entries was 763, sent in back in 1985.

There is a story behind every buck entered in the record book. I've picked three of the highest scoring bucks from last season as a sample of the great deer hunting we have in Minnesota. Here we go!

One of the most impressive sets of antlers coming to the Minnesota Deer Classic this year was the twisted and gnarly set of non-typical antlers taken by 18-year-old Ben Miller of Spring Valley. According to the top 100 listings of non-typicals in the sixth edition of the Minnesota Record Book, the score of 225 7/8 would place it in the top 25 ever taken in our state.

Ben Miller, 18, of Spring Valley shot his Minnesota Record Book buck with a 20-gauge Mossberg shotgun that he's used on all six of the deer he's killed. The gnarly, twisted rack of his non-typical scored 225 7/8! Photo by Hugh Price.

Miller has been hunting for four years and he's taken a number of deer. When he started hunting at the age of 14, his mother gave him a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun. He put a scope on it to make it a Whitetail Special Slug Gun. He's put it to good use.

"I've been hunting with it for four years and I've shot four bucks and a doe," said Miller.

On opening day of the 2009 Minnesota deer season, Ben's Uncle, Dave Vrieze, took Ben to his favorite deer hunting spot, a farm that belongs to a good friend.

"I've taken all four bucks and a doe on that farm," said Ben. "This hunting season on opening day my Uncle told me to go take a stand behind a certain big tree overlooking a fenceline. There was a well-known deer run along that fenceline, and a lot of deer have been taken from that spot. It was really my uncle's spot, but he gave it to me that morning. I think he was trying to help me get a buck."

Miller had been on his stand about an hour when he saw a buck coming fast with its head down, as if trailing something.

"I hardly had time to get ready for a shot, it all happened so quick," said Miller. "I got off a hurried shot with my Mossberg but thought I'd missed as the deer didn't show any reaction. The buck was gone so fast I didn't have time for a second shot. I was real disappointed but thought I might get a chance at another deer so I stayed on stand and watched and waited."

Ben continued to watch and wait, hoping to get lucky. In a couple of hours he saw his uncle and two friends heading for the pickup to go for breakfast in town.

"Before leaving for breakfast I should check for any sign of blood in the area where I shot at the buck," Ben thought to himself.

Much to his surprise, he found blood and began following the trail. He followed the blood for about 300 yards before he found the great animal stone dead. He was stunned at the size of the antlers.

"Although I'd seen enough to know the buck was a shooter, I really didn't get more than a glimpse of his rack. About all I had time to see was that it was a buck, and then I had to concentrate on getting my gun up, getting him in the scope, and getting off a shot. He was running and would be out of sight in seconds."

Miller went looking for his uncle and met him on the trail. "Well, I got the big one," he said.

Ben's uncle questioned him about the size, but seemed doubtful that the buck was the big non-typical they knew was in the area. When his uncle saw the buck, he got even more excited than his nephew. Ben knelt down and picked up the antlers and spoke to his uncle.

"Thanks for bringing me hunting," said the young man. "This is one of the best things that ever happened to me."

Miller's buck scored 225 7/8 and is the second-highest scoring non-typical from Fillmore County, according to listings in the sixth edition of the Minnesota Record Book.

Kenneth Kalien took this impressive buck on family land he's hunted for years. Kalien, now 60, has been hunting with the same Remington shotgun since he was 14 and has killed a deer almost every year. His buck's rack scored 228 0/8.â–  Photo by Hugh Price.

Kenneth Kalien of Red Wing had one of the more impressive non-typicals at the Minnesota Deer Classic this year. Kalien is 60 years old and has been hunting since he was 14. He's taken a deer almost every year since he started hunting. He credits his success to knowing the land and the deer travel routes and where to position his stand to take advantage of a key choke point.

Kenneth was hunting on his family land where he's hunted for many years. "I had never seen this buck before," he said. "We have a couple of cameras out and I have pictures of a lot of other bucks, but I'd never seen this buck.

"A mile south of my land they'd been watching him. They've been seeing him for the last couple of years and had sheds and trail camera pictures. He just happened to walk in front of me."

Kalien hunts with an old Remington 870 with a 30-inch barrel and a full choke that he's used for more than 45 years. There is only the single bead sight on the gun but Kenneth claims he can hit a coffee cup at 80 yards with just that bead sight. He was shooting 2 3/4-inch 12-gauge Remington slugs. He's killed at least one deer a year with that old gun since he got it at age 14.

"I was in my hillside stand, w

hich sits along the middle trail on the hillside," he said. "There is a higher trail up on top and another trail along the bottom, but I've had the best luck on the middle trail.

"I didn't see the buck at first. A doe came by and I shot her at 8 yards. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement when he picked his head up and watched the doe slide down the hill. I shot him in the neck. He went right down.

"I didn't know how big he was until I went over to look at him and then I could hardly believe my eyes. The amazing thing was he didn't take off when I shot the doe; he just looked up and that gave me the split-second to rack up another slug and shoot him.

"The deer field dressed at 232 pounds. I weighed him on the scales at Four Seasons Sports in Red Wing. Then I took him to TK Taxidermy in Lakeville. As it turned out I didn't have him mounted at that time. The taxidermist suggested that I have a replica made and I was still undecided, so I just brought the bare rack to the Deer Classic.

"I shot him on opening day about one hour into the season. The season opens at 7a.m. and I had him on the ground by 8a.m.

"I have a beautiful stand. I have a funnel point where the deer have to come through. It takes a few years of experience to figure out where they're at and where they're going. You have to understand how deer operate. They like to take the easiest path, but they want it to be in cover. You just find that spot and stay with it."

Kalien's buck is basically a 10-pointer with more than 27 inches of abnormal points. The final score is 228 0/8. The main beams are 30 5/8 and 29 4/8 and the G-2s and G-3s are over a foot long, The antlers are heavy and massive. The inside spread is 23 5/8, which shows off the fighting tines to good advantage. In addition to the high score, the rack is very impressive visually. It outscored more than 600 other entries to take first place in the Non-typical Firearm category at the 2010 Minnesota Deer Classic.

Scott O'Konek is 29 years old and has been hunting since he was a little kid. His whole family hunts including his mother. His godfather took Scott under his wing at an early age and took him hunting.

"I've taken a deer every year, except my first season when I was 12 years old," said Scott.

With a buck bearing 27 scoreable points and a net score of 227 3/8, Scott O'Kenek has every right to smile! He shot the buck with his bow on the Camp Riley Military Reservation. â–  Photo by Hugh Price.

Scott was hunting with his wife Susan and her uncle, Jason. They were hunting the Camp Ripley Military Reservation. They had been successful in drawing permits to hunt on this archery-only facility. Scott had hunted on the reservation before, and knew a little about the spot he wanted to hunt. It was an area of mixed woods and fields, and he'd seen a lot of deer activity there on earlier hunts.

"We all had climber tree stands," said Scott. "I really wanted my wife to get her first buck with a bow, so I put her in the area that I would normally have taken for myself.

"I wanted to get her in a good spot since she has yet to shoot one with her bow. I've been trying real hard this year to help her get her first buck with a bow. So, after I got her up in the tree I went about 100 yards north of her and set up on top of a ridge. I wanted to stay fairly close to her in case she shot a deer."

Scott didn't even know about the big buck. He's talked to a lot of friends in the area since that day and none of them had ever heard of it either. Scott thinks the buck must have been feeling a little "rut juice" and had traveled in from another area. It was truly a mystery buck.

"He didn't show any physical changes that you would associate with a buck in rut," he said. "His neck wasn't swollen. He was bedded with a doe but only seemed mildly interested in her presence. They kind of acknowledged each other, but he wasn't acting aggressive toward her."

Scott had been in his stand about an hour when he first noticed two deer. They were bedded about 10 yards apart and about 120 yards south of his stand. There was a 40-acre piece of woods out in front of his stand and the rest of the area was fairly grassy. The doe was kind of moseying around in the grass, but gradually working toward him. Then she looked back and the buck stood up.

"Holly buckets! What a monster!" Scott thought.

The Buck walked to the edge of the woods and as he entered them he was passing behind some pretty big trees and brushy cover. A couple of times he disappeared from sight.

"For a few minutes I thought he was gone," Scott said, "and then I caught a glimpse of him as he was walking by some big oak trees. And then he changed course and disappeared in the brush.

"I was desperately watching and hoping he wasn't gone, and then he shook a little snow off his back. I saw that movement and could make him out again.

"He'd stopped behind that oak tree I'd ranged at 44 yards, and was turned away from me looking back toward that doe. I had a good quartering-away shot at him so I drew my bow and released the arrow. He dropped right in his tracks.

Scott O'Kenek's huge non-typical now ranks as the state's No. 1 non-typical bow buck. Its score beat the former record by almost 4 inches. â–  Photo by Hugh Price.

"I'd never dropped a deer like that and I was kind of shocked. I kept watching to see if he'd get back up but he was down to stay.

"He gave me a quartering-away shot, the arrow clipped his spine and he went down. Of all the deer I've ever shot, I never had one hit the ground like that.

"When I saw him hit the ground I pretty much lost it for a few minutes. I knew he was the biggest deer I'd ever shot, at least by antler size. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure enough to remember how to work my climber to get down to the ground and go check him out.

"When I got up to him I couldn't believe it. When he was walking through the woods I wasn't able to see much detail. I hadn't even seen his brow tines, which were enormous. I could see enough to know he was a shooter and that was about all I could tell about his rack."

When O'Konek reached the buck, he just walked around it for a while in complete disbelief. Finally he was able to calm down enough to call his wife on his cell phone.

"Come and see what I ju

st shot," he told her.

The shot was 44 yards. Some people say that's too far to be trying to take a deer with a bow. Scott doesn't buy that.

"I practice at that distance all the time and am very accurate at that distance. The whole month before my hunt, I'd been practicing that exact same shot on a bear target at 45 yards. The deer gave me the same shot I'd been practicing for a month.

"My wife and I shoot archery every day. We have a range downstairs in the lower level of the house and when we can't shoot outside we shoot inside. My wife also comes from a family of hunters. Her whole family hunts including her grandmother."

When O'Konek called his wife, he told her, "I just shot the biggest deer of my life and he's a monster. He has so many points that I don't know how many points he has!

"My wife came over as fast as she could and when she saw the deer she got so excited she was screaming and crying. She was more excited than I was."

Later they took the buck to Tim Lyngel, a taxidermist in Maple Lake who caped the buck for them and made sure it was mounted in time for Scott to take it to the Minnesota Deer Classic. The antlers took first place in the Archery Non-typical category and the buck was also determined to be a new state record.

The former state record was held by a buck killed by Glenn Bullick in November of 1989 that scored 223 4/8. Scott's buck scores 227 3/8. The antlers are basically a big-framed 12-pointer. The rack has 27 scoreable points total. The brow tines are very unusual in that both are over 11 inches and are the longest tines on the rack. The greatest spread is 24 6/8. The rack is wide and fairly open and is very visually impressive.

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