If you’re going hunting on your wedding anniversary, you might as well make it count.
My husband is Luke Hegge, an avid bowhunter since the day we met.
In addition to hunting the local area for whitetails and in Colorado for elk, he applies yearly for the Camp Ripley hunt in central Minnesota. He’s been going to the same area for 17 years.
Camp Ripley is a lottery hunt with about 2,500 hunters being allowed onto 53,000 acres. They line their trucks in a double line outside the gates. Picture 2,500 hardcore bowhunters showing off their trucks and gear. It’s a pretty cool sight.
About an hour and a half before daylight, the Minnesota DNR starts to let the hunters go in, two vehicles at a time. It’s like the running of the bulls or the start of the Daytona 500 of bowhunting. For those hunters who have been dreaming about the famous Ripley bucks, the opening of the gates gets their hearts racing.
For those who haven’t been there before, much of the first day of the two-day hunt is spent driving around and scouting. For those like Luke, who know where they want to be, it’s a matter of getting to their spots, getting set up and staying put. There’s a decent chance for an encounter with a mature buck, either by natural deer movement or from whitetails pushed by Ripley rookies stomping through the beautiful oak ridges.
The 2011 hunt happened to be during our 15th wedding anniversary. I’m willing to share the date with Luke’s passion for bowhunting since I knew what I signed up for at the beginning of our marriage.
On the morning of Oct. 20, Luke was sitting in a tree he had used the previous few years. He and his buddy, Dan Moon, who was perched about 100 yards away, had invested a lot of time researching aerial photos and analyzing maps to find the perfect spots.
It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning, and Luke was reminiscing about the 202-pound 10-pointer he shot in 2010. About an hour after daylight, his dreaming was interrupted by the loud, crashing sounds of a running deer.
The mature buck stopped directly between Luke and Dan, but it left as quickly as it had arrived, with neither hunter able to get a shot.
An hour later, the quiet was again interrupted by the sound of thrashing leaves. A huge black bear came running into view, heading for the thick swamp beyond Luke’s stand. It was an entertaining morning in the treestand.
Around 10 a.m., Luke heard the sound of a deer making its way toward him, this time with the natural gait of a calm whitetail on the move.
Luke’s heartbeat picked up pace as a giant buck, bigger than the buck from earlier that morning, came into view.
It was on a trail atop the ridge above Luke’s stand. The trail splits, with one branch coming down the hill, passing right under the stand. The other branch continues over the ridge and out of sight. If the buck stayed on the ridge, it would come no closer than 70 yards.
As it made its way along the trail, the buck passed the fork that would have brought it to the waiting bowhunter.
Luke immediately grabbed his grunt tube and can call, but neither produced a reaction. The buck continued on with its nose to the trail.
Luke picked up his rattling antlers and crashed them together for about five seconds, but the buck ignored him. It continued its persistent march, nose down, and walked out of sight.
As Luke’s pulse started to settle, he thought, This has been an amazing morning! While disappointed he didn’t get a shot at the biggest buck he’d ever seen in the woods, my veteran hunter was able to appreciate what an exciting morning it was turning out to be. Little did he know the excitement was just starting.
About five minutes after the big buck vanished over the ridge, Luke saw more movement.
“As I looked to the ridgetop, the first thing I saw were the tips of massive antlers heading straight for me,” he said. “I figured the buck must’ve swung back around.”
Pausing at the top of the ridge on the main trail, the buck stared down into the hollow, looking for the rivals he had just heard fighting. Then he marched down the slope with obvious attitude. Luke said he saw bark and sap dripping from its antlers.
An EMT and a firefighter when not in a treestand, Luke is generally pretty calm under pressure. But faced with the sight of the quickly approaching giant buck in a full-on dominance display, he began to feel the effects of buck fever.
A believer in positive thinking, Luke recited his ritual hunting mantra: “You shouldn’t have come by me. You shouldn’t have come by me.”
He says one mistake many hunters make is they begin to think, Don’t screw this up!
“That negative thought process only adds to the pressure and helps bring about the failure you’re hoping to avoid,” Luke said.
When the buck passed under Luke’s stand at 3 yards, he let his arrow go. The 160-inch 11-pointer crashed within sight, about 50 yards away. Upon closer inspection, Luke realized it was not the same buck that ignored his calling earlier.
Dan heard the commotion and, after waiting as long as he could stand it, headed over to congratulate Luke. “Only you, Hegge!” he said.
They field-dressed the buck and took pictures before debating what to do next. Since party hunting is legal in Minnesota, the men decided to keep hunting. Luke offered his hot stand to his friend, but Dan refused, saying his own stand was now due.
It wasn’t long after they got settled that Luke looked up the ridge again and thought, You’ve got to be kidding me!
The big buck that had taken the wrong trail over the ridge was back, looking as though he had been spooked by other hunters.
As it came down the correct trail this time, Luke prepared for a shot. The buck was moving quickly, but when it got to 5 yards, it caught a whiff of the human scent the men had left while working on Luke’s first buck.
The buck locked up, staring straight at Luke’s tree. Then it stomped and edged backward, knowing something wasn’t right, but not sure where to run.
When the buck turned to run, it gave Luke the broadside target he was needed. Already at full draw, he loosed his second arrow of the morning.
The buck ran right under the stand and shook the tree as it ran past. At that close proximity, it wasn’t hard for Luke to see it was mortally wounded and bleeding heavily.
Nevertheless, the two men waited several hours to begin tracking, since the buck had gone out of sight.
“You can’t get too anxious,” he says. “Wait, wait and wait some more. If you bump a wounded deer, you will drive him miles away. If you let him lie down and get sleepy, you’ll find him a lot sooner.”
I love that quality about my husband. He is very patient with his boys and me, and he carries that quality into hunting.
They found the 10-pointer, which also scored in the 160s, shortly after taking up the blood trail.
Back at camp, Luke was eager to share his story. His friends, including his older brother, Matt, were as excited as he was.
Matt has hunted the area with Luke for years, and they have the same passion for bowhunting. One of the only times Matt missed out on the Fort Ripley hunt was 15 years ago when he was forced to skip the second day to be the best man at our wedding.
Matt had seen one of the bucks five minutes before Luke, but he was unable to get a clean shot. Luke would have been just as happy if his brother had taken one or both bucks.
One of the first things I learned about my husband was how much he enjoys wildlife and hunting and “to be able to see these beauties up close,” he says.
His respect for the animals is evident with the care he takes to make a calm, solid shot. He attributes his success to putting in the time, good planning, and good clothing and equipment — and maybe good genes. Luke’s grandpa’s uncle was the famous hunter Jim Jordan.
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This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.