The story of how a Kentucky Booner brought comfort to two broken hearts
Rack Report Details
196 2/8 Non-typical
Time of Year:
Sept. 26, 2020
Butler County, Kentucky
Rick Chambers’ wife passed away on Aug. 20, 2020. She fought the cancer like a warrior, but it proved too steep a mountain. The aftermath of her battle devastated the Chambers family and even brought Rick to the brink of quitting hunting. But her inspiration, plus the help of his kids, led to a hunt Chambers will cherish the rest of his life.
The story of this Butler County, Kentucky, Booner began in 2019. A dazzling 3 1/2-year-old at the time, he already sported an impressive 13-point rack. Still, the 43-year veteran deer hunter gave him a pass due to his young age. While he didn’t get a broadhead, he got a nickname. “Karen and I named this buck 13 because he had 13 points,” Chambers says.
Fast forward to this summer. They found the giant just under 2 miles away from the area he had frequented in 2019, and he’d blossomed into an even bigger 4 1/2-year-old. Most hunters would be stoked to see a near-200-inch deer on their cams, and Chambers was, but he had more important things to consider. Karen’s health was rapidly deteriorating.
As he took care of his wife, Chambers spent less and less time at the lease, but his sons, Joe and Kaleb, kept tabs on the deer. They were insistent that their father hunt the buck during the 2020 season, no matter what.
On Aug. 20, the unthinkable happened. His partner of 35 years finished the race. “After her passing, I felt lost and had no purpose,” Chambers says. “Losing my wife drained most of my desire to do anything, let alone go hunting. It was not even on the radar. My children, Joe Chambers, Kari Boeglin, and Kaleb Chambers, convinced me to go hunt this special buck.”
The 2020 deer season arrived, and the grief was still almost unbearable. But it seemed a little more bearable in the outdoors. And so, the quest for 13 began.
“He proved to be very elusive and at times seemed as though he was taunting me,” Chambers says. “I’d hunt him, and he wouldn’t show up, but my cell camera would send me pictures after I left the blind,” sometimes within 10 minutes of his exit.
Chambers knows the property well. Fourteen years of hunting the reclaimed coal mine have ingrained into his brain every turn, trail, and tree. It’s beautiful country with steep, timbered ridges and lush valleys. By late September Chambers had already invested more than 10 sits in hopes of getting a shot at 13. On Sept. 26, despite not feeling very hopeful, he headed toward a spot that put him in the game yet again, along a ridgeline with a mixture of cedars and oaks.
The weather was partly cloudy with highs in the 60s. A light, 5 mph southwest wind rustled the leaves. He set out pretty early in the afternoon, as the giant had walked through there around 3 p.m. just a week prior. But as Chambers neared his ground blind, he spotted several turkeys feeding in the distance. Not wanting to spook them and risk their alarm putts spooking the buck, he leaned up against a tree and waited for them to pass.
“I was about 200 yards away from where I suspected 13 was bedding, which was a low swampy area below this ridgetop,” Chambers says.
Settled in the blind at last, he tried to focus on the hunt to keep his mind from drifting into grief and sorrow. But thoughts of his late wife brought a sad smile to his face, and he knew she was there with him.
Deer weren’t moving well, but Chambers still hoped he’d see his target buck. Although hours passed with little more action than squirrels and mosquitoes, his hopes weren’t in vain.
“When I first spotted the deer, I wasn’t sure which buck it was,” Chambers says. “I just caught glimpses of it in the thick understory. Then, I raised my binoculars and saw the distinct rack of 13. I was a mess.”
Both red and white oaks were dropping acorns for the giant to browse on, and it took almost 25 minutes for him to walk within range. Finally, within striking distance of Chambers’ crossbow, 13 stood and faced the blind for several minutes.
Given a slightly quartering shot opportunity, Chambers decided to put the crosshairs right beside the near shoulder and pulled the trigger. The bolt blew through the bone, zipped through the vitals, and exited around the last rib on the opposite side. The buck ran down off the side of the ridge about 50 yards, then collapsed.
“This was the 13th evening I hunted for the buck my wife and I nicknamed 13,” Chambers says. “And he gave me a 13-yard shot.”
With the help of his son, Kaleb, Chambers recovered the buck and got him back to camp. They enjoyed the moment and spent quite a bit of time reflecting. This buck wasn’t just for them. It was for Karen, and lots of hugging, crying, and laughter followed.
“Everyone at camp was elated that I shot 13,” Chambers says. “They knew the special circumstances around the buck and they really felt they were a part of this harvest — they were right.”
The next day, the group departed, and Chambers headed home. He stopped at a local gas station to get ice, and when he pulled up, he noticed a young female attendant crying by the door.
“I asked her what was wrong and if I could help,” Chambers says. “She said she hated where she was in life. I told her that was no way to feel and that she had a lot of living to do. Things often seem worse than they are.” He spoke with her for several minutes, and by the end of it, she was laughing, and certainly in better spirits.
“Hey, can I see your deer?” she asked.
Not one to disappoint, he dropped the tailgate and began to tell the story, including the part his late wife had played. Tearing up again, the young woman expressed the true reason she’d been crying.
“Sir, you don’t understand,” she said. “The real reason I was so upset is that my momma died this month — on September 13. I know that this is my mom’s way of telling me to get my butt in gear and do something with my life.”
“There you have it,” Chambers says. “Don’t ever tell me that angels don’t walk with us here on earth. Thank you, Karen. And thank you, God.”