Dan O’Brien is one of those guys with whom you only need to speak for a short while before you understand how deeply connected he is to hunting — and to the animals he hunts. At age 48, O’Brien is already a 35-year bowhunting veteran. As a youngster in Pennsylvania, he got his introduction to hunting from his dad. Since then, O’Brien has taken hundreds of deer over the years, and most of those deer have been bow kills.
In recent years, in Connecticut he filled multiple tags each year as he honed his hunting skills.
In the late 1990s, O’Brien bought a hunting DVD that had an incredible impact on him. After seeing so many great Midwestern bucks, he decided right then that he had to hunt the Midwest to have a crack at some bigger bucks. He booked a hunt with Carter Outdoors in Illinois, and after that first year he was hooked.
O’Brien returned to Illinois year after year, hunting on property he leased or purchased, and he began shooting some better bucks. In fact, he shot several that scored between 130 and 140 inches. His experience in Illinois encouraged him to think differently about hunting at home in Connecticut, and he began passing on smaller bucks at home.
Eventually he started shooting some nice bucks in Connecticut as well, including some that scored in the 120s. In other words, O’Brien had made the transition from being a “deer hunter” to being a big buck hunter. O’Brien did not know, however, that this “training” was preparing him for one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
One of the great advantages O’Brien has in Connecticut is that he has access to a great property that he has been hunting for about 15 years and has been intensively managing for about the last 10 years. The 130-acre piece of ground in Middlesex County has about 15 acres of fields, several food plots, gently rolling hills and plenty of woods. Unfortunately, there are very few pinch points or draws like you might see in the Midwest, and there are also plenty of houses that surround the property. It is an interesting combination of both rural and suburban settings, with thousands of acres of state land near the property as well.
After seeing how the outfitters manage their properties in the Midwest, O’Brien, along with his hunting buddy Rob Duprey, started intensively managing this property. Their efforts included planting plenty of food year-round and passing young bucks. Those tactics had resulted in a definite improvement in the quality of the bucks, young and old. Despite the improvement, most seasons found O’Brien in the Midwest during the rut, and that meant that many of his hunts on this farm were focused on shooting does to fill the freezer before leaving for his out-of-state hunt. But O’Brien’s thinking about the trophy buck potential on his Connecticut farm changed substantially during the summer of 2011.
In the summer of 2011, O’Brien got several trail camera photos of some very good deer in the 140-150 class, and one photo of a huge, heavy-racked velvet buck. He was shocked at the size of this deer, given that the rack was not fully grown yet. Then, in mid-August, O’Brien’s wife called him one afternoon and said she had seen a huge buck near the farm property right around noon. She took some great photos of the buck with a zoom lens on her camera.
O’Brien didn’t know what “huge” meant, but when he got home and looked at his wife’s photos he was shocked: He was staring at photos of a buck that he guessed would score at least in the 180- to 200-inch range! After looking at the photos, O’Brien remembered that he had heard about a huge deer the previous year from this area, and he recalled that his wife had a close encounter on the road with a buck whose rack already seemed big in June.
O’Brien decided immediately that he needed to put all of his energy into patterning this deer.
The next few weeks turned into an obsessive effort to try to understand this buck. O’Brien spent every spare morning and evening driving the property in an effort to determine where the buck was bedding and what it was eating. His pattern now would be the same pattern on September 15, when the season opened, so this was his chance to figure out the buck.
O’Brien began seeing the huge deer fairly regularly, and he also heard from other hunters in the area who had seen the buck and wanted permission to hunt the buck on O’Brien’s property. Of course, O’Brien did not give permission, but did manage to keep in touch with one of the younger hunters who had seen the buck.
Interestingly enough, O’Brien’s wife and daughter got caught up in this whole obsession, and they too started watching for the buck on their travels and got more live photos of the buck.
O’Brien reached out for help in patterning this buck. His friend, Dale Carter, who is a well-known outfitter in Illinois, helped coach O’Brien through the process of developing a plan to hunt this great buck. O’Brien also talked with his hunting buddies to get ideas, but they all had differing opinions on how to approach hunting him. Ultimately O’Brien knew it would be up to him to figure this out on his own. He decided he would need to hunt a pinch point that he assumed the deer would pass through if the wind was right.
O’Brien picked a stand site and determined that he would need a morning wind that was northwesterly, or an afternoon wind from the southwest. He waited until just prior to the hurricane of 2011, when he and Rob would be able to get in to hang the stand without disturbing the deer. He knew that the wind and rain over the next few days would clear their scent out of the area. The time had come, and the season was now just around the corner.
FACE TO FACE
Opening day was September 15, but the wind was not right in the morning, so O’Brien waited until the afternoon to hunt. He saw a few deer, but he had an uneasy feeling and thought maybe he should not risk hunting in the afternoon. He decided to hunt just in the mornings when the wind was right. A few days later, O’Brien was driving by the property and not only saw “his monster” but actually saw another giant with him!
On Monday morning, September 19, the wind was perfect and O’Brien headed to the stand. The anticipation was killing him. He had seen this deer many times, but never from his treestand with his bow in his hand. As the sun rose that morning, O’Brien constantly coached himself to calm his nerves. It’s just a deer, O’Brien thought. Focus on the shot. Stay calm. At 7:30, he noticed a tree in the distance was “moving around.” Suddenly he saw the massive rack and realized the monster buck was rubbing the tree!
O’Brien’s breath involuntarily left him. He raised his bow and got in position as the deer walked directly downwind of him. Amazingly, the buck did not show any signs of smelling him but never presented a shot. The buck walked over to a little patch of woods 70 yards away. O’Brien decided the right thing to do was to wait all day in hopes that the deer would come back in the opposite direction later in the day. The wind was predicted to shift in the afternoon and would be perfect if the buck came back out in the afternoon. O’Brien felt like he had him now!
Despite his plan, at about 11 a.m., he just couldn’t wait any longer. He had been thinking of his dad, who had passed away 10 years earlier, and, with the encounter earlier in the morning, his emotions got the best of him. He was mentally fried so he left his gear in the tree, and exited by making a big circle away from that little patch of woods where the deer bedded.
O’Brien had lunch, talked to Rob for encouragement, cleared his head, and went back out at 2 p.m. The wind was perfect on this beautiful and cool September afternoon. O’Brien was in a better frame of mind, and he thought he was ready to close the deal if the buck came out of that little pocket of woods.
Around 5:30 p.m., when things were getting “just right,” O’Brien heard a noise and saw the back end of his deer heading in the other direction! He thought for a moment that the hunt was over. But then the sound of a slamming car door and a car engine starting seemed to turn the deer back around. He was heading back towards O’Brien’s stand.
The monster was heading right to a break in a stone wall, which would have presented O’Brien with a shot, when the buck suddenly got uncomfortable and stopped short. The wind was perfect, but the deer seemed to know something was wrong and hung up at 45 yards.
O’Brien was afraid to move at this point. He needed the buck to walk through the break in the wall. But the buck literally started backing up. He stopped, scanned the area for a while and seemed to relax. Moments later he began rubbing little trees.
Finally, the big buck started coming towards O’Brien again. O’Brien tried to range a few spots where he thought the buck would present a shot, but he was shaking so bad he could not get a range on his rangefinder! O’Brien calmed down, quickly reminding himself he knew the ranges of his various shooting lanes.
When the buck got close to a shooting lane, O’Brien drew back on his bow. As the buck walked into the lane, O’Brien put the pin on his vitals. The giant buck looked right at him. That massive rack was now facing O’Brien as he touched off the shot. He knew the shot sounded good, but he was so rattled he did not know where the arrow hit. The buck wheeled and bounded five or six times out of sight, and for an instant O’Brien thought he might have heard him crash. Then it was dead quiet, except for the uncontrolled pounding of O’Brien’s heart. O’Brien thought to himself, My God, I just smoked that giant buck and he is dead 60 yards away!
O’Brien collected himself as best he could, texted Rob to tell him the good news, waited 30 minutes, then left the area. Rob and another friend, Mike, were hunting other stands on the farm and met him at dark. Everyone was pumped up, and O’Brien was 99 percent sure the deer was dead. But O’Brien was still not ready to celebrate.
They waited until 8 p.m. and then went after the buck together. At the shot sight, they found plenty of blood and knew it was a great hit. After the first 50 yards or so, they found a bunch of blood but no deer. They kept following the trail, never losing blood, but at times got concerned because it became sparse. After a total of 120 yards or so, they decided to check to see if it made it to the nearest road. If it did, the plan would be to back out until morning. They hit the ditch by the road and found some blood on the road itself. Then, suddenly Rob spotted the deer lying on the side of the road, with his head up on a stone wall, facing away from the road. The buck’s back legs were practically touching the road. How many people had driven right past him in the last few hours?
As O’Brien examined the giant, he saw that his arrow entered at the base of the neck and drove in front of the shoulder and into the lungs. Despite being so rattled at the shot, O’Brien had brought a quick and merciful end to the subject of his obsession.
O’Brien brought the buck to Northeast Taxidermy for mounting, and asked Carl Lieser to green score the buck. The buck was eventually panel scored by measurers representing the NBBC and Boone & Crockett.
SCORES & STATS
At 227 1/8 inches gross and 217 3/8 inches net, the O’Brien buck is the largest gross-scoring hunter-harvested buck in the NBBC’s records for Connecticut. So it not only takes over the number 1 spot for archery non-typicals, but it is also the largest buck ever recorded by the NBBC in the state. The previous NBBC archery non-typical record was Chris Krista’s great 199 1/8-inch gross and 187 3/8-inch net 17-point from New Haven County in 1998.
The rack stats are mind-boggling. The main beams are 28 6/8 on the right and 29 6/8 on left. The inside spread is 22 4/8 inches, with a greatest spread of nearly 28 inches. The rack is a 5×6 typical frame with six additional abnormal points, one of which is a 3 3/8-inch unicorn point. Two typical tines were 10 inches or more, and three of the abnormal points ranged in size from 7 to 9 ½ inches! But the mass was very impressive as well, with a total of 45 5/8 inches of mass measurements! All eight circumferences were over 5 inches!
Pending acceptance by Boone & Crockett, O’Brien’s buck will rank as the highest-scoring non-typical from the state of Connecticut. It will rank second among non-typical bowkills entered into the Pope & Young record book.
MORE THAN A NEW RECORD
It seems to me that all too often we see hunters turn into financially motivated self-promoters once they kill a big buck. I would never begrudge anyone the opportunity to make a few extra dollars, but in my opinion the focus and attention moves from the great buck to the hunter.
O’Brien is donating any proceeds he receives from displaying the buck at various sportsman shows or through the publication of his story to the Catch A Dream Foundation (www.catchadream.org). Catch-A-Dream grants once-in-a-lifetime hunting and fishing experiences to children 18 years old or younger who have a life-threatening illness. This tells you everything you need to know about O’Brien — he honors the deer, he honors hunting and he honors us all as hunters.
About the Northeast Big Buck Club
The Northeast Big Buck Club is an all-volunteer non-profit record-keeping organization that maintains historical records for whitetail deer from the Northeast. For more information on how to get your deer scored, or to purchase their latest record book — Northeast Trophy Whitetails VI — please visit www.bigbuckclub.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.