Daigle, a self-described “fanatical hunter” who is raising his kids to appreciate the sport, has killed nice bucks before. The best–a 149 1/8 11-pointer–he shot on the opening day of shotgun season in 2009. “A guy told me then, ‘You will probably be hard-pressed to ever outdo this,'” Daigle recalls. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who cares! This deer is beautiful, and I’m honored to take it.'”
In August, Daigle set up trail cameras and hung a stand where a big oak ridge sloped down to meet a stand of hemlocks. The stand was adjacent to a narrow swamp, on nearly flat ground near the bottom of the ridge. Daigle hunted the stand a couple of times during opening week, in mid-October, and once in late October. Then Sandy hit. As a lineman for National Grid, an electric and natural gas utility with operations in New York and much of New England, he was involved in the emergency response to the huge storm. He was able to hunt the stand only once, on November 8.
On November 14, Daigle took off work early to hunt with his friend, Craig Bacon. “I’d be fibbing to you if I said I knew I was going to see a big deer,” Daigle says. “But I just had a feeling it was a special day. It was that overcast, raw weather we just love to hunt.”
More importantly the wind–which for several days had been blowing the wrong way for the hemlock stand–had now shifted to the north. “We’d been waiting for that wind,” Daigle says, “and we had talked earlier how we were going to approach the hunt.” The two men walked in together until Bacon split off to walk to his stand, about 250 yards east of Daigle’s.
“About a hundred yards from my stand, I stopped and got out a scent drag and doused it with dominant buck urine,” Daigle says. He’d earlier started a mock scrape with a dripper near his stand, and when he arrived he was excited to see the scrape uncovered, with big tracks nearby. “It looked really fresh, and I hung my scent wicks about 20 yards away and sprayed some Buck Bomb over the area. Then I climbed into my stand real quick.”
It was about 3:25 when he got settled in. Twenty minutes later he took out his estrus doe can, gave it a couple of flips, and hit his grunt call.
Twenty minutes later, he did it again, this time grunting even more aggressively. “I’d just put the grunt call back in my shirt when I heard sticks breaking,” Daigle recalls. “It almost sounded like turkeys going up to roost. But I listened hard–the wind was low, so the woods were quiet–and I thought, ‘That’s no turkey; that’s branches snapping.’ Then I heard the distinct sound of a deer walking.”
As Daigle reached for his bow, slipped his hand through the sling and clipped on his release, he spotted a flicker of brown. “Before I even saw the deer’s head I saw that massive rack coming through the hemlocks,” he says.
Daigle’s stand hung in a natural clearing about 25 by 30 yards, with the mock scrape at the southern end of the opening. The buck appeared at the northern edge, 30 yards from Daigle. “He was walking slow, really scanning, like he was looking for whatever had made that grunting sound.”
“He was quartering towards me, and I didn’t like the angle,” Daigle says. “But he kept coming, real slow. When he got to 25 yards, his head passed behind a sapling and I drew back. But there was a little branch right where I wanted to shoot.”
“I scootched down a little bit to see if I could shoot under the branch, but I didn’t like the feel of that. I was starting to get a little nervous. Then he stepped out again and I gave a soft bleat with my mouth and he stopped, about 20 yards away, with his vitals wide open. He was almost broadside, a perfect shot.”
Daigle squeezed the release. “I watched the arrow tuck right nice behind his left front leg, and he spun around and went bounding off. On the second bound I got a real good look at his rack, which I’d been trying not to look at before the shot. It was incredible.”
Daigle heard a crash in the woods and felt confident the buck had gone down. After a few minutes with no further noise, he called Bacon. “I said, ‘I just shot a real big buck.’ He said, ‘Is he down?’ I told him I thought so. He said, ‘Did you see it go down?’ I told him I didn’t. He said, ‘Do NOT go after that buck. Stay in your stand!’ But after 15 minutes I was getting riled up, and I called him back and told him I was going to look for my arrow, nothing more, and I packed up and climbed down.”
Hearing the excitement in his friend’s voice, Bacon also climbed down–with 15 minutes of shooting light left–to help Daigle out. It was Bacon who finally found the arrow, which was covered in blood. But the trail was faint, and the pair had a decision to make: Bacon wanted to back out, but Daigle said no way. “The area we hunt is covered with coyotes, and I just knew if we backed out something would get at it.”
They started carefully following the trail, walking slowly and pausing often to look for blood as the early Massachusetts sunset cloaked the woods in darkness. “Craig was not liking the small amount of blood we were finding after 40 yards, and he again said we should back out. We sat down in the woods, and my heart was racing. I was cranked. I started thinking, ‘Did I really make a good shot?'”
After 15 minutes of debating what they should do, Daigle and Bacon were on the move again, creeping along a yard at a time as they played their lights across the ground in search of sign. “He’d almost talked me into backing out, but I said let’s just go up this little rise,” Daigle recalls. “I stepped over some laurel bushes and saw the green leaves were splashed with blood.” Shining his light ahead, Daigle saw the white belly of a big buck down. “What amazed me, even before I lifted his head out of the leaves, was that his body was huge. His neck was enormous. He was a big brute. I just felt really blessed.”
The trail cameras that Daigle had been running since August had ever caught the buck. Kneeling over it in the Massachusetts evening, he got his first clear look at a true giant. “I knew it was a good deer when I shot it, but I had no idea it could be state-record caliber,” he says. Daigle estimates that only about 20 seconds passed between the moment he first saw the buck and when he sent the arrow on its way. “I’m glad it happened the way it did. The deer didn’t stand out of bow range for five minutes. If it had, my knees would have been knocking.”
Lonnie Desmarais, official scorer and regional director of the Northeast Big Buck Club, the official keeper of whitetail trophy records in the region, green scored Daigle’s 16-pointer at 198 3/8 gross nontypical. He says rack will be officially measured in January by an NBBC scoring panel, but it should have more than enough to surpass the current state record archery nontypical, a 190-inch buck taken in 2011 by Mark Thomas. The NBBC uses gross scores when ranking record bucks. Desmarais says the rack’s most impressive feature is consistent tine length and symmetry. None of the tines topped a foot, but four are over 10 inches. “It has 25-inch beams, which is phenomenal,” Desmarais says. “For a nontypical it’s really symmetrical: The points don’t all come off the top of the main beam, so you can’t count them as typical. But there’s only 6 inches of deductions: Every nontypical point on the deer basically has a matching nontypical point on the opposite side. It’s really unusual.”
Massachusetts has been on a bit of a roll. In addition to Daigle’s new state record, the opening day of gun season on Nov. 26 provided a buck that should be a new firearms state record as well, this 210-inch bruiser taken by Craig Luscier near the New York-Massachusetts line, according to the NBBC website. (The hunter had originally asked that his name not be released until the buck is officially scored.) “We used to shoot 140-inch deer and that was fantastic, but now it seems like every year we’re breaking a state record,” Desmarais. “Our deer are getting bigger and bigger, which is pretty impressive for a small state like Massachusetts.”
Daigle (here with his kids, Ethan, Shane and Olivia) says he’s “humbled and honored” with his pending record buck–and Desmarais (who measures 10 to 15 of the state’s biggest bucks every season) seconds the notion. “A few guys get very arrogant when they shoot a nice deer, but Dan was very humble about the whole thing,” he says. “Dan was really happy, but very honored. He knows it’s very special to shoot a buck like this.”
Dan Daigle, a 49-year-old electrical lineman from Massachusetts, missed the beginning of the Bay State’s rut while pulling emergency duty in the response to Superstorm Sandy. When he finally got back into the deer woods in mid-November, Daigle pulled out all the stops, using a mock scrape, deer scents, grunt calls and a bleat can to stir up rutting bucks in his Rutland hunting grounds. His full-bore tactics paid off big time when this 198-inch nontypical 16-pointer came to his call. Daigle made the shot, downing what should be Massachusetts’ next state-record archery nontypical.