The fact that the 2012 season produced a new Massachusetts state archery record is not exactly surprising, given that this is the third year in a row that the Northeast Big Buck Club has recorded a new record for the Bay State’s archers. By all indications, the trophy bowhunting in this state is getting better every year, and we can expect records to be broken (or at least challenged) every season for the foreseeable future.
But there is almost always more to the story behind a great buck—more than just records and scores. There is “the story behind the story,” that unique sequence of events that weaves a tapestry of opportunities, successes, failures and relationships that define the best of our hunting experiences. The story of Dan Daigle’s 2012 Massachusetts archery record is certainly a case in point.
Hunter Profile: Dan Daigle
At 50 years old, Daigle is an avid and very experienced deer hunter who has been chasing whitetails for much of his hunting career. Almost all of Daigle’s 30-plus deer have been taken in central Massachusetts. Daigle’s first buck hit the ground in 1995, and it was worth the wait—a fantastic 140-inch 8-pointer taken with a shotgun.
By 2009, Daigle was a serious deer hunter with years of experience, finely honed scouting and hunting skills and access to some outstanding properties. That year, Daigle killed another great Worcester County buck with his shotgun—an 11-pointer that would mark the beginning of our story of the new state-record archery buck for this state.
Sadly, Daigle’s brother, Dave, passed away in 2007. Daigle lost not only a brother but also a hunting partner. His sister-in-law gave Daigle many of Dave’s hunting possessions, including his shotgun and many of his hunting accessories. Daigle could not bring himself to use any of the equipment until 2009, when he took out Dave’s shotgun for the firearms season.
While hunting from the ground on one of his favorite properties, Daigle shot the great 11-pointer mentioned earlier. It was his best buck to-date, and it was not lost on him that he shot the buck with Dave’s shotgun. That deer, and that hunt, carried a deep meaning for Daigle.
When he recovered the buck, he realized that the great deer had led him to a fantastic hunting spot. While not far from where he generally hunted, this was a perfect funnel in one of those areas that just “spoke to him.” It was a place that inspired confidence from the first moment he laid eyes on it. Daigle hunted the funnel from the ground during the 2010 gun season and felt so confident about the spot that he hung a stand there for the 2011 season, from which he killed a doe and spotted a 6-pointer.
Although Daigle had hunted the area several times since 2009 without seeing a big buck and had yet to catch a big buck there on his trail camera, the spot had such good sign and inspired so much confidence that he planned to hunt there again in 2012. And, of course, it held the memory of the buck he had killed with his brother’s shotgun. As far as Daigle was concerned, this was “the stand.”
The 2012 Season
Daigle’s 2012 archery season could not have started better. While hunting a different property in Worcester County, he arrowed a very nice 175-pound 9-pointer on October 25. It was his biggest buck to date with a bow. As thrilled as he was, Daigle could not wait to get back into the woods and was especially looking forward to hunting “the stand” for the first time that season. But he had to wait for the wind to be right. The first time he hunted “the stand” in 2012, he did not see any deer, but he did see a bobcat with a red squirrel in its mouth—just another sign that this place was special.
The second time Daigle hunted the stand he was rewarded with a great opportunity at another big 9-pointer. He missed it cleanly and, as you might imagine, he was very disappointed. However, that miss turned out to be a fortunate and very important event, because in Massachusetts you can only kill two bucks per season. Had he connected on the 9-pointer, Daigle would have been tagged out. Instead, he was more focused than ever and more confident than ever about “the stand.”
The Day of The Hunt: November 14, 2012
Daigle worked the morning of November 14, but he had planned to hunt that afternoon with his friend, Craig Bacon. Bacon and Daigle had been good friends for years, and he had started hunting with Craig after Dave died. Daigle checked the wind and knew it was perfect for “the stand.” He sent Bacon a text message early in the day and the duo planned to meet there. He left work a half-hour early, went home, showered and met Bacon. They went into the hunting spot together, but Bacon decided to sit in another stand 300 yards away.
On the way to his stand Daigle pulled out a bottle of Code Blue dominant buck scent that Dave had purchased before he passed away. For sentimental reasons, Daigle used it on a drag rag as he headed to his stand, then hung it near a mock scrape he had made a few weeks earlier.
Daigle was finally settled at 3:25 p.m. and texted Bacon to let him know. Someone on a farm about 500 yards away was running a chain saw, so Daigle sat quietly until about 3:45 p.m., when the noise stopped. After that, he did a series of bleats mixed with a few grunts.
At 4:10 p.m., Daigle bleated and grunted again, and as he stuck the grunt tube in his jacket, he heard a loud snap. At first, it seemed too loud to be a deer walking. Then Daigle realized it was a deer raking some trees with his antlers! Daigle’s heartbeat accelerated as he was now sure he heard a deer walking. His eyes followed the noise, and sure enough he saw a flicker of brown moving through the woods towards some hemlocks.
Daigle removed his bow from the hook as his eyes spotted what appeared to be a rack moving through the trees about 45 yards away. With his heart pounding, Daigle watched the buck emerge about 30 yards away at the edge of a small natural clearing. A giant buck had stopped there and was looking down towards Dan’s scrape dripper and scent rag. He was close enough for a shot but was quartering towards Daigle.
Although he knew the buck was huge, Daigle kept his eyes off the rack and focused on a spot behind his shoulder, praying the big buck would turn and present a shot. Simultaneously, he scanned ahead of the deer, looking for a good shooting lane. The buck stepped forward and then brought his back leg up and scratched under his chin at about 25 yards.
That’s when Daigle drew. He thought he had a perfect opening, but there was a small branch half way between him and the buck. He had to hold the draw and wait for the deer to move again. After what seemed like an eternity, the deer took another step. Daigle mouth-bleated and the buck stopped at 21 yards. He let an arrow fly.
Daigle saw the lighted nock penetrate just behind the front leg, and the buck whirled and kicked. He bounded once, and on the second bound Daigle got a clear view of the rack from directly behind and realized how huge this buck was! The wounded monster retreated exactly how he had arrived. Daigle heard branches snapping, then a loud single crash. He listened as the buck thrashed momentarily, and then the woods went silent.
Daigle assumed the buck was down, but he did not know for sure. His body shaking and his mind racing with adrenaline, Daigle hung his bow back up on the hook and sat down in disbelief. “The stand” had lived up to his expectations. At that moment, Daigle thought that he might have just killed a 160-class buck. Was he ever wrong…
Daigle immediately called Bacon, exclaiming that he had “shot a corker!” Bacon is an experienced hunter, and, upon hearing the excitement in Daigle’s voice, instructed him not to get down from his stand yet. But Daigle was so fired up that he told Craig he had to get down before he fell out the tree! He promised to wait for Bacon at the base of the tree.
Of course, he did not! Once down he packed everything up quietly and, while the fading light still provided some help, he tried to find his arrow. After looking in the wrong spot, he put on his headlamp. He re-aligned with the stand and finally found some hair and small spots of blood. He started looking for the arrow but could not find it.
Daigle marked the shot area with flagging tape and waited for Bacon. Once he arrived, Bacon found the arrow about 20 feet away, soaked with blood. They immediately assumed the arrow must have hit the opposite leg on exit and popped out when the buck kicked. When Bacon looked closely at the blood-covered arrow, he nodded knowingly and said; “You killed this deer!”
Bacon is an excellent deer tracker, and had helped Daigle with a tough tracking job on the buck he killed earlier in the year. Bacon knew (and so did Daigle) that the smartest thing to do was back out quietly and come back in an hour. Daigle, of course, was sure the buck was dead and could not be convinced to leave.
Despite the obvious risk, they pressed on. About 15 yards from the shot site, Bacon noticed a broken pine branch. In another 10-15 yards, the blood trail still consisted of drops and splashes. Then, after 40 yards on the trail, Bacon again tried to convince Daigle that they should back out.
Daigle told Bacon he knew he made a heart shot and did not want to leave. At first, Daigle grudgingly agreed to sit down and wait for an hour, but after just a few minutes, he could wait no longer, and the two men decided to slowly and carefully take up the trail. They came into some low laurel where Daigle found a bunch of blood on the laurel. They went to the end of the laurel and there, 25 yards ahead, Daigle spotted the buck lying down, with the giant rack sticking up. They found him!
After composing themselves, the two men took some photos, tagged the deer, phoned their friend Keith, and got a four-wheeler to haul the big buck out. The next morning, they checked the buck in and it officially weighed in at 201 pounds.
Later, as friends gathered and savored the moment, Bacon said to Daigle, “I wish your brother could be here, and I’m so proud to be part of this with you.” Daigle remembers thinking to himself that Dave was a big part of this, even if he was only with them in spirit.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.