12-year-old doesn’t need long for hunt of a lifetime

Ethan O’Brien, 12, had one of the worst, and funniest, cases of buck fever on Sept. 3. He still killed a big 18-pointer during the special youth/disabled hunt. The buck’s antlers are losing their summer velvet.
Ethan O’Brien, 12, had one of the worst, and funniest, cases of buck fever on Sept. 3. He still killed a big 18-pointer during the special youth/disabled hunt. The buck’s antlers are losing their summer velvet. Courtesy photo

A 12-year-old El Dorado boy now knows what it’s like to have a huge case of buck fever, and still get the huge buck.

Ethan O’Brien thought his chance at killing his first deer was gone. It was too dark to see the deer, he told his host, Kent Marr. Marr, who could see the huge buck, fixed that problem when he plucked sunglasses from the 12-year-old boy’s face.

When Ethan saw the huge 18-pointer, a case of buck fever of earthquake proportions had the boy shaking so much that he could hardly stand, let alone shoot. Marr got him calmed, and as daylight was sliding away he got Ethan lined up with the rifle. Then something more important came up.

“I was expecting him to take the shot and he says, ‘I gotta pee,’ ” said Marr. “I told him to hold it and he said, ‘No, I really have to pee, now!’ So he walked over and peed.”

To Marr’s surprise, the big buck didn’t spook at the noise or movement. With one shot, the young hunter dropped a bigger buck than many avid hunters see.

“This buck was just meant to be for this kid,” said Marr. “I can’t explain it any other way.”

A hunt well deserved

The O’Brien family was due a change of luck. Tom O’Brien, Ethan’s dad, said they started planning for this deer season long ago. The boy, he thought, was finally ready.

“Ethan’s 12, but he’s only 62 pounds. I felt he was finally big enough to handle the rifle and all,” said Tom O’Brien. “I also felt he was mature enough to understand and comprehend everything.”

But their hunting plans were largely derailed earlier this year when Ethan’s mom, Taryn,was diagnosed with cancer. Her prognosis is good, but it’s been a strain.

“We were gone 40-plus days this summer for treatment in Illinois,” Tom O’Brien said. “We missed both of our boys’ birthdays and a lot of what they were doing.”

Trips to the range had Ethan shooting well, but the O’Briens hadn’t lined up any good hunting spots for when the special season for youth/disabled hunters opened Sept. 3.

“I don’t know what I’d have done if Kent hadn’t come up,” he said. “He really stepped up for us, big time.”

Kent Marr is good at deer hunting. His best, a Boone & Crockett whitetail shot with a muzzleloader, ranks high in the world books at 222 3/8 inches.

In the summer, his scouting found a Wilson County soybean field with as many as 18 bucks, including several trophies, coming out in the evenings.

He could have taken his brother, J.W. Marr, a paraplegic who loves to hunt, in the special season.

“I think it’s important we get more kids out there hunting,” said Kent Marr, “but it’s gotten harder for me to find a kid to take. It seems all they want to do these days is play video games.”

He was without a kid for this year’s early season until he talked with Tom O’Brien, where they work together near El Dorado. The O’Briens accepted the invitation.

At early evening on opening day, Marr and the boy were at an ambush spot near where he’d seen up to 18 bucks feeding in soybeans. Right on time, the bucks entered the field at 6:30 p.m. but were quickly out of sight.

“We couldn’t see them because there was a roll in the field and because the soybeans were pretty tall,” said Marr.

Tom O’Brien watched from a spotting scope from a high point about a half-mile away and counted 14 bucks in the field. Several were trophies.

As shadows moved across the soybeans, the bucks ventured to where they could be seen. First Marr saved the hunt taking the sunglasses from the boy’s eyes. Next came the buck fever.

“My knees were shaking so bad I couldn’t hold the rifle still,” Ethan said. “I tried locking my knees but I was still shaking so bad.” Marr took the rifle and had the boy rest. After a bit he helped Ethan get the rifle lined up again on a portable shooting rest.

Then Mother Nature made an urgent call.

When you have to go, you ...

“I guess I should have gone earlier. I was to the point where I had the safety off and was starting to squeeze the trigger, and I had to pee,” said Ethan. “I mean I really had to go right away.”

So he did, then went back to the rifle and aimed at the buck, then 200 yards away. The shot was perfect. Marr and the young hunter were soon at the buck that had 18 scorable points. Thick antlers had shed the fuzzy velvet of summer. Marr estimated the buck at more than 180 inches.

Tom O’Brien was as heartbroken as happy when he got to his boy and the great buck.

“The first thing that went through my mind was what could I sell to pay to get it mounted?” he said. “We’re really very tight after all the medical bills. I was afraid we could only mount the antlers for Ethan. That really hurt.”

The first place they took the buck was to show J.W. Marr, who’d been thinking of the hunters all evening. He insisted on paying to get the buck mounted.

“It was the first time we’d ever met him and he offered to do that,” said Tom O’Brien. “I’m telling you, these Marr brothers are a real blessing.”

“I just think the kid needed a break,” J.W. Marr said of the gift. “He’s a really good kid and likes the outdoors. You see less and less of that these days. They’ll get a lot of joy looking at that mount for years to come.” 

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors