The John Breen Buck, shot in northern Minnesota in 1918, is considered by many whitetail experts to be the greatest typical ever, despite the fact that at 202 net B&C points he’s several notches down the list from No. 1. This isn’t an attempt to take anything away from the incredible trophies that outscore him, but few other typicals can approach this buck’s “shock value.”
Back in 1903, John took a job as a store clerk in the northern Minnesota town of Bemidji. At that time, a vast area of logged-over woods lay between there and the Canadian border 100 miles to the north. Transportation in the region was difficult, and the use of a horse and buggy was still common. From Bemidji, a railroad ran northeastward all the way to the border town of International Falls. Some 30 miles from Bemidji, the tracks went through the small town of Funkley in Beltrami County. And, that’s where whitetail history was made.
“People who lived north of Bemidji liked to catch the train and ride it into town to do their shopping,” said Ray, John’s youngest son. “In those days, you could flag the train down anywhere along its rout and ride it for two cents a mile. For a lot of people, it was a real treat.
“One of Dad’s customers, Knute Week, lived up near Funkley, at a flagstop place known as Hopt. He would come into Bemidji every so often to do his shopping. Week had access to some good deer hunting land up near Funkley, and he invited Dad to go up and hunt with him,” Ray recalled.
One cold day in November 1918, while two of his sons were overseas fighting in World War I, John grabbed his rifle and gear and hopped aboard the train for Funkley. When he returned home a day or two later, he had with him a deer so large that even back then it created quite a stir.
“I still can remember when he brought it home,” said Ray, who was 12 at the time. “He had quite a time getting it back to the house. He had to bring it down to Bemidji by train; then he had to get a horse and wagon to transport it from the depot to our house. The story that I always heard was that he was on his stand with his .30/30 rifle when a bunch of deer came by. Several does were being chased by a buck. He raised his rifle and started to shoot at the buck. All of a sudden, he saw this great rack of horns coming through the woods, so he took aim and shot this big buck instead.
“When he got the buck home, everybody came by to see it. A lot of people made a big fuss over it. The rack was so big that even in those days everybody knew that it was something special. The rack was so wide that we had a hard time getting it through the front door of the house.
“Dad knew his buck was really unusual,” Ray added, “and he was awfully proud of it. After much deliberation, he decided to have it mounted. He sent the antlers over to a taxidermist in Duluth—a man named Story. Mr. Story took one look at those antlers and offered him $50 cash for them. Now, $50 was a lot of money back in those days, probably equal to about half a month’s wages. Dad turned him down flat. That deer meant too much to him.
“It seemed like we ate on that old buck for weeks,” Ray added, “and he was one tough old boy. The deer was thin and gaunt when Dad brought him home, despite the size of his antlers. He was a big-bodied deer, and I remember people saying that he weighed well over 200 pounds. Dad tried to give away some of the meat, but it was so tough that nobody wanted it.”
John died in 1947 at the age of 81. Several years later, B&C introduced its new scoring system, and at the urging of friends, the family decided to have the head officially measured. With an unprecedented net typical score of 202 points, the Breen Buck immediately became the world record typical, even though he suffered heavy deductions for non-typical points. The Breen Buck held the record until 1964, when the James Jordan Buck was recognized as a new No. 1 typical.
During the late 1960s, an antler collector from the East Coast wrote the Breen family and asked if they wanted to sell the rack.
“His name was Dr. Chuck Arnold, a dentist in Boston,” Ray recalled. “He wasn’t sure whether we spoke English or not, so he wrote to us in both French and English. He said he collected antlers, and he offered us $1,000 for the rack. After talking it over, we decided not to take his offer because we didn’t want the antlers to leave northern Minnesota. After all, Dad’s trophy was Minnesota’s largest typical whitetail of all time (a position the deer still holds today), and we felt it should remain in the state. However, by this time, the old mount was beginning to show its age. For a while, we let it hang in a local store, but most of the time, it hung in our house.
“We talked to several different museums about possibly taking the trophy, but at the time, no one seemed to have much interest in it,” Ray added. “Then, in 1970, Dr. Arnold wrote to us again. This time, he offered us $1,500 for the antlers. He promised us that he would take good care of the trophy and that he would see to it that it got the kind of recognition it deserved. We talked it over and decided to take his offer.”
Dr. Arnold did indeed take good care of the buck . . . and avid whitetail hunters everywhere are glad of it.
The exceptional fact about the Breen buck is that its gross typical frame scored 215 0/8. Six small abnormal points kept this buck from being the world record. Without those points the buck would have had a net score of approximately 210.
The main beams measure 31 2/8″ and 31″ in length, with 6″ bases. The 26 7/8″-wide rack has outstanding tine length and is truly a masterpiece of nature. When compared side by side with similar scoring giants, any hunter would pick this buck as number one!