Now you’ll know why Mike McCabe almost kept this story to himself.
Mike McCabe had great expectations for the 2013 season. For the first time in several years, there were TWO bucks — not one — on his radar. He’d nicknamed them Stickers and Muley.
Muley chased a doe past his stand in 2012. But it had broken off more than half of its left antler. When the hunter saw Stickers, the deer had somehow injured its left front leg so severely that Mike believed the limping buck wouldn’t see another autumn.
Mike spent 105 days afield, hoping to beat Mother Nature to the punch, but it didn’t happen.
Yet the deer survived.
When Stickers began passing in front of trail cameras in 2013, Mike was astounded at how much antler the deer had packed on from one year to the next. He expected the injury to have an effect, possibly even a substantial one, but the antlers still stole his breath.
Also, Stickers frequently traveled with a buddy, a 3-year-old 12-pointer a year or two shy of shooter status.
“I have at least five food plots every year, and I run dozens of cameras,” Mike said. “One of the food plots is very large. Although I had photographs of Stickers in that plot, he had also been using one of the smaller ones.”
Mike opted to hunt the small one behind his house. If the deer showed — which wasn’t a sure thing since it was completely nocturnal — it would be within bow range.
Prospects were less dim about a week after the full moon, when Stickers began coming to the little plot right before dark. Mike bided his time, hoping the deer would become comfortable there.
“When I had a photo of him a half-hour before dark, I felt comfortable getting in the stand,” he said, adding that he was hoping for ample time to get situated before the buck’s arrival.
It takes Mike more time than it does most hunters. He doesn’t simply walk in, climb into a stand and nock an arrow.
Paralyzed from his armpits down following a treestand accident a few years ago, Mike relies on friends and his own strength and inventiveness. During his four-plus months in the hospital in 2008, determined not to let his setback rob him of the opportunity to hunt, he designed a stand and pulley-enhanced lift system so he can get from wheelchair to treestand.
He doesn’t use an electric winch; just pure manpower, using the mechanical advantage of ropes and pulleys. It is a process that takes at least 30 minutes each way, if all goes well.
On the day he chose to hunt Stickers’ favorite food plot, all did not go well.
“It normally takes me 20 minutes just to put on my safety harness, since I have no ability to control my lower two-thirds. By then, I am all sweaty and tired,” Mike said. “Then I have to lift my nearly 200 pounds 25 feet into the stand.
“I roll into my spot as quietly as possible, park the chair and begin the process of arranging my gear for the lift. When all is ready, I hoist myself into the stand. The design is basically a block-and-tackle arrangement that allows me to pull about 70 pounds instead of 200.
“There is a safety locking attachment that prevents me from falling if I let go of the rope, which I do when I take a break to catch my breath and let the blood get back in my arms.
“When I get to the proper height, I swing myself over, lower myself into the chair, and then secure my Hunter’s Safety System,” he added.
“In order to get my camera and accessories up in the stand, I attach my backpack to the end of the same rope I use to pull myself into the tree,” he continued.
This time, however, the rope snagged. That meant he had no access to his gear — beyond his bow and arrows, which was attached to a separate pull-up rope — and he couldn’t get down from the tree without help.
He called a friend, explained his predicament, and asked the guy to please come help AFTER dark.
“I felt naked up there,” he said. “Everything I use on a hunt — grunt call, rattling antlers, range-finder, my camera and Ozonics unit — was in that bag, wedged under my chair!
“When I used to shoot professionally, I could range anything to within half a yard, but that was then,” he added.
“So I spent a lot of time figuring out ranges around the food plot.”
The start might have been rocky, but the evening was otherwise splendid. Lots of deer came in to feed, including at least five different bucks, some with antlers in the 150-inch range.
When Mike spotted the familiar 12-pointer, Stickers’ companion, he began scanning the terrain. Sure enough, the big buck was standing just a few yards from a ground blind on another food plot.
If Mike’s gear bag had been beside him, he’d have tried something to lure the buck closer. All he could do was hope the deer would eventually walk past the camera that had photographed it four days in a row.
“He stood for a time, listening to all the other deer in and around the food plot. Then he casually walked right down into the smaller food plot,” Mike said. “I drew my bow when he was 15 yards beyond where I wanted to shoot.”
Mike has a habit of whistling to stop deer before he shoots, but his mouth was too dry.
“I was all cotton-mouthed. I had to lick my lips before I could whistle,” he said. “But he stopped before I could make a sound. I thought, God, this is too easy!
“I put my (20-yard) pin right behind his leg and thought I executed a great shot. He jumped into the thicket next to the food plot and stood beside a doe for a bit — a little too far for me to shoot again.”
Mike figured the buck, which didn’t seem overly alarmed, might’ve dismissed the sound of the bow as yet another falling hedge apple.
“After several seconds, he walked another 15 yards, directly back the way he had come, and then stopped once again. He continued to stand there perhaps five minutes,” Mike said.
That was worrisome; definitely not the behavior of a double-lunged animal. So Mike began wondering if he’d correctly guessed the distance.
He last saw the buck heading for the tract’s large bedding area. When his buddy arrived to help him untangle the rope, they went directly back to the house. He didn’t want to push the deer.
It rained that night.
“The next morning, my friend and I went down to investigate and found two fairly large pools of blood, as well as some faint drops here and there,” Mike said. “We lost the trail in some tall grass and backed out again.”
Rather than march into the bedding area, Mike set out numerous cameras, figuring he’d get some photographs of the buck if it were still alive. If not, invading that sacred spot was an option.
“I waited another full day, 24 more hours of agony and wonder,” he said. “I’ve learned that pressuring a wounded deer will make him evaporate.”
A Photo, But Not from a Trail Cam
As much to fill time as to fill his freezer, Mike chose to spend some of those 24 hours beside a field that had just been cut in hopes of taking a doe. As soon as he was situated, he pulled out his phone. It would be awhile before the deer started moving anyway.
He wound up checking in with Facebook, which he hadn’t done since before he arrowed Stickers.
“I swear: The very first thing I saw was a picture of another man sitting with my buck,” he said.
“I was sick. My guts got knotted up. I knew the guy, but not well,” he continued. “He and his son had hunted the farm across the road from mine for the last two years.
“I couldn’t even text him. I was shaking so bad, it looked like I was writing in Russian. I finally said ‘To heck with this,’ got out of the stand, and went back to the house. I looked up his number and gave him a call.
“After telling him he was holding the deer I had shot, he told me the landowner had found the deer and gave it to him,” Mike continued.
That was the first time in 20 years that a buck he’d shot managed to get off his property. And to think it had to be THIS buck!
So Begins the Custody Battle
“After that phone call, it started getting ugly,” Mike said. “I contacted the game warden, who had written the (salvage) tag for the deer, and he began looking into where I stood, legally, in getting it back.
“We went backwards and forwards for several days as I tried to gain possession of the buck that I had hunted for so long before finally getting my chance,” he added.
Mike says the man told him he’d been offered a lot of money for it, and that set a new tone, a sour one, for negotiations — one that would likely lead to calling his lawyer.
“I was not about to hand over cash money as a ransom for my deer,” Mike said.
But the negotiating continued.
“I won’t go into all the details, but eventually a deal was struck,” he said. At that point, the head and tag were returned to Mike’s neighbor, and Mike’s tag was eventually assigned to the animal.
Mike often wonders what, if anything, he might’ve done to push the buck onto the neighboring property.
He wonders if he and his buddy spoke too loudly in his yard that night, before they returned to the field to follow the trail. He wonders if Stickers made it back to the bedding area and was chased out by coyotes.
“The only thing I can say is, I guess I'll never know,” he laments.
Hunter: Mike McCabe
BTR Score: 220 7/8
– Photos Courtesy Mike McCabe
This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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