Before last October, this Arkansas hunter had a never pointed a crossbow at a living, breathing target.
Like the frog that refuses to let go and be swallowed by a heron, 41-year-old Mike Miller of Marion, Ark., will not go gently into that abyss.
Mike learned in 2002 that he has leukemia.
After struggling through treatment and three relapses during the next 18 months, he wound up beating it with the help of a stem cell transplant from his twin brother, Mark. He’s cancer-free now, but the chemotherapy and radiation treatments left him almost unable to put one foot in front of the other.
Still, that’s much better than not being able to walk at all, which once was the prognosis.
In addition, any mildly strenuous activity leaves him out of breath. And his long-distance vision is impaired.
None of these things can keep him out of a deer stand, however.
Mike hunted deer for many years with a compound bow. Last season, he reluctantly switched to a crossbow.
The transition came about because of an unexpected windfall — a $1,000 gift card to Bass Pro Shops — when his name was drawn at a fishing tournament. With the encouragement and support of his brother, Mike bought himself a top-of-the-line crossbow.
His confidence bolstered, Mike got some help to build a box stand that summer. The blind overlooked a food plot where, in 2011, they’d pulled photographs of a giant from a trail camera.
That deer was never photographed or seen during daylight hours, and nobody shot it.
Mike was thrilled when his camera photographed the same buck — even bigger in 2012 — on the food plot.
When bow season finally opened, there were very few days when the wind was favorable for Mike’s new setup. He would not go otherwise.
The first chance he got was on Oct. 6. Nothing came close enough that evening, but Mike did see a large deer in the distance.
So worried about spooking the big mature buck, Mike almost didn’t return the next afternoon, though the wind was again perfect. In his heart of hearts, he thought two days in a row were too much.
Because of his limitations, Mike has to ride his ATV to the stand and park underneath it. Aside from the noise, an unfavorable wind would snuff his chances of getting a shot at bow range.
With very few alternatives, however, he went back to the box stand on that relatively cool 55-degree day.
Not long after settling inside, Mike heard what sounded like two small bucks sparring in a distant CRP field.
Later, an adolescent buck wandered into the lush food plot, soon joined by another.
The two resumed fighting until one tired and left the field.
When the remaining buck stopped grazing, lifted its head and peered down the lane, Mike just knew it was looking at another buck. He was right, too.
“Even though I can’t see that well, especially at a distance, I knew it was a big buck,” he said. “As it got closer, I realized which buck it was, and there was no need to count points.
“My job at that point was to keep cool and not to mess up,” he added.
Two more bucks were following the huge one. About half an hour passed from the time Mike first saw the trio approaching until they were within shooting range — a lifetime for someone trying not to shoot too soon at the biggest buck he’s ever seen.
Holding a crossbow steady for a long period of time is hard enough for someone without limitations. For Mike, it was almost torture.
“All I could think of at the time was what my brother had told me: ‘Don’t mess it up. You get only one chance!’” Mike said.
One of the problems Mike faced was positioning the crossbow for a good shot with three deer facing him at only 25 yards. He caught a break when a car came down a nearby gravel road, which drew the attention of all of the bucks in the food plot.
Mike lifted his crossbow, tripped the trigger and skewered the big buck’s heart. It had been the perfect quartering-away angle.
When the deer fled, Mike’s brain tuned into an emotional party line. Did the bolt really hit where I thought it did?
Did the mechanical blades deploy? Will I find the deer? What to do ... what to do ...
After the voices subsided and his breathing returned to normal, Mike sent a text message to his brother, telling him that he’d shot the big one.
Mark responded: “Don’t kid about a big deer like that,” not really believing him, at first. But then he told Mike to stay put and, once again, “Don’t mess it up. You get only one chance!”
About an hour later, Mark and a friend, Lance Lovell, arrived to track the deer. Because the blood trail was sparse and difficult to follow, they considered leaving the deer overnight and returning the next morning.
Abandoning it meant the buck would most likely become coyote food, which they didn’t want.
Before throwing in the towel, they came across where the buck had stopped and the bleeding increased dramatically. Soon afterward, their flashlight beams illuminated the animal lying on its side.
Rather than go to it, Mark and Lance returned to help Mike reach the downed trophy. They wanted him to be the first to put his hands on those massive antlers.
High-fives and backslaps were followed by a photo session.
While his brother and Lance walked out to get an ATV to ferry the deer out, Mike remained beside his trophy to ward off any coyotes.
The following day, Mike checked his trail camera on the food plot where he shot his buck. Photos revealed that, for the first time in two years, the deer had visited the plot during daylight hours. In fact, it had apparently been in the field when Mike arrived on his four-wheeler.
That it returned only a couple of hours after being spooked just blew Mike’s mind. He’s sure divine intervention is responsible.
“I was truly blessed,” Mike said. “I give God all the glory.”
Hunter: Mike Miller
BTR Score 223 3/8”
– Photos Courtesy of Mike Miller
This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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