Eastern Shore Trophy Non-Typical Buck

Jay Cappa's big, non-typical trophy rack has many interesting features -- including a big drop tine that caused the property owner to call it the "flipper buck."

Photo by Joe Byers.

Opening morning of the Free State firearms season was uneventful for Jay Cappa, who hunted on the farm of his good friend Wally Knox. On the Knox farm, the rule is: If you shoot it, you mount it. This rule has allowed bucks to grow some good antler size over the years. On that first morning, Cappa saw a couple of small bucks and a few does. But each one was shy of the harvest criteria.

The first Saturday after Thanksgiving Day is like Christmas to many Maryland hunters. Sportsman Cappa, though, was no doubt feeling fatigued.

"Actually, I had kind of dozed off," he remembers. But he was soon awakened by the sound of hooves below him. "I looked down and saw a 4-point buck run past the stand. The animal looked back and seemed to be running from something," recalls Cappa.

"Suddenly an 11-point buck burst onto the trail, following the 4-pointer. The deer was moving quickly, and I had to swing, aim and shoot in a single motion as it ran past. Luckily, the range was close -- about 20 yards."

Cappa took a few deep, excited breaths to make sure he wasn't dreaming. He felt sure he had hit the buck and climbed down to trail the animal. Searching the scene of the shot carefully, he could find no blood or hair.

The buck had followed a well-used trail into thick brush. Cappa followed in the direction the deer fled. Searching carefully, he found no sign of blood spoor, and his doubts began to build,

Cappa shoots a scoped Remington 1187 shotgun, with a Hastings barrel and Remington Copper Solid slugs. He feels confident about his marksmanship out to 100 yards and was determined to find this deer.

He finally did find the deer -- a buck that any hunter would proud of, with 11 points, heavy beams and modest antler spread. Later, Cappa would learn that the shotgun slug entered behind its shoulder, traveled through the heart and lodged in the brisket. Despite this lethal shot, the high entry point and lack of an exit wound eliminated any blood spoor to follow.

The 11-point buck was Cappa's second-largest deer, and he was proud to take it to the local taxidermist for mounting. Cappa, a building contractor, had several large jobs in the works at the time. So even though his buddy invited him to hunt again, Cappa took care of business first, putting off more days afield.

SECOND-TIME HUNT

IS THE CHARM!

Maryland regulations require that a person take two does before the hunter can legally harvest a second buck. Cappa complied with the regulations by stocking his freezer, as well as helping his buddy control the deer population on the farm.

But during the second Wednesday of the firearms season, Cappa was at work when Knox phoned him.

"What are you doing?" came a friendly inquiry.

"I'm at work and I've been pretty busy," Cappa replied.

"I thought you said you'd take some time off to hunt," said Knox. "I saw 28 deer in the field last night. You'd better get over here."

"You talked me into it," replied Cappa. He left work and arrived at the Talbot County farm around 4 p.m.

To attract wildlife, the Knox farm has lots of cover, including un-harvested corn and soybeans. From a well-camouflaged ground blind, Knox had seen more than two dozen deer feeding just before dark. He offered Cappa that spot while he chose a tree stand in a section of the field where the wind was unfavorable. We should all have such friends!

Cappa was barely into the ground blind when deer began to enter the bean fields to feed. Knox was about 250 yards away, at the other end of the field. "I was only there a few minutes when the show started," remembers Cappa. "I was on a point, and some deer fed past the blind from behind me. One doe passed at just 6 feet. I had my shotgun leaning against the corner of the blind and wasn't thinking of taking another deer. I was just there to watch the deer and enjoy a great evening outdoors."

The sun had just cut the horizon when Cappa noticed a large deer feeding behind him. Its head was down, and he couldn't see a rack, yet its body size was impressive. Cappa could have used his shotgun scope to identify the deer. But in his relaxed state, he focused his binoculars on the animal and waited for it to raise its head. Suddenly it did.

"If I didn't have a heart attack at that moment, I never will," reflects Cappa. "It had been a long time since my heart beat like that." A palmated drop tine was an unmistakable element of the deer's rack -- a characteristic about which Knox had alerted his friend.

"I've seen it several times and call it the 'flipper buck,' " said Knox. "If you see that flat drop tine, you know it's a shooter."

The buck of a lifetime was just 65 yards from Cappa, yet harvesting it was anything but a done deal. At first sighting, the buck was approaching the blind. Yet with evening coming, the deer suddenly turned back toward the timber. Additionally, Cappa's blind was very tall, requiring that he stand and shoot. Two does were feeding just 15 yards away. If they detected his motion, the buck would no doubt vanish.

"I eased up as best I could, without moving too fast and really didn't look at the does," remembers Cappa. "I leaned over the blind and took a rest on the top, just as the buck walked into brush. The last image I remember was the cross hairs behind its shoulder. I pulled the trigger. No time to get shaky. The deer ran like it had been hit."

Cappa sat still for long minutes, stunned at the events and wondering in the back of his mind, if this was part of the 11-point dream. With darkness approaching, he walked to the spot of the shot and began looking for sign as Knox joined him.

"What are we looking for?" asked the landowner, now down from his stand.

"The flipper buck," said Cappa, excitedly.

For the next 15 minutes, the two men scoured the ground for any sign to trail, but found nothing. Darkness finally forced a decision.

"I could read apprehension in Wally's face," remembers Cappa. "This was a huge deer, and following it might push the buck onto another property. I know I hit that deer. I heard the slug hit home."

"OK," said Knox. "Let's get flashlights and come back."

The duo returned with flashlights and used the truck lights to go over the scene a second time. Cappa returned to the blind, and Knox stood at the site of the shot. Finally, they found a dime-sized spot of blood.

For the next hour, the duo trailed the animal for about 100 yards, locating similar spots of blood about every 20 feet. Knox set his hat down on "last blood" so that each of them could search. The trail led into really thick cover -- a patch of 8-year-old pines.

"You know," said Knox, "one of us should have a gun. What if we jump the buck, and it's only wounded?"

Cappa retrieved his gun from the truck, picked up his hat and walked back to Knox, who was deep in the pines. "Do you have blood?" he called out in the darkness.

"I have better than that," said Knox.

"My friend's most noticeable physical trait is his big pearly white teeth," said Cappa. "All I could see were his teeth. He had found the deer and was happier than I was. You know it's a sign of friendship to go to a man's farm, and he puts you in the best spot. You kill the biggest deer in the county, and he's happier than you are. That's a sign of true friendship. He hugged me and shook me, he was so ecstatic."

After the proper drying period, Cappa's buck grossed 207 4/8 and netted 194 6/8 after deductions. The rack had 22 scoreable points, and the animal tipped the scales at 173 pounds (dressed) at the Shore Sportsman.

As a postscript, Cappa added, "With all my heart, I wish that Wally had killed that deer. He takes such great care of that farm and spends so much time developing its wildlife. I almost feel bad that I shot it . . . but I couldn't ask for a better friend."

Indeed!

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