Twice Bitten, Never Shy

Mike Massey crouched in the low brush of the Yukon Territories, over 3,000 miles from his home in Florida, and panic began to set in. The bull and cow caribou rested in a bed of yellow and orange shrubs only 30 yards in front of him when he felt the wind move from his face to the back of his neck. It was only a matter of time before they winded him.

The bull’s antlers stuck out above the bushes. Massey’s guide was sure it was a record book animal.

Massey’s scarred left hand gripped his bow, while his other clipped in his release. The bull offered no ethical shot in the fortress of shrubs and undergrowth.

At any moment he knew the foreign scent of hunters would reach the caribou.

His guide told him to get ready, then began waving his hat around to get the caribou’s attention.

It caught the eye of the cow and as she stood up, Massey drew back. The scarred hand flexed as the potential energy built up in the cams of his bow.

It was the first true test after his surgery.

He held at full draw for 10 seconds, but the bull remained bedded. After 30 seconds he started to feel signs of muscle fatigue, but still no movement from the bull. A minute passed. It was the longest he’d ever held at full draw. The muscles, tendons and bones in his hand were all testing new limits after being ripped apart by a beast of a very different origin three months ago.

Then the bull began to stir.

Born and raised in West Palm Beach Florida, Massey has the build of a man who has spent his life working and playing outdoors, his face coated in a salt and pepper stubble to match the country boy drawl in his voice.

He’s been a child of the ocean for as long as he can remember, but began to divide his attention inland after he was introduced to hunting around age 10. From turkeys, whitetails and gators, and eventually to elk and caribou and even African big game, Massey has lived the life of a hunter.

Swipe/click to see more photos

Yet he’s always drawn back to the ocean.

Massey was born to be near the water and if you asked his friends it could be his undoing as well. Afterall, you don’t get a nickname like sharkbite for nothing.

Being bitten by a shark while surfing is but one example of his ocean of bad luck. He’s also been on the wrong end of a lightning strike no less than four times while on or near the water. Yet he still cannot shy away.

Three months before he drew back on that record book caribou, Massey got a call from a friend inviting him on a spear fishing trip on the fringe of the Bahamas. A member of the diving party had backed out last minute, and Massey jumped at the chance to replace him.

The sky was grey and cloudy when they arrived, making for irresistible diving in the glassy waters. Their boat sped across 70 miles of ocean, the ride filled with jokes about how everyone should dive with Massey to distract the sharks, though shark attacks are about as rare as being struck by lightning…

The boat anchored on the edge of a recent shipwreck. The divers pulled on their wetsuits, masks, snorkels and fins, then looked overboard into 50 feet of crystal clear water.

Diving that day was like entering a different world, silent, one vibrant with the blue of the sea amid the colorful swarms of dozens of species of fish.

Massey soon had the long yellow dorsal fins of a hogfish flailing on the end of his spear, then the faint orange stripes and red fins of a mutton snapper soon after.

The snapper, however, thrashed hard as he kicked his way to the surface, so he stuck his hand inside its gills to gain control of the fish. But the underwater struggle began to attract the wrong attention.

A seven foot bull shark began circling as he made his way upward. As a spear fisherman, he has dealt with sharks before and knew he may have to donate his prize catch to the bull shark.

His legs kicked harder for the surface and his lungs began to burn. He caught one more flash of the shark and looked just in time to be eye-to-eye with the shark as it head-butted him.

He instinctively raised his free hand as a shield and was met with around 50 rows of teeth piercing through his skin. A bull’s bite is powerful enough to crack the shells of sea turtles, and it made short work of the bones in his hand as well. Without even thinking, Massey pulled back hard, ripping his hand out of the shark’s mouth. The serrated teeth tore through muscle and tendon, and blood instantly began to dye the water red.

The rush of adrenaline momentarily dulled the pain, and after reaching the surface, he began yelling to get the attention of the boat.

All the while the shark continued to circle.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the boat caught on to the situation and plucked Massey out of the water.

As soon as he was on board he began to feel the pain, dry heaving as shock set in. A firefighter friend treated him for that and helped wrap the bite to stop the bleeding.

Massey decided to wait out the two-hour boat ride back to mainland instead of calling for an aerial medivac from where they were. He sat in a bean bag chair, popped four Advil and braced himself for the agonizing ride back. Inclimate weather set in and the boat powered through rain squalls and choppy seas. Every wave excruciating.

The crew wouldn’t even allow him a beer to help take the edge off. Massey was headed straight for the E.R. and surgery. Lucky for him, they had just the surgeon who could help—the very guy who Massey replaced on the trip last minute.

“All my buddies get in trouble and then they all call me,” Massey’s surgeon Ehsan Esmaeili said. “Mike was probably the worst case though.”

Esmaeili said a shark bite is often a crushing injury from the force of the jaws, but because Massey tore his hand free, the recovery became far more complicated.

The shark cracked bones in Massey’s hand and tore through multiple muscles, severing the tendons in his middle and index fingers and destroying a nerve in his pinky.

“Imagine taking a razor blade on your hand with the force of (the shark’s) jaws,” Esmaeili said.

Swipe/click to see more photos

Massey’s long-anticipated Yukon hunt lay less than two months away, but his whole hand would need to be sewn back together and rehabbed if there was any hope of holding his bow come September.

Esmaeili said rehabbing this type of injury often takes six to eight months, but Massey was willing to do whatever it would take to pull his bow back in two.

“He told me his goal was September and the Yukon. I said ok.”

The surgery took place only a week after the attack. The procedure was a race against time as Esmaeili needed to cut off all circulation to the left hand. There was only a finite amount of time before the entire hand could die from lack of oxygen.

Fortunately, after nearly two hours, Esmaeili declared the surgery as a success and Massey could begin the intense rehab to hold a bow once again.


On August 16th his new Mathews Halon 32 arrived in the mail.

He worked his way up through the poundage settings with determination, and tried to calm his urge to panic when it came time to draw back on his final hunting poundage of 70. Yet his hand held strong against the strain, and in less than a month his bags were packed and he was driving through the wreckage of Hurricane Irma on his way to the airport.

After three months of worry, pain and rehab, he was bound for the Yukon.

The trip immediately stalled after he landed in Whitehorse, as one of his key gear bags failed to show up at baggage claim. He waited in town all day with nervous anticipation, but his patience was rewarded when the missing bag finally arrived. From there, he then took a small bush plane an hour north to his hunting camp, more than 150 miles from the nearest civilization.

There was a cabin comprised of logs and plywood, nestled next to a crystal clear lake where lake trout and char, unaccustomed to artificial lures, could be easily caught. He spotted Rams on the snowy peaks above the valley, and the willows were starting to turn a brilliant yellow for fall.

The next day, he and his guide set out on horseback headed for a spike camp even deeper in the wilderness, where the marsh-like tundra was scattered with small patches of woods. He felt relief and wonder as he realized the biggest hardships and trials were over. He was hunting in a wild place, where he belonged.

He couldnt stay lost in the euphoria for long, however.

Soon after arriving at the spike camp, they began to glass the open landscape.

“Get your stuff, let’s go,” his guide suddenly ordered.

A bull and cow caribou were bedded on a distant hill. The size and width of the bull’s antlers made him stick out and easy to spot. From their vantage point the two hunter’s could tell the bull was what they were looking for.

They used the topography and higher tundra bushes to sneak into range with the wind perfect.

Which brought him to having to hold at full draw for more than a minute. Finally the bull raised up from its bed and stood quartering away.

He touched off the release on his Spot Hogg Whipper Snapper, releasing his arrow and at long last able to relax his aching back muscles.

The arrow made an audible crack on impact as it met its mark, and the bull thundered off. A quick tracking job and follow-up shot finished the job.

The flow of emotions, the surrounding grandeur and the towering antlers at his feet made it all feel surreal.

“I don’t think you know what you have here,” his guide said after studying the massive rack.

Most bulls in the area measure out around the 30 inch mark for width, but when they put a tape to Massey’s bull, it spanned 54.

Based on the quick measurements taken in the field, they were sure it would rank among the top caribou ever scored.

Swipe/click to see more photos

The sun was low on the horizon as they field dressed the bull and they had to come back the next day for the final packout to basecamp.

There was little time for reflection, thou, as Massey still had a moose tag burning a hole in his pocket.

The guides weren’t used to seeing many moose from camp, but this year there was more activity than they could ever remember. In lieu of another spike camp, they decided to hunt from there.

At the base camp, he caught more char and lake trout, glassed six grizzlies and spotted one massive 60-inch bull moose that gave them the slip.

On the eighth day, Massey and his guide made the slog up to a peak so they could gain a view into a different valley. There, they saw a solo bull moose grazing while on the lookout for cows.

The hunter and his guide set up and began cow calling for the lonely bull. It’s response was immediate.

As the lovesick bull closed the distance, Massey’s guide wanted to move off of the ridge. He and a client had a hunt blown in very similar circumstances last year after a bull would not commit to climbing the same steep ridge. Massey, however, didn’t budge. The good ol’ boy from Florida felt something deep inside him, telling him this ridge was where he should be and this was meant to be.

The bull worked its way uphill, licking its lips, closing the distance just like Massey’s gut had predicted.

He ran down the hill a little ways to get into shooting position while his guide stayed high, calling. The animal’s back was well over six feet tall, but Massey couldn’t get a clear view through the thick brush, so he stood up.

“It was the most massive creature I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He drew his Mathews back, then climbed and balanced on a small boulder to get a clear shot through the trees and above the bushes.

“Just like the saying goes, I can remember seeing the whites of his eyes.”

Fighting the surge of adrenaline, he steadied the bow, breathed and touched his trigger again. There was another sound confirming the arrow meeting its mark and soon one of the largest animals he had ever seen lay at Massey’s feet.

Swipe/click to see more photos

Under a cloudy Yukon sky, the hunter and guide cut up the moose and packed it onto horseback and headed back toward basecamp.

They were not the only ones interested in the fresh moose kill, however.

After getting back to camp late in the day, they stored the meat in a lean-to and strung bells all around it to notify them if any unwanted guests tried to help themselves.

Massey slept in the shack that night armed with a .300 Win Mag. It was pitch black out when he heard the first jingle of the bells.

The grizzly picked up their trail earlier in the day and followed the two back to camp.

Massey could hear the bear moving from the meat and onto the front porch of his shack. The thin plywood was the only thing between them.

When it turned back for the meat, he tried throwing firewood at the animal with the WIn Mag clutched in his other hand.

“Beat it, boy,” he yelled as the bear walked back into the brush nonchalantly. Sleep evaded Massey for the rest of the night as he listened for any signs of the bear’s return. Around two in the morning he rose again to the sound of crunching bone as the bear found the skinned moose skull.

Shining a light into the darkness, he could just make out the shape of the bruin. Pointing the rifle at it, he shouted “griz, don’t make me do it. Beat it, son!”

Again the grizzly walked casually back into the brush, peering over its shoulder at Massey as if to wonder whether this guy making all the noise could really prevent a moose dinner.

He fired a warning shot into the darkness, and it seemed to do the trick.

Later into the morning the team received a message from Canadian wildlife officials via satellite phone. The message stated that more outfits were coming in to use the area and they could not have a habituated grizzly terrorizing camp. If it came back they had full authority to shoot it.

Around six as the sun was just starting to break up the darkness the bells went off again. The emboldened bear grabbed a hind quarter and began to run off with it. Massey was at the door of the cabin, rifle in hand. He took aim and squeezed the trigger.

The grizzly dropped and the moose hindquarter lay next to it. His third tag was punched. Just not the way he wanted to.

Watch the grizzly encounter, below.


Soon enough, though, he was back on a bush plane heading toward civilization with the sprawling Alaskan wilderness flowing beneath him. One of the greatest adventures of his life was coming to an end, allocated now to memories, photos, meat and bone.

He still had a full hunting season to enjoy in the states, though, and a scarred reminder on his left hand of how much he had overcome in his life. He felt that familiar pull of the ocean as well, and began making plans in his mind for his next spear fishing adventure to come.

Keep up to date on all of Mike Massey’s adventures, on his Instagram.