Kansas Monster Buck Classic 2017

On Saturday, January 28th, I went to my third Kansas Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, at the Kansas ExpoCentre. It was not my intention to make the Monster Buck Classic an annual event; however it does appear that I have attended each year since I started hunting. Unlike the two previous years, I was really looking forward to this year’s event; given that I would be afforded the opportunity to see the great guys at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures at their booth, and visit with Phil Taunton of FishingsFuture and What’s In Outdoors (Phil’s broadcast on KVOE radio).

This year I took advantage of the seminars also, which are next door to the ExpoCentre at the Capital Plaza Hotel. As I got a late start Saturday morning, still recovering from a bout of bronchitis or such, my first seminar was Game Calling Adventures at 12:30 PM facilitated by Melissa Bachman, host of Winchester Deadly Passion on Sportsman Channel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never attended a hunting seminar of this type, and having no familiarity with Melissa Bachman. It didn’t take long before I had the notes application on my phone up so I could write stuff down! The seminar was very educational, and Melissa Bachman was very down to Earth and entertaining as well. When I sought her out later at her exhibition booth, I was able to take a photo with her (albeit poor quality on my little not-so-smart phone) and acquire an autographed promo picture (I figured maybe some luck and hunting prowess would rub off on me).

Later in the afternoon, while perusing the myriad vendors at the Classic, Phil Taunton spied me and urged me to come along with him to observe Ms. Bachman’s second seminar, Getting Kids Involved Outdoors. Mr. Taunton was inspired to hear the seminar as his life is about getting children involved in outdoor activities. My interest was slightly more personal; hoping to gain valuable information to store in my brain until such time as my son and new daughter-in-law (my son just got married earlier this month) bless me with grandchildren!

While visiting with Mr. Taunton at his booth earlier in the day; I learned that the National Youth CPR Fishing Contest will be coming up again June 1 through August 6, 2017. CPR stands for “catch, photo, release,” and is sponsored by Fishings Future. Fishings Future is a great 501c3 organization, with the mission of “changing the recreational habits of millions of kids and families across America” by encouraging and teaching fishing. The National Youth CPR Fishing Contest is a way to get youth involved in fishing and spending time outdoors.

Phil Taunton also shared his excitement about a student organization, WILD; whose focus is on activities that promote the environment, conservation, and outdoor activities. The mission of WILD is, “To make a positive difference in the lives of students and the land in which they live by developing leadership, personal growth, and connections to their environment.” Given Mr. Taunton’s passion for the outdoors, introducing youth to fishing, and his motto, “Outside for a better inside” (which I’m often hashtagging), I’ve no doubt he will find great ways to help empower the WILD program in Kansas.

I spent some quality time at the Vets4Vets booth; meeting the other members of the Board who work alongside Jesse Mudd, the founder of Vets4Vets, and host of my buck hunt in November. They are just such a great group of guys, all veterans, who spend as much of their free time as possible advancing the mission of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. The organization appears to be expanding its reach outside of Kansas as well! As Jesse Mudd said to a guest at the booth, he spends all his time, when he’s not working, advancing the Vets4Vets mission and is blessed when, on rare occasions, he gets to have a half day off to relax with his wife and children. You can take the guy out of the Marine Corps, but you can’t take the Marine Corps out of the guy!!! (Vets4Vets is a great organization to donate to!)

Throughout the day I also managed to peruse the myriad vendors at the Monster Buck Classic. There were plenty of organizations to join, and of course a lot to buy. I was introduced to Tyler Kirby, a regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Kansas seems to have a lot going on with the NWTF. I donated money in exchange for a 2017 NWTF calendar and a chance to win a sweet 12 gauge shotgun. I also bought a youth sized turkey mouth call from vendor Jeff Fredrick and his company Champions Choice. In the past I have failed miserably at using mouth calls that I’ve purchased on sale, primarily because I didn’t even know to seat it at the roof of my mouth, or which side is up. Jeff Fredrick was kind enough to explain the process to me, and even demonstrate the concept using his fingers in place of a tongue, so I could observe the interaction between the tongue and the mouth call. Although I’ve failed to hunt autumn turkey this season, spring turkey will be here licitly split and I’d be thrilled to have the skill to use the mouth call in order to keep my hands free. Lastly, I bought a scope mount for my mobile phone from a vendor called Bow-Mount, which can also be adapted for a Go Pro or such, in hopes that I can start successfully videographing my hunts.

All in all I thought this year’s Monster Buck Classic was a big success; at least it was for me. I had so much fun that my estimated two hour stay turned in to a five hour adventure! My service dog reminded me we really had to leave when she looked at me with her sad, very hungry, eyes and I realized I hadn’t brought her any food. It was just as well; the Monster Buck Classic is not an event to attend for very long when one’s wallet is faint of heart. It takes a lot of will power to walk passed all the latest gadgets and camo patterns, and I was forever repeating to myself, “You don’t need that. You don’t need that!”

Now I need only wait a tad over two months for spring turkey season; and until then, rabbits and squirrels beware.

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Ending 2016 with a hunt and a prayer

With slightly more than an hour left, Central Time, in 2016, it seemed appropriate to briefly reflect back on the year.

First; it has become the first deer season since I started hunting three deer seasons ago that I have not harvested a deer; at least not in 2016. There are still two days left in the season, the 1st & 2nd of January 2017 for extended rifle – antlerless in my Kansas unit.

Although 2016 is the year of the missed deer (having shot at and missed one doe and two bucks with my crossbow); I did harvest my first-ever Tom turkey during the spring, as well hunting and harvesting squirrel and rabbit. And though I failed to fill my freezer with venison, I was very blessed to have venison donated to me by Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures; the same awesome not-for-profit organization that sponsored my buck hunt in NW Kansas (my first missed buck) this autumn.

Second; 2016 is the year my son returned home safely from deployment, and renewed our annual Thanksgiving tradition. I was very blessed to have my son and future daughter-in-law visiting for Thanksgiving, to include a family adventure to Colorado Springs for a short road trip. To add to my good fortune was the gift of venison roast, given to me by a friend and her hunting husband and son, so that I could prepare my “traditional” early Christmas dinner for my son and his fiancée. Although it is always hard to hug my son goodbye as our visits end; I take comfort in knowing I will see him in less than two weeks for his wedding!

Third; 2016 was the year of health and vitality for me, as I participated in the Army Performance Triad and decreased my body fat to 17%, and my weight to below my enlistment weight in 1983 (when I was 21 years old)! I was also blessed that my mother and step-father have risen above whatever may have ailed them from time to time, and my service dog and I spent a lovely short week with my folks in Las Vegas for Christmas.

Fourth; I include in my blessings the wonderful people I associated with this past year, be they friends, co-workers, acquaintances, or veterans – who have expanded my veteran family here in Kansas.

Fifth; my service dog, Daisy, remains a daily godsend in my life. We continue to rescue each other as a pack-of-two. I truly believe that Daisy has given me additional emotional fortitude which has empowered me to be daring; to hunt, excel at work, and experience new things.

And sixth; I would be short-sighted if I didn’t recognize that my continued employment as an Army Civilian is a blessing. I have not been happy with changes that occurred where I work, yet I have remained employed, and continue to believe in, and honor, my oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution (an oath civilians, as well as military, take). Though I have struggled with the changes that have occurred; I have been gifted with some clarity, and am looking forward to being guided in the new year to new opportunities.

This afternoon I went out hunting for deer, as I would not be a truly dedicated hunter if I didn’t go outside in camo on the last day of the year. I can think of no better way to pay homage to the wonder of nature and life, and G-d, than to sit still among the wildlife (that which showed up), listening and observing. Although I saw no deer today, I enjoyed the lively antics of cardinals, blue jays, and red-headed wood peckers. I saw a squirrel in an area where I’d never seen one, heard critters munching so loud I was certain they were a deer, and as the day surrendered to evening I was serenaded by several owls (whom I have ever only heard in the morning). All in all it was a lovely end to the year!

My hope and prayer is that 2017 will be a magical year; a year of liberty, prosperity, and joy… and a deer harvest somewhere along the way!

Buck Fever: It’s Real

The morning was cool, but not so chilly that two long-sleeved hunting shirts and a hoody weren’t enough. I was up at 4:30 AM in order to scent-free shower and get dressed before heading to the continental breakfast provided by the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I was staying courtesy of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Continental breakfast food is not normally on my menu plan, but I figured I would get hungry sitting in the blind, and didn’t want to experience my tummy grumbling like buck burps (as has happened previously). So I made half a waffle to accompany my cheese-filled egg, my 1/5 of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and my steaming hot cup of coffee.

By 6:00 AM I was riding toward my hunting location with Vets4Vets President/Founder, Jesse Mudd. To his credit, Jesse had showed me the location of the ground blind at least four different times on his mobile phone, with actual images of the terrain and landmarks. None the less, I managed to get lost out in the fields of hay and grass while walking to my location in the dark of morning, pre-sunrise. I knew I had strayed off course when I walked directly into a barbed wire fence before reaching my destination. Apparently I had turned East at the windmill, instead of West, and couldn’t see other landmarks well because I was using my Army angle-head flashlight with the red filter on the lens, for stealth mode. It was then I texted Jesse, reporting that I was returning to the windmill to try again. He promptly texted back to head West from the windmill; leading me to suffer a blonde/aged moment panicking because I didn’t know where West was in the field. Fortunately the caffeine from my coffee activated my brain and I remembered the sun rises in the East, meaning I just had to go in the opposite direction. Jesse also suggested I stop using my stealth flashlight and use my real flashlight so I could see. That did the trick and I was able to locate the ground blind, but not before traipsing all over the grove of Juniper trees with my bright white LED light.

Jesse’s rule from the night before had been “no shooting does.” He stated firmly that they are live bait to bring the bucks in, so are off limits until after the rut, during rifle season. After my 11 minute adventure in the fields I wondered if any would bother to even show up; but at 7:30 AM a healthy-looking, mature doe arrived at the feeder to nosh for a while. At one point a buck spied her, but he kept his distance 112 yards away and then scurried off as if spooked. After the first doe left, two more showed up at 8:30; one being young and still square-shaped and the other being slightly older, and acting maternally toward the smaller one. They left by 8:45 and the rest of the morning was uneventful; though I stayed out until 11:00 AM just in case.

After lunch in town, Jesse brought me back out to the blind and I was set up and ready for action by 2:45 PM. But at 3:00 I saw trucks driving up the trail toward my hunting spot, and found myself somewhat surrounded. Most of the men who had gotten out of the pick-up trucks remained by them, but one older gentleman approached the blind after someone told him there was a hunter sitting in it. Lowering my crossbow, I stepped forward and put my head to the blind window introducing myself. Long story short; the older gentleman was the property owner who had not been tracking that he agreed to allow Vets4Vets to use the land for disabled veterans to hunt, and his hunting buddies had shown up wanting to hunt. The landowner graciously left, with his men, and agreed that the location was mine for the weekend. They drove out of sight, but by 3:30 I heard gunfire which continued for almost 30 minutes at well-spaced intervals; at least 40 rounds. I wondered if it might be possible for any deer to show up that afternoon, given the trucks, the talking, the human odor, and the on-going gunfire.

Lo and behold, sometime around 6:15 a buck walked in. He was a beautiful buck and I immediately set my sights on him. He stopped to check the area out and I had a perfect shot of his left side; but having recently read an article on overcoming buck fever I decided I should breathe and not take a shot immediately. I’m pretty sure when the author of the article discussed taking time and acting slowly and deliberately he was contemplating more than 45 seconds or so; but that’s about what I gave the buck from that initial sighting. He walked to the feeder, and though he gave no indication that his dinner would be short or on the fly, I suddenly felt the need to take aim and shoot before he could get away. Unfortunately, the game camera was strategically placed between the buck’s kill zone and my crossbow, so in my haste to shoot I had to aim around the camera. It made for a lousy shot, although I didn’t realize that at the time, hitting the buck below his organs near his “arm pit” just above the white of his belly. The arrow didn’t set in far, and the buck ran off.

Night was beginning to fall as I searched for him, finding no blood trail and no indication of where he went. Later that night, Jesse and a couple of his friends joined us in searching the fields for the any sign of the buck; to no avail. But let me return to “night was beginning to fall….” I grabbed my phone to text Jesse that I shot a buck and needed help, but my phone battery had died. The only plans Jesse and I had made for my pick up was for transportation after dark. Alone in a field, at night, with no telephone or mode of communication, “after dark” could have been hours later. I left my hunting gear in the ground blind and, with my LED flashlight, headed down to the road in case Jesse pulled up. I had already heard many coyote calls, but that’s when my flashlight landed directly on the face of a yote staring at me from the other side of the barbed wire fence. I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Back home I’d have my sidearm on while hunting (as well as any time I’m in public), but on this evening my .9mm was back home on my nightstand and my .380 was nestled safely in my truck at the motel. I did an about-face and returned to the blind, where I figured I at least had my skinning and field dressing knives for self-protection. About an hour later, a truck arrived to pick me up, being driven by a fellow Marine friend of my host, Jesse. Later that night a group of us returned to the fields to search for my buck, and emboldened by the presence of three hunters and two hunting dogs, I took off in the late night in search of my lost prize. Jesse and I returned after lunch on Sunday also, to find no trace of an injured buck, but rather to see a similar looking buck hanging out with a doe napping (until we buzzed by in a four-wheeler).

So ended my buck hunt weekend. Although I ultimately left Mitchell County empty handed, I was taking home a lasting impression of the great folks associated with Vets4Vets, as well as memories of an awesome hunting experience, and gained knowledge about hunting and deer habitat. I also was gifted with first-hand familiarity of buck fever and how it genuinely corrupts the pivotal moment of any hunt – taking the shot for the harvest. Yet rather than feeling defeated; I returned home with increased passion and obsession for getting my deer, and built a home-made feeder which I placed out on my normal hunting property in hopes of turning Veterans Day 2016 into this veteran’s victory day in the blind.

Stay tuned….

Healing Through Hunting: Vets4Vets

Back in January 2016 I attended the Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, Kansas (see essay from January 24, 2016 titled: Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding) and met a Marine Corps veteran named Jesse Mudd at his organization table; Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Jesse founded Vets4Vets as a way to give back to help heal the physical and psychological wounds of military veterans through nature. As an avid outdoorsman, Jesse took his passion for hunting, fishing, and the great Outdoors, and combined it with his passion for service to create this Kansas-based not-for-profit.

At the time I learned of Vets4Vets I bought a long-sleeved t-shirt, and then didn’t give it much of a thought again; until last month when I came across some hog hunt photos on Instagram from a recent Vets4Vets hunt in Oklahoma. Much to my surprise, Jesse reached out to me after I’d liked some of their hunt photos; and I was invited to participate in a Vets4Vets buck hunt. Needless to say, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation!

Vets4Vets is a small 501(c)3 organization based out of Beloit, Kansas in Mitchell County. Every investment of time and energy that Jesse and the other members of the Board of Directors put into the organization is a labor of love. Jesse takes no income from the organization; he works a fulltime job, volunteers to mentor veterans who are incarcerated, spends much of his weekend engaging in Vets4Vets activities, and has a beautiful family (a very understanding wife, and two adorable, high energy children). Vets4Vets has some sponsors, the newest being Rogers Sporting Goods in Liberty, Missouri, but with minimal financial support the organization operates on a shoestring budget.

During my hunt weekend I was very blessed that Vets4Vets lodged me at the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I had a complimentary continental breakfast at 5:00 AM Saturday and Sunday morning, a comfortable place to sleep, and a shower for my scent-free hygiene routine before hunting. Jesse met with me Friday night, after I drove in from the Fort Riley area, and showed me around town. On Saturday morning he picked me up at 6:00 AM and drove me 30 minutes out to the private property I’d be hunting, came back for me at 11:00 and took me out to eat, and drove me back out to the ground blind in the early afternoon.  When he couldn’t come get me after dark because he was trying to find the buck another hunter shot, Jesse made sure a Marine Corps brother of his got me safely back in to town. At 9:00 PM Jesse had rounded up a small posse, which included Vets4Vets Director and National Guardsman Zak Koenig, and we returned to my hunting spot to look for the buck I’d shot.

I don’t know what time Jesse got home to his family, but he dropped me off at the motel about 11:00-11:30 PM, and then came back at 5:00 AM to take me back out to hunt. My experience with Vets4Vets was that of royalty; as a disabled veteran sponsored by Vets4Vets, I felt as if the world revolved around me for the weekend. Jesse and the organization did everything to provide me with an exceptional hunting experience… except guide my arrow to the kill zone and cure me of buck fever. After my morning hunt on Sunday, Jesse returned for me and we drove throughout the neighboring property, where the buck returned after being shot, in the organization’s Polaris Ranger to search for the buck in the daylight. Despite having no luck finding my buck (we determined my shot had been merely a flesh wound and not a mortal shot) I learned a great deal during my Vets4Vets weekend, had a great time, and met some truly dedicated and caring people.

Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventures. It is an organization of military veterans that embodies the phrase “a band of brothers,” and exemplifies the line from the Soldier’s Creed, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”   Vet4Vets provides an opportunity for disabled veterans to experience comradery, restoration, and holistic adventure in an emotionally safe environment.

To support Vets4Vets, or to learn more about their mission, visit their website at: http://vets4vetsoutdooradventures.org/ or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures/ and Instagram as @vets4vetsoutdooradventures.

Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

Here in Kansas we’re almost a full month into deer season; black powder and archery. One of the best investments I made as a hunter was my Parker Challenger crossbow. With the exception of this weekend, which is pre-rut rifle for antlerless deer, there’s no rifle hunting until December. Having the ability to hunt with a bow, in my case a crossbow, is indeed a blessing. It is also a boon because it allows me to extend my hunting area from my friend’s private property to the adjoining Fort Riley woods (with my Fort Riley hunting permit) which are archery only.

This is my third-ever deer season. My first, in 2014, gained me a doe harvest using my crossbow. Last year, I tagged zip with my crossbow but harvested a doe during extended rifle season in January 2016, with my Browning .270 bolt action rifle. So far this season, I have accumulated over 42 hours of hunting… and haven’t even seen deer, let alone had a chance to aim at any. The few experiences I have had, have been completely auditory; foot fall beside my blind in the dark of the morning, does bleating in the woods, and bucks snorting on either side of me but refusing to show themselves.

Up to this point, my hunting experiences look more like a camo fashion spread, made up of myriad selfies in the various hunting outfits and make-up designs I’ve donned. I even have a ghillie suit in order to more stealthily hunt on the Fort Riley side, and to have increased options in the woods, yet thus far I have only dressed to impress myself.

Granted, up to this morning, it has still been somewhat warm outside. The proof is the multitude of mosquito bites I’ve gained when I’ve forgotten my Thermacell, or forgotten to bring replacement butane. This morning, however, seemed beautifully autumn-like; a chill 45 degrees outside with low morning fog rising toward the tree tops. I was very surprised that I saw no deer today. This afternoon it was typically warm again, in the mid to high 70s, and I opted not to hunt; less because of temperature and more because I ended up in a foul mood which I suspected would negatively impact my hunt.

I suppose if I want to be assured to see deer I should wash my truck, and bring only my rifle to the blind tomorrow morning. I have held off washing my truck each weekend thinking I would tag a deer and get blood in the bed of my Ford, thereby needing to wash it again. And this morning, to be doubly prepared for either sex; I hauled my rifle and my crossbow into the blind and propped each up on a shooting stick. For four hours I balanced my crossbow and my rifle on their respective sticks, just waiting for either a doe or buck to grace me with its presence.

About mid-morning, the wind picked up just a tad, but only high above the canopy, causing the highest most leaves to stir like a deer walking through the woods. I was intently peering through the foliage in front of me trying to spy any deer that may come through when I suddenly saw something sandy-brownish moving. For just a second my mind saw it as a deer slowly and purposefully walking toward the tall-grass meadow. My heart became blasted with adrenaline and my hands went tightly around each weapon, not knowing if it was a doe or a buck. That’s when I realized it was strategically placed tall-grass blowing in the wind….

Tomorrow morning I’ll be back out in the blind, though I don’t know that it will be any different than this morning. The temperature should be about the same; good for deer, but not necessarily compelling. I’ll haul out my rifle and cross bow, and sit patiently waiting for a deer, any deer, to come out in the open. Thinking I was going to hunt this afternoon I left my backpack and my shooting sticks in my blind, so I’ll need carry only my weaponry in the darkness. I will wear a jacket this time, as this morning I opted for a vest over a hoody and a long sleeved shirt, and I ended up shivering on my stool and thinking about hot coffee.

Hopefully tomorrow will be THE day. My goal this year, as last, is to harvest more than one deer and to finally get a buck. However, the loftiest goals must still start with a single step. Many steps and 42 hours later, I keep going out into nature, with my crossbow in one hand and my hunting tag in the other. If nothing else, I am becoming a successful student in the art of perseverance and patience….

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Two Days & a Wake-up: Archery Deer Season Starts

Sitting here at my home office desk with the intention of working on my business management coursework, yet I can’t help but think about Monday. Today is Friday, and in just 59 hours I will be out in my newest blind for opening day of archery – deer season. Just thinking about it gets my body tingly with anticipation.

My clothes have been washed in scent-free detergent and placed in an air tight bag for a couple of weeks already, and last weekend I separated out Monday’s clothes from my other camo “outfits” so I won’t have to poke around looking for what I want at 4:30 AM. Under normal circumstances I’m not a name brand kind of gal; buying whatever scent-free detergent (or whatever) has the best price. But I’m endeavoring to hashtag myself into recognition, so when I can, I want to give a shout-out to whatever brand of clothing/detergent/game cameras/hunting blinds, etc., that I use. In this case; my most recent hunting clothes were washed in Scent Killer Gold, by Wildlife Research Center. My body soap and scent-free spray, however, are made in the U. States by Dead Down Wind. I just received a combo pack of Dead Down Wind products that I purchased from Midland USA, which included a nifty DDW skull cap, which I will definitely wear hunting at some point.

In all honesty I’m kind of uncomfortable being a brand name dropper, but from what I’ve observed in the realm of social media, it’s how one gets noticed. That brings me to the very next thought I had tonight when I thought about how excited I am for Monday. Once Monday is over; I’m stuck with Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong; I am delighted to work, to have a good job serving soldiers as a civilian member of the Army; but I don’t feel passionate about it anymore (hence the online courses in business management) and I’d rather remain in the woods hunting. At 54 it may be a bit too late to ponder what I want to do when I grow up, but if I could choose to just magically change careers, I’d want to be a hunter, seeking out adventures and game throughout the country (and beyond) and then writing about it.

It is in that vein that I endeavor to film my hunts. My Midland video cameras have provided me an affordable opportunity to capture my harvesting moments, but with limited quality. Recently my son, an avid outdoorsman with canoes, fishing poles, and now his motorcycle, recommended I get a Contour video camera. He stated they do better in low light situations and have good quality for the price. So, this past weekend I purchased a Contour Roam3 online and currently have it connected to my laptop charging. I also purchased an accessory set that came with a shoulder harness, so when I go out hunting Monday I will have the Contour perched upon my left shoulder. Hopefully I will have a wonderful experience for the Contour to record….

I’m planning on tackling Monday’s hunt differently than I usually do, as well. Because I have a service dog, I generally go out first thing in the morning, return home by mid to late morning to let my canine partner out and then don’t go back out to the blind until late afternoon. My Moultrie game cameras often reveal that the critters I’m hunting wait until I’m gone to parade around my hunting spot, well out of sight by the time I return. With success in mind, I’m taking my labbie-girl to doggie daycare at Wildcat Pet Resort Sunday evening, where she will enjoy (hopefully) a respite from working until I pick her up after work Tuesday evening. That way I can remain devoted to my hunt for as long as it takes Monday. I will still use at least one of my Midland video cameras mounted to my Parker Challenger crossbow for a slightly different angle. The difficulty in attempting to capture the hunt with multiple cameras as a one-woman operation is knowing when to turn the cameras on, without making noise and movement, and without spooking the deer or missing the shot. Last autumn, when I harvested my first-ever turkey, I became so fixated on the bird and my arrow that I forgot to turn the camera on all together, even though it was mounted right at the front of my crossbow.

However it plays out; Monday will prove to be an adventure. This will be the first time I’ve hunted all day, if necessary, which will mean a potentially long day with minimal food and no water. Personal as it is to share; I’ve got a nervous bladder, so if I drink while hunting (or before) I will spend too much time having to accommodate it. And unlike my friend on whose property I hunt, I cannot remain seated and just tinkle into a bottle. It’s a major affair to have to set down my weapon, move about the blind or get out of the blind, drop my clothes, and take care of business before mosquitoes snack on my bum cheeks.

Monday will also lend itself to excitement should I succeed in harvesting my first deer of the season, as I’m usually hunting when my buddy, John, is home and can assist me in dragging the deer out of the woods. As it’s a regular workday, which I happened to have taken leave for, any deer I harvest will need to be dragged out and placed on the bed of my truck by me… and me alone. For just such a purpose, I have a drag harness, although I’ve never had to use it so don’t know how easy or difficult it is to harness pull a deer.

Until Monday morning arrives, bringing along opening day of archery for deer season, I have a blessed weekend to enjoy. I will play a little, study a little, and do more fussing over my accoutrements for hunting. Then hopefully, maybe, wishing upon a star, and with the cooperation of my white-tailed friends, I will have something fabulous to share on September 12th….

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Imagining Autumn

Autumn is my favorite season; so when I saw the reported temperature this morning on my weather app, and felt the coolness taking my labbie-girl outside for her morning relief, I shut off the air conditioner and opened up the windows and sliding glass door. Allergies not withstanding (they are worse each year about this time) I even took my service dog for a walk along the Junction City wetlands.

We did those kind of things that one does on a Saturday; errands, truck washing, laundry, studying my online business management course, ending the afternoon with a nice steak dinner and a Redbox movie (Mother’s Day). Yet, as the sun began to set and the temperature cooled down further, I felt the calling to go out; to be outside where the pre-autumn breeze would gently caress my skin.

Needing an excuse to drive, I texted my hunting buddy, John, and asked if he was home, to which he replied affirmatively. Unbeknownst to him, I was about to deliver his birthday beer to him, which had been chilling in my refrigerator since I was unable to connect with John on his birthday last weekend.

Daisy, my ever-faithful service dog, and I trotted down the stairs and out to the truck where I rolled the windows down and cranked the music up (I have recently discovered the Christian rock group Skillet, and made a CD of their music via Amazon.com’s a la carte music feature). Just as I imagined it would, the cool breeze blew over my arms and across my face, almost like a panacea. It was a taste of heaven.

Aside from the diversity of colors during autumn, there is something spiritual to me about the season; the early morning frosts, the nippy temperatures that beckon the use of hoodies and flannel shirts, the decreased humidity that adds a crisp punctuation to the atmosphere, and of course, now that I’m a hunter, the deer.

Driving the few short miles to John’s place tonight I had the sense of all of that. Turning on to the dirt road that winds itself past the Army air field and the old race track along the woods to John’s house I turned my music down, so as not to scare any deer that may be around, and I drove slowly, as much to minimize the dust on my freshly washed truck as to attempt to see some wildlife. And there to my left, up on the berm that separates the military installation from private property was a buck. He just stood there, majestically, watching as I drove by, as if to herald in the season. I get goose bumps just remembering….

The only other wild things I saw this evening at my friend’s place were fire flies, or as some refer to them – lightening bugs. Yet I knew, in the shadows of the woods, white-tailed deer abound. Of course I know there is still another month before the autumnal equinox, and plenty of opportunities for temperatures to sore back into the summer range… and still 23 days before the start of archery season for deer.

Yet every autumn moment I experience, albeit in summer, is a welcome reminder that the autumn season is closing in, and with it comes the ineffable joy of deer hunting.

Pre-Hunt Season: Gaining Knowledge & Gear

Forty-three days and a wake-up. That is how long I have to wait for opening day of archery deer season, which I have taken off of work, in order to spend some quality time in one of my three blinds; just G-d, nature, me, and hopefully some deer. I feel positive that this year is my year for finally harvesting a buck. After my epic fail with Threeper, the buckling last year, I won’t be so aesthetically choosy.

Yet, even with over a month of wait time, there are still tasks to accomplish in preparation. Today I am scent-free washing the camo slacks and top I wore during spring turkey season, along with some accoutrements such as face masks, my backpack, and gloves. Granted, turkey season ended a while ago; but I had hung my clothes up over the shower rod to make sure any and all ticks died away before I handled the clothes again. I loathe ticks. Unfortunately; here in Kansas, they seem to love me. Just yesterday I was out in the woods checking my Moultrie game cameras, wearing long sleeves, long pants, long socks, long gloves and having sprayed my clothes down with Deep Woods Off, with DEET, to minimize tick encounters. Despite all of that, I felt an uncomfortable tickle on my stomach just below my bra. Lifting my shirt up, for the world to see (had the world been on the dirt road with me), revealed a big tick seeking a bosom to nourish from…. I quickly dispatched his nastiness back into the woods, away from me!

This morning, while enjoying a breakfast of brown eggs and store-bought salmon, I watched an episode of North Woods Law (I love that show). It highlighted a threesome of siblings heading out on a turkey hunt and mentioned the safety fact that one should not wear red during hunting season. That reminded me that until I had recently taken the turkey hunting clinic, sponsored by the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, I did not know that important bit of information. Not that I can imagine myself choosing red as a good camouflage color for hunting, but it is valuable information to have for, say, checking game cameras during spring turkey season. My prior thought would have been that red, like orange, would identify me to any hunters in the area. Not having had any real knowledge about a male turkey’s anatomy, however, I would not have considered that red might identify me to a hunter as a turkey’s caruncle.

Upon further reflection this morning, I realized there are a lot of important facts about hunting that late-bloomer hunters like me may not know. I suppose if I read every page of every hunting magazine I have collected over the years I may have far more information than I do. But you just don’t know what you don’t know; and hands-on learning, for me anyway, provides a higher level of retention than simply reading magazines.

For instance; field dressing a deer, turkey, or even a squirrel cannot be sufficiently explained in written word. For me, even videos, which I find more helpful than articles on the subject, are not as thorough as the act of field dressing. I have certainly picked up pointers through visual and auditory learning (reading is actually considered auditory because we tend to hear the words in our head as we read them); but nothing has “learned me some skills” like standing at the tailgate of my truck (or kneeling on the ground for a deer), knife in hand, with a creature carcass before me.

The same holds true for calling in game. I have read many articles and followed the guidelines step by step for setting up mock scrapes, calling in animals, using rattles and box calls; and yet sometimes some things work and sometimes not. Trial and error have been the best educators in my hands-on hunt school. For instance, in the episode of North Woods Law that I watched this morning; the hunting siblings described how spring turkey hunting requires being up before dawn and in the blind prior to the turkeys having the potential to spy the hunter. Yet my only experience with successful turkey harvesting has been during the day. My autumn hen was harvested in the afternoon as she and her flock passed through my hunting area, and I wasn’t even hunting turkey, I was hunting deer. My Tom happened to be hanging out 30-40 yards from my blind one evening, and failed to leave the area when I walked in and sat down in my blind. Granted, it took an hour to call him in, but he was already there. And I had chosen to hunt on a whim after work. The sagest statement I heard at the turkey hunting clinic was, “Turkeys will do what turkeys do.” In other words, like any other animals I’ve hunted, turkeys aren’t reading the magazines and manuals; they are doing whatever they want, unpredictably.

Yesterday as I approached the opening to the woods where my deep-woods blind is located, I saw the local flock of hens passing in front of my game camera. They were on the move, having likely heard my truck door close, but I chose not to enter the area so I could watch them instead. Had I been hunting, my harvest would have been at about 9:00 a.m. Hunters whom I work with, who have been hunting far longer than I, have shared their belief that it’s too hot out currently for deer to be moving about during the day. Yet my game cameras show them in the mid-morning, noon, and early evening, as well as under cover of darkness. When I hunt on September 12th, I hope the deer continue to follow the trails past my blind, regardless of the temperature (although I will be seated in my blind before dawn, just in case).

Next weekend I will be driving the two-hour trek to Cabela’s in Kansas City to get some gear and such. To be honest I already have what I need, more than what I need. But I love a sale, and my philosophy regarding hunting gear is to buy it after the season ends, or during pre-season sales, just in case I don’t like what I bought, or am trying something new. Today at Walmart, I found the sale section for spring turkey gear, calls and such, so bought a package of mouth calls from Mossy Oak; Turkey Thugs – The Teacher. It comes with two mouth pieces and a mini DVD to teach calling. I suck at using mouth calls, but I really want to learn to use them. I would not have paid full price for this training aid, but $5 was a great deal; especially if it works and I’m able to learn how to call.

Kansas deer tags are not yet for sale, but once they are I’ll be first in line to buy mine. I liken the pre-season as being like the month or two leading up to Christmas. The excitement builds as the preparation commences. Unlike Christmas, however, which culminates in one grand day, hunting season keeps on for weeks, sometimes months (like deer season), and you never know when the gift is arriving.

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On Becoming a Kansan

It’s a beautiful, albeit humid, summer Saturday in Kansas. This morning my labbie-girl, Daisy, and I headed out fairly early for Milford Lake in order to do some fishing before the temperature got too hot. Personally, I don’t like hot summers but will stay outside if I’m having fun despite my discomfort. Daisy, however, has a thick coat of yellow Labrador fur which keeps her heated up even when the temperature hasn’t reached uncomfortable for sweating bipeds.

While it seemed the fish opted to ignore my bait all morning, I still enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings. The lake was fuller than when I last visited (just last weekend, I think), so the water lapped against the rocks as boats passed by, creating a hypnotic, relaxing sound. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dappled with puffy white clouds here and there. On the shore across the inlet from me I could hear a heron screeching for fish, and at one point a fisherman aboard a small watercraft yelling for all to hear that he had “big Bertha” on the line.

Although I believe the personal is political (a modicum of sense from my days as a Liberal), I endeavor not to mix politics with my outdoor adventure writing. They are connected to me, but separate to most.  But recently I have been thoughtful about living in Kansas since reading Flyover Nation last weekend (written by Dana Loesch). The book is a perusal of what makes the Heartland, a.k.a. Flyover Nation, special from the coasts. It focuses primarily on the politics of Flyover Nation as opposed to the East and West coasts, yet I suspect Ms. Loesch recognizes the personal as political as well. Whereas folks in the Heartland may be Democrat or Republican, they tend to share similar values with regard to religion and faith, caring for and living from the land, and embracing the spirit of the second amendment.

I have known for quite some time that I enjoy living in Kansas, being a transplant to the area for my job working with soldiers who have substance abuse issues. My roots are Californian (San Francisco-Bay Area), and much of my adult life has been lived in Florida (Orlando), so I’ve got legitimate Coastie energy, but I have also lived down South (the real south, not the Florida version)  and spent time in Ohio. All in all, I think I’m an acceptable blend of environments and ideologies. Reading Flyover Nation clarified for me, however, how much I have become a Kansan, and how I have grown into myself, found myself, since moving here in 2011.

Kansas re-introduced me to fishing; something my father and I did when I was a child, but that I walked away from for decades. It is in Kansas where I finally fulfilled my desire to hunt; having now spent two, almost three, years filling my autumn mornings and evenings with deer hunting and turkey hunting, and turkey hunting again in spring. I’ve grown from a wimpy disabled chick, to a crossbow wielding, rifle toting hunter; from a designated hiking trail gal to a woman excited to spend hours in the woods pretending to be a bush or tree; from a environmentalist attending Earth Day festivals to a conservationist having real-life encounters with deer, coyotes, turkeys, and myriad other woodland creatures (including ticks). And I’ve gone from a suburban grocery store shopper to a rural harvester of much of my animal protein, be it an assortment of Kansas fish (which I gut and prepare myself), or Kansas game which I harvest, field dress, and cook myself. Very important as well; my spiritual encounters with animals aren’t just in meditations anymore – they’re up close and personal. I’ve written previously that my connection to G-d has grown in my time outdoors; and though I’m spiritual and not religious (perhaps part of my coastal upbringing), my faith has been nurtured by my presence in G-d’s natural creation. Being in nature lets me re-create myself. After-all, isn’t that what recreation is all about…?

Though my position as an Army civilian affords me some fluidity in my career, I have come to realize that Kansas is now my home. I am a Heartlander; an American by birth, and a Kansan by the grace of G-d. I don’t think I could ever return to the concrete jungle. There is no art in a museum more beautiful than a Kansas sunset, or more breathtaking than being hidden five feet away from an 8-point buck or seven feet away from wild coyotes who want to walk on the berm I’m sitting atop while hunting.

My labbie-girl and I went fishing yesterday and today and walked away without a single fish. But the experience of being connected to the water and the land far exceeds the momentary thrill of having a fish on the line (yet having that struggle while reeling in is an awesome experience). Weekends were made for fishing, and I will continue to pursue aquatic game… until September 12th, when archery deer season begins!

Fishing for Independence

By the time you read this, it will likely be Independence Day – tomorrow is the 4th of July. The Independence Day weekend this year is a four-day weekend, at least for those of us blessed to be Army civilians. And I’ve spent two of the four days out at the lake fishing.

In my four-plus years in Kansas, I’ve gone out fishing at Milford Lake only a handful of times; most of my fishing has been done on post, because I almost always catch fish on post and seldom catch anything out at Milford Lake. Even last weekend when my son was visiting, post-deployment, and we rented a boat for four hours; I didn’t catch a thing (although my son did catch a 15” goldeneye shad). Great memories were created though, so I decided to venture out to the lake this weekend to soak up some of the ambience.

Yesterday I spent a beautiful three hours in solitude, with just my labbie-girl and two fishing poles. My bait consisted of worms and chicken liver, and I used the set up my son and I had fished last from the boat; a worm hook and a weighted bobber. It’s ironic that my son, Dare, and I used lures galore on our boating adventure and the only thing he caught his fish with was a live worm, with a bobber. I suppose if one is fishing for something specific, than using a specific lure and fishing style is best. But nothing works like the old tried and true worm; and out at the lake, I rather enjoy the surprise of not knowing what I will harvest.

Initially I caught a sunfish, which I released and then a bluegill, which I kept. My fishing ended with a goldeneye shad about as big as my son’s. It was so peaceful and relaxing in the secluded spot I found that I decided to return again today. It was a gloriously overcast day (both days were) with light rain sprinkles on occasion, and cool breezes. I came to realize today that the air temperature was considerably cooler than the water temperature, after I waded out into the water to rescue my bobbers and hooks, which had gotten caught on the rocky lake bottom. Thank goodness for fishing slacks; the kind that unzip at the knees and become shorts, and dry very quickly.

Upon arrival, I had videographed myself with my tablet camera, and posted on Facebook how I enjoyed being alone, and felt the need to have some more quiet alone time in nature. While walking (sliding on the slippery rocks, really) back to shore from my waist level wade on my bobber rescue mission, I saw three people walking down the hill toward my spot, and heard the woman up front call out, “Is that you, Sara?”

What are the chances that someone I know would choose the very same spot to fish at the very same time I’m there…? It doesn’t seem to me that I really know all that many people here in Kansas; but I guess that’s part of the charm of living in Podunk. Given that Milford Lake covers 24.71 square miles, I can only acknowledge the inclusion of someone I know into my nature space as an intervention of a spiritual nature. Perhaps I was being a bit too “emo” even for G-d.

My first hour of fishing today had brought a sense of calm, but no fish. In no time at all, Tara (my acquaintance) and her bestie, also named Sara (maybe with a letter H), had reeled in a catfish. Tara seems to enjoy fishing; but does not enjoy eating fish, so they offered me the channel cat in lieu of releasing it. I subscribe to the Ted Nugent form of fishing; catch and eat, so I planted a big kiss on the catfish’s lips for luck, and placed it on my stringer. Luck be a lady, which Tara’s fish had been (she had a sack of eggs I found out later when I gutted her); not 30 minutes later I too caught a catfish! Both were 17” as I discovered once home.

The remainder of my time out fishing was more like a charity dinner; feeding the fish who grabbed my worms but not my hook, seasoned with intermittent conversation with my fellow fishermen… fisherpeople… fisherwomen. I’ve never been big on the sexist labeling of men and women. I just consider myself a hunter and a fisherman. When the worms were gone, my labbie-girl and I called it a day and headed home, two channel cat richer for the effort.

In the U. States we celebrate Independence Day to remember our sovereignty, hard won during the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. But I like to recognize my individual independence in the act of harvesting my own food; fish from the lakes and ponds, and mammals from the woods. To me, nothing says freedom like self-reliance sculpted with the tools of harvesting; fishing poles, crossbows and firearms.