I Am Hunter

This weekend I joined an exclusive group encompassing about 6% of the U.S. population; people who hunt. Technically I could have claimed that when I started out in September; however I envision the label “Hunter” as applying to those who have demonstrated the ability to hunt successfully… who have exhibited the quality of being able to skillfully bag wild game, and exhibit the physical and mental power to accomplish the task.

My first deer; whitetail doe, in the Flint Hills of Kansas. You're never too old to start hunting!

My first deer; whitetail doe, in the Flint Hills of Kansas. You’re never too old to start hunting!

On November 08, I used my crossbow to bag my first whitetail deer; a doe weighing about 180-200 pounds. I had spent over 40 hours hunting, every weekend since the bow season opened. When I hunted mornings, I was up at 0445 and in the tree-stand, or tree blind, by 0530; sometimes in freezing temperatures. In the afternoons, I was seated with my Parker Challenger crossbow by 1600 usually, sometimes as early as 1400 (2:00 PM); in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to 90, depending on the Kansas weather. Many days I hunted without seeing any deer at all, yet I persevered. There were times when I couldn’t get a shot off, despite the deer in front of me, and twice when I attempted the shot and missed. I have been attacked by poison sumac and swarmed by mosquitoes. Never-the-less; I paid my dues, and was rewarded.

The reward was far greater than bagging my first deer (which is an incredible reward); I also experienced an intimate relationship with Kansas, the Flint Hills specifically. From watching the stars fade away to daybreak, to seeing the stars reclaim the night sky… from hearing the morning yelps of coyotes awakening, to the splashing of crappie as they sought out their evening meal… I have experienced Kansas as a lover would; with newness, anticipation, appreciation and a little obsession. And after 40-plus hours of hunting, I have realized that I truly like it here. While out tracking a deer in the blossoming morning light this weekend, I saw a world hidden from the mundane; tall prairie grass blending with evergreens and sugar maples, and deer beds where the white-tailed deer lay down to rest. For a nature-lover and photographer such as myself, the experience hunting for the first time has been remarkable and unforgettable.

Even the seeming irreverence of the deer toward me has been awe-inspiring; such as last weekend when I was hunting late afternoon into early night (sunset). For three hours I remained as motionless as possible, poised to shoot a deer should I see one; sitting in wait until the dusk light made it difficult to differentiate my surroundings. I had not seen any deer, and while waiting for the last possible speck of light to fade I got the sense to look to my right, toward the pond. There stood a buck, who had eased on down the sandy path from the woods to the pond, and who was standing between two trees staring at me. I could only see him from the neck up so I could not take a shot. I suspect he had wondered what was making bleating sounds, since he saw no does. I watched him watching me, and then satisfied I was harmless, at that time, he turned around and walked back up the sandy path into the woods.

Most of the people I associate with and work with have been supportive of my new-found love of hunting. Even a co-worker who swore never to hunt again after her first time, has encouraged my endeavor. However I have run into a little flack; for instance the sister of my deceased besty who claimed she would “unfollow” me on Facebook because the sight of my bagged deer was too traumatic for her. And the co-worker/friend who has made repeated comments about my desire to kill Bambi, who recently texted me that I have a mental deficiency and queried, “Can’t you tap into ur feminine side for a change?” The last texts offended me, as the societal view of femininity has been that of weakness, softness and ineptness; yet my co-worker/friend never dared say that my service to my country as a soldier was unfeminine. And who would dare say that Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, lacks femininity despite being a tattooed, deer-hunting, U.S. Army sergeant? But like the esteemed Sarah Palin; I will ignore the negativity and rise above.

Hunting has been a spiritual experience for me (spirituality and religious reverence are considered as feminine traits). And it has provided me with the skills necessary, albeit new skills, to validate my independence and freedom. With the ability to hunt, I have the ability to provide food for my family and myself if (and whether or not) the grocery supply is ever cut off. Hunting holds me accountable (as does fishing) for sustaining life (another feminine trait), and places me ‘mano a mano’ with nature. It is with sincerity and reverence that I hunt and take the life of an animal, and I almost cried upon seeing the deer I shot lying dead under a tree last night. Unlike the 94% of my countrymen who do not hunt, I am not pretending to be free of guilt for the death of the food I eat, and my venison comes from a free-range deer whose life and death was cruelty-free, not caged, shackled, mutilated and drugged with hormones and anti-biotics.

In the end, I have become a better person, and a more spiritual one, because of my experience; I now have some of the skills (which will be practiced and improved) to survive and thrive on my own, and I will eat my venison knowing that it is the healthiest meat choice I can make. And knowing that I have done more for conservation than those who simply donate money. I have joined an elite group of Americans, many who have served in the military, who maintain some traditional proficiencies and values, as did the generations that came before us; before the advent of microwaveable, canned, and processed food.

As it is written in Genesis 9:3 – “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

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Hunting: Oneness with Nature

Addiction is a state defined by compulsive engagement in naturally rewarding behavior. With regards to drugs and alcohol, sex, gambling, or internet addiction, there are usually adverse consequences. Other than mosquito bites and poison sumac rash, I have not found any adverse consequences of hunting; yet I would definitely say I’m addicted (like I am to fishing, and coveting that moment when there’s a fish on the line struggling to get away as I reel it in).

Sitting in my tree-blind with by Challenger crossbow & "inner warrior" blood painted on my face (along with camo paint) waiting for a whitetail.

Sitting in my tree-blind with by Challenger crossbow & “inner warrior” blood painted on my face (along with camo paint) waiting for a whitetail.

My waking thoughts, and my sleeping ones, now turn to the next chance to hunt, and Monday seems like torture as I persevere to Friday evening just waiting for the opportunity to begin my whitetail ritual (which I’m sure will look much the same when I’m hunting turkey, or should I find myself in some opportunity of a different kind).

Today’s Daily Word message is “Communing with nature, I find oneness.” The text reads, “Communing with nature reminds me I am one with all life….” For the nature lover who hunts, this is the truth. I have expressed before how much satisfaction I get when I’m fishing and catch a trout or catfish. In that moment, I am in a struggle with one of G-d’s creatures which desires to live; yet when I successfully reel in the fish, gut it, clean it, cook it and eat it, I feel at oneness with my true being. I have taken ownership of my responsibility to feed myself. Shopping in a grocery store and consuming food that has been killed for me and dressed to be attractive and guilt free does not provide oneness.

So I go out to the hunt, each night I am able to go (and some mornings as well) with great anticipation of the ultimate connection to nature; the opportunity to be self-responsible, to face another animal (as I recognize that humans are animals despite our evolved souls) with the intent of taking its life to feed myself and my family.

Tonight was no exception, and I hoped and prayed that this night would be THE night that I actually succeed at my endeavor. When I spoke with my son over the phone this morning, he suggested I would hunt better if I channeled my inner warrior by painting blood on my face, under my eyes. My son suggested I prick my finger for the blood supply. At this rate, I figured a little superstition couldn’t hurt, so I proceeded to prick my finger and paint blood under my eyes, along with the camouflage paint, after my Scent-a-Way shower.

About 1835 (6:35 PM) I spied a beautiful buck headed for the clearing. This was not the young buck I’d seen before, but a younger trophy buck, maybe 2 1/2 – 3 y/o. I had prepared myself to take my time; to sight in on the deer, breathe, and take a purposeful shot. As the buck meandered into the clearing, headed toward the pond, I kept him sighted in my scope. It was surreal watching him from the scope of my crossbow instead as a tourist in a treestand or tree-blind. The buck seemed uninspired to stop for me, however, so I made a noise with my mouth (I find the only down side to using a deer call is that it requires use of hands, which in this case were both busy steadying my crossbow). The buck stopped and faced me. I knew that if I was going to take a shot, this would be the time, so I targeted his chest and squeezed the trigger.

I’d love to end the story with, “And that’s how I shot my first deer,” but apparently my left shoulder disability impacts my bow shooting as it does my gun shooting. Being 70% disabled in my left shoulder tends to make me shoot down and to the left. I can only assume that is what happened. The buck bolted, screaming (more masculine screams than the doe), and I wasn’t sure if I’d hit him or not. The deer move so quickly that I don’t get a chance to see if there’s an arrow protruding anywhere. I got up and went to look for a blood trail, but that’s when I saw my arrow buried in the ground at the base of a fallen tree limb; just about where the buck had been standing. Apparently, finger blood was not enough to compensate for my lack of prowess (or skill) with my crossbow.

Blessed is the beautiful buck who lives to see another day! I will be up early tomorrow morning to try again. As my intention is to hunt for food, I do not have a preference if I shoot a doe or a buck. I have now taken a shot at one of each; I figure “three’s a charm.” The important thing to remember at this point, is that I have continued to hunt, despite many nights and mornings seeing no deer at all. I have invested over 30 hours in the past month (my first hunt of my life was 20 Sep 2014), and have learned valuable lessons in the process. I have also been blessed to sit in the silence (which does not exist in nature) away from the noise of mankind; I have witnessed creatures’ great and small investing effort in their own survival; and I have unwound in G-d’s natural temple after hours and days of demanding work.

And like the buck, who was blessed to live another day, I have been blessed to feel what it is to truly live; to be free in nature, unencumbered by computers, crisis, and the cacophony of noise expressed daily by humans. I am addicted to hunting, not just because of the craft of the hunt, but because of the time it affords me to care less and just Be.

(This essay was originally published on 24 October 2014 on Facebook by Sara Crusade – GalHunterMidlife)

(Follow my hunts on Instagram – @Gal_HunterMidlife)

Hunting: Learning life lessons, getting closer to G-d

People who are opposed to hunting, have clearly never been hunting (with the exception of those few who felled a deer on their first try and have had survivor’s guilt since). Besides the obvious, which is hunting for the sake of food or sport, it is, to me, a ritual; part meditation, part prayer, part skill, and part attunement.

Friday night hunting.... Challenger crossbow by Parker Bows, Under Armour hat, Army BDUs... G5 broadheads and a lot of mosquitoes.

Friday night hunting…. Challenger crossbow by Parker Bows, Under Armour hat, Army BDUs… G5 broadheads and a lot of mosquitoes.

Tonight, for example, I got home from work and then set about preparation for my hunt. I first had to shower to wash away the bacteria and smells of the day, then I meticulously got dressed in clothes especially chosen and prepared for the evening, and when I had everything I needed I headed off into nature. Once at my hunting spot, after leaving an “offering” of sweet corn and freshly cut apples for the deer to graze upon at their leisure, I set up my camo fishing stool (now a hunting stool) and sat silently. I listened and observed G-d’s creation all around me; a grasshopper flitting from plant to plant until it finally stopped and watched me awhile, a red-headed woodpecker who flew from tree to tree singing and pecking for food; a raccoon who slipped out of the forest to sip water from the pond; a bullfrog who sang to the crappie as they leapt for their insect dinner; crickets that chirped in unison; and birds that sang from every tree. For an hour and a half I sat silently attuned to the abundance of life and thriving and blessing around me.

Of the 28.5 hours I have spent hunting since I first started one month ago, most of my time has been spent in awe of my little corner of G-d’s world. Sometime about 6:30 PM, however, I saw two deer step out of the forest and into the clearing. They were both female, and I empowered my patience on this evening and remained still and silent. In fact, the larger doe of the two spied me, but because I remained absolutely motionless, and lightened my breathing, she did not know what to make of me, so, after some time, went about her business. It was then that I set her in my sights, took aim, and for the first time in my life, squeezed the trigger with the intent of tagging my first deer.

I’ve been told by those with far more experience than I have, that shooting a live target is far different from shooting a stationary one. The truth hadn’t resonated with me until I took the shot. When I target practice with my Parker Challenger crossbow at Godfreys Indoor Range, I hit every target pretty much where I’ve aimed. And given I’m busy yacking away in my own head, I never noticed the release sound the crossbow makes as it shoots the arrow at the target. Tonight, however, in the stillness of the dusk, the arrow leaving the crossbow made the loudest “thwack” I have ever heard; possibly that the doe had ever heard also, because the second the arrow was released toward the target, the doe responded with an about-face, running into the forest. Her companion ran in the other direction, but they met up somewhere with the bigger doe screaming non-stop!

At that point, I was uncertain if I had hit my target or not. I wasn’t sure if her screaming was a very long warning to her herd, or if I’d been successful. My adrenaline was pumping so heavily I could hardly control my index finger to text my friend John about the incident. His favorite part of my text was my quote, “My adrenaline is off the f’ing (expletive spelled out) chain!” John came out to search with me for a blood trail or my arrow. It turns out we found my arrow where I had swiftly tagged the berm. But that was okay, because after 52 years and finally 28.5 hours of hunting, I let my arrow fly. Hitting the mark would have been ideal, but it was another lesson in life, offered by the hunt; we will not hit every goal we aspire for and aim at. As my parents taught me when I was just a child, “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again (how far we have fallen as a society from that pithy truth).

Fortunately, opportunity awaits again tomorrow night….

(This essay was originally published October 17, 2014 on Facebook by Sara Crusade – GalHunterMidlife)

Hunting and the Virtue of Patience

Anyone who knows something about the zodiac, particularly the sun sign Leo, knows that the number one lesson a Leo must learn is the virtue of Patience. Associated with the mentality of a teenager, the Leo wants what she wants, and wants it now! I determined, while hunting this weekend, that the number one gift of hunting is the lesson of patience. After 26.5 hours over several weekends, I have twice spotted deer and gotten zero shots off.

By the way, of the two deer sightings; I would hazard a guess the total time with eye to eye deer contact has been at most 15-20 minutes… out of 26.5 hours. If that doesn’t require patience to endure, I’m at a loss as to what does.

My first deer sighting was two Fridays ago (or maybe three) when I saw the young buck I did not shoot. I was mesmerized by him and studied his psychology instead. I felt like he and I had a meaningful, albeit brief, relationship before he high-tailed it back into the forest after pawing the ground and snorting at me. I didn’t mind letting him go, at that time, because he was young, and I was awestruck. I decided later that, should our paths meet again, young or not, he would be mine.

Once I realized I had suffered a severe (by my standards) rash on my buttocks from urushiol oil, the by-product of poison sumac, poison ivy and poison oak, I determined I would get that young buck for leaving me up in a treestand, sitting on poison sumac for over 15 hours without another shot. I also learned another lesson on patience, regarding the healing time of an urushiol oil rash, and a secondary lesson in the poison sumac plant. Prior to sitting on its pretty autumn colored leaves for hours at a time, I knew nothing about it, and had never heard of it. That’s when my supervisor at work mentioned it and I looked it up; and low and behold, there it was! What I learned; is that the oil stays on any surface it’s touched for two to five years if not cleaned. I also learned it’s almost impossible to fathom all the places and things I touched with the oil on my clothes and my hands. Next time you come home, do what you normally do, and then in five minutes stop and recount all the surfaces you may have come in contact with since you left work, from door knobs to keys, to car seats (on the way home) and recliners (once you got home). This has been my penance for hunting; doing laundry over and over, and washing each surface I can imagine touching; placing a garbage bag on my recliner and in my truck to sit on until I can get a steam cleaner. Somewhere, the oil has remained, hopefully no more, as I have continued to add rash spots on my arms and legs even while not hunting.

Sighting number two came last night; a herd of does. I did not realize that at the time, however. In order to avoid my friend’s treestand, like the plague, I brought a camo fishing stool and sat in a natural tree blind. It was a great cover, except for the lack of shoot-ability. My plan was for any deer that showed up to mosey over to the sweet deer corn and apples I had been laying out over several weeks; a little incentive to return (hopefully while I was hunting), so I had placed myself strategically in line with the food. My next lesson was that deer do not get as excited by free food as I do. I thought I saw a young buck and his doe enter the clearing en route to the pond so I bleated, to get them to follow the sound and catch a whiff of the food. But the doe I spied stayed put. Had I not been stuck behind a tree I would have had a perfect, clear shot, even at dusk. I know I was not seen, because she remained, slowly walking closer to the pond. Then I saw another doe walking alongside the pond. I thought that if I could just turn, I could get off a shot, and I bleated a again. Somewhere along the line, however, the deer got spooked, and suddenly I saw five or more white tails flipped up and leaping back into the forest with one of the does screaming bloody murder!

Because it was dusk, I hadn’t seen the others. Because of the tree and how I placed myself, I couldn’t get a shot off. And because I lacked the patience to allow them time to just meander, I bleated on my deer call and alerted them to the presence of something in the tree blind (me). Another opportunity to learn more patience; because sitting on a stool for three hours was not, by itself, enough of a lesson on patience.

My friend John, whose property I have been squatting on, said he’d seen a buck and his doe Saturday morning where I normally park my truck to go to the pond area, so I decided to move to that location this morning in hopes of another chance. Alas, I saw no deer. I did, however, see at least two skunks; one which trotted into the natural forest blind I was in, and one that sat at my target location chomping down on the apples I had placed there to entice the deer. He ate for quite some time, and if I had any idea how one de-stinks a skunk and cooks it, I may have taken him down, for he (or she) was surely fattened by the time dawn came. I also learned to be very still, more still that I have managed up to this point. It is one thing to endeavor stillness when the deer are coming, so as not to spook them; quite another to remain motionless so as not to scare a skunk who may spray if spooked.

My intention was to return the pond area tonight; however I suspect that the deer I saw last night will avoid the area for a bit. It appears to me that deer are somewhat migratory; travelling around their territory over the course of days and returning when they start over (so to speak). I haven’t seen the young buck again, so figure he either fell to another hunter, or our paths just don’t cross. Instead of hunting again tonight, I may just wait until next Friday night; give myself a break, give my knees and back a break, spend some quality time with Daisy (who has to be crated while I hunt), and continue working on prepping my apartment for Thanksgiving. I may also switch to domestic diva mode and bake another pumpkin pie… sort of like a loser’s ribbon to recognize a resolute, if unsuccessful, effort.

It would have been wonderful had my father, while I was growing up, introduced me to hunting as he did to fishing and love of nature. It has been my goal for years to hunt, and as far back as 2009 (which really isn’t that far) I was a member of Women in the Outdoors (WITO, a sub-group of the National Wild Turkey Federation) with a hog hunt planned in Florida. Loss of employment and a move required I cancel my hunt, and I have subscribed to hunting magazines ever since, in the hopes of manifesting an opportunity. Hunting for the first time isn’t like fishing… field dressing a deer is nothing like gutting a one pound trout; and to my knowledge, no one has ever been accidentally killed when one fisherman inadvertently hooks another. Hunting is one of those sports that I believe requires guidance at least, mentoring at best. The NRA Hunter Services are big proponents of teaching youth to hunt, but no one markets specifically to middle aged women… “Take an older woman hunting, and pass it on.” Sadly, WITO doesn’t ever seem to be faring well in the states I consider joining, although it’s an excellent program for teaching women outdoors sportsmanship at a really reasonable cost. Some NRA hunts cost more than my truck (which may not be saying much since it’s a 1990). But since my friend John and I found each other, he has been awesome at availing the hunting opportunity to me on his private land, where I have peace of mind that I can hunt safely, and once I do (finally) get that deer (whichever deer….) he will be there to teach me how to gut it, do a cursory field dressing, and show me where to take it for processing – plus he’ll carry it, something I would struggle with, given my disability.

Hunting early morning in Kansas with my Parker Bows Challenger crossbow, watching dawn ascend.

Hunting early morning in Kansas with my Parker Bows Challenger crossbow, watching dawn ascend.

I shall carry on, however. I will not quit until I get my deer during bow season, and my turkey for Thanksgiving. Perhaps, once the rut begins, my luck will turn, and I can earn my novice hunting badge (if one exists). You’re never too old to start hunting….

(This was first published 12 October 2014 on Facebook by Sara Crusade – GalHunterMidlife)

The Meditation of Hunting

I finally did it… I went hunting for the first time – ever. Expectations were high (my own) that I would have a successful first hunt; and I suppose in all ways besides bagging a deer, my hunt was successful. For one thing, I did it!

 

It wasn’t easy waking up on a Saturday morning at 0445, especially given I went to bed after 2300. My clothes had all been placed out Friday night, so all I had to do was get dressed. But even attire required some thought. Camo or jeans? Long sleeve or short? Is there orange in my wardrobe? Ended up wearing BDU pants, black boots, and a Mossy Oak long sleeved tee, enough to cover my arms from mosquitoes and poison ivy but not so much I’d be perspiring. I remembered I had been sent a hunting vest for one of my memberships, possibly Ducks Unlimited, and it’s reversible with a very orange interior. Then came the biggest decision of all; which ball cap to wear (I have an extensive collection). I chose my camo Women in the Outdoors (WITO) hat, in case I had a photo op with a deer; to support the WITO program and women hunting.

 

I was hunting on a friend’s property and he suggested I carry a sidearm, for self-protection (not from him) or on the rare chance the deer did not expire immediately from the swift blow of my arrow. John also suggested I create a sling for my crossbow as I had to climb up into the tree stand. My chiropractor, an avid hunter, said there should be a rope to pull up my weapon, but John had never installed one. Thank goodness for over-the-shoulder luggage straps and lightweight carabiners. I made a makeshift sling to lay the crossbow over my shoulder and back as I climbed. I had my Taurus G2 Millennium 9mm tucked in my leg holster. Around my neck I wore my Nikon camera; I was determined to shoot something, even if just a photo.

 

What made the hunt successful, despite the lack of any target to shoot at (at 0800 I saw one whitetail rump disappearing into the tree grove), was the amazing experience of sunrise in the woods. Initially, the sky was so black that I could see all the stars; something that doesn’t happen in an urban or suburban setting. Then I was able to watch the sky slowly lighten. The woods came alive; birds started singing and announcing the dawning of a new day. There were so many types of bird calls I couldn’t identify them all; but I heard wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and saw a cardinal. At times a breeze would gather and ruffle the leaves such that it sounded like a gentle rain, though no clouds could be seen above. As dawn intensified, the fish in the pond on property started splashing for their food. The temperature changed multiple times, becoming cooler, than warmer… and the smell of the forest changed. Morning has a smell!

 

It was a fantastic, spiritual experience, and I was proud of myself for climbing the tree stand and remaining in it for 3.5 hours. I learned that I’m not so afraid of heights if it’s dark and I cannot see the ground. John assured me the stand was only 12 feet high in the tree, but my eyes are five feet higher than that… so it was intimidating, especially climbing up with a prosthetic shoulder (70% disability in my left arm) and arthritic knees. But my son will attest to my forced courage in the face of a challenge.

 

I’m sure there is something to be said for hunting and bagging your game, and I hope to find that out tonight when I go back out for an evening hunt. But just being out in nature, when the earth seems still, and then witnessing the reawakening of life as the sun rises, is a mystical experience. I am delighted that I finally got to hunt, even if I had to wait until I was 52 to start.

 

(This essay was originally published 20 September 2014 on Facebook by Sara Crusade – GalHunterMidlife)

First time hunting; bow season in Kansas. Using my Parker Challenger crossbow with G5 broadheads.

First time hunting; bow season in Kansas. Using my Parker Challenger crossbow with G5 broadheads.