Reflections on My First Deer Hunting Season

It seems like it’s been a long while since I first got the itch to hunt; so long that I don’t remember when. I imagine it was while living in Florida, and likely after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite having been enlisted in the Army during the Cold War, having earned the High Firers trophy in basic training with the M16A1 (1983), and having been raised to target shoot by my father (a Marine) as a child (and by my mother as a teen), I spent a solid 15 or so years left of center in a California state of mind. The attacks changed me at my core; or perhaps more accurately, brought me back to who I truly was at my core… but that’s a story for a different venue.

Needless to say; for over 10 years I was, what some would label, a “poser.” I wore hunting t-shirts, joined Women In The Outdoors (WITO) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). By the time I was stationed in Kansas in 2011 (as an Army Civilian), I had already been a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club for several years (as well as the North American Fishing Club) and subscribed to almost 10 hunting magazines! I had gone so far as to research hunting opportunities through WITO and NRA, and even earned my Hunter Education certificate while living in Florida. Yet, I didn’t hunt.

Several factors played into my lack of action. I believe first and foremost was my disability. Knees and back aside; having survived cancer by having my shoulder bone and surrounding muscle removed left me feeling vulnerable. It’s one thing to act like I’m not disabled in a work environment where I can conveniently keep my left hand in my front pocket to avoid movement; it’s another thing entirely to face nature with weaponry I wasn’t sure I could handle.

It was my disability which scared me into not taking my son camping when he was little… for fear I would not be able to defend him. Living in California, in the San Francisco-Bay Area, with a 70% disability in my left shoulder created a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. But I digress.

The other main reason I hadn’t begun to hunt was my lack of knowledge. Where would I hunt? Would I be safe? What do I do once I’ve killed the animal? How do I get it home? Unlike here in Kansas, where I have been blessed to be friends with a land owner (whose friendship I value in many ways beyond hunting) who mentored my hunting “coming out,” I didn’t know anyone who hunted before. I imagine most hunters learned to hunt beginning in childhood, taught by a respected adult. Many women learn via brothers or husbands. Most women do not, that I know of, jump into hunting in the middle of their lives just because they want to. Thankfully, I was eventually able to do just that.

The extended season for deer hunting has only been over in my unit for five days, but already I’ve reflected back over the past hunting season, and begun looking forward to the next. In all, I spent over 80 hours hunting between September and January. It took just over 40 hours in bow season to bag my first deer. I spent another 40 during rifle season with no prize to show for my efforts; but having learned much, and having succeeded at challenging myself in ways I never suspected I would. I visited with my chiropractor this afternoon, an avid hunter, and we discussed my rifle season exploits. He gave me kudos for sitting in a blind in sub-zero temperatures in an attempt to get another deer; and he stated that he wouldn’t even do that! I laughed and replied I probably won’t ever again either.

To take my experience and add knowledge to it, I started watching a DVD I purchased: SHE’s Beyond the Lodge; a compilation of episodes from season one of the series sponsored by SHE apparel for women (www.shesafari.com and www.basspro.com), and reading hunting tips online. One piece of information I garnered is that bow hunting takes a lot of effort, and many people hunt for seasons before bagging their first deer. I do understand that compound bow and crossbow are not equal in the eyes of bow hunters. Compound bow takes an enormous amount of skill, given that the hunter doesn’t draw the string back until the prey is in sight, and then aims and releases the arrow. Shooting a compound bow, from the perspective of loading the weapon, is more like my bolt-action rifle; my string is already drawn back with the arrow in place before any prey are sighted. None the less, the skill of successfully hitting the prey remains similar. An arrow just doesn’t fly like a bullet.

This led me to ponder how truly blessed I am, and how amazing it actually is for my very first deer kill to be with my crossbow after only 40 hours of hunting – at age 52 with a disability. And even more amazing still, that I caught it on video!

Yet, I realize I have much I still need to learn about hunting. Some things I will read in periodicals and online, some information I will get from hunting videos, but most of it will come from trial and error; being out in the woods and experiencing the hunt… hours of sitting, watching and listening, waiting for a target to appear. In the book Outliers, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes proficient at their skill. That’s no small amount of effort and experience.

As a hunter, I have only 9,920 hours to go….

Advertisements

Just One More Day….

This is the last weekend in my unit for extended deer hunting. As incredible as bagging my first deer was during bow season, I had anticipated rifle season for the opportunity to use my Browning Medallion 270 bolt action rifle. My step-father sold it to me for a buck (pun intended), but it was really a gift. The rifle had been hunting when he gave it to me; I had not. I’ve been jonesing for the feel and sound of the crisp, single shot aimed squarely at the deer who would complete my organic protein source for the year, and give me the opportunity to have some meat packed up and shipped to my son.

Almost the end of extended hunting season; 20 degrees with a wind-chill that makes it feel like 5 degrees. You're never too old; and you're never too cold!

Almost the end of extended hunting season; 20 degrees with a wind-chill that makes it feel like 5 degrees. You’re never too old; and you’re never too cold!

So I’ve been going out to the blind each day I’m off work in hopes that it would be the successful hunt-day I’ve been waiting for. And with the exception of three beautiful deer I saw last Friday, that I was unable to target because of crappy placement (I guessed incorrectly when I chose the tree to the right as cover), I haven’t seen any deer. My supervisor at work kindly approved my request to take this afternoon off so I could return to the blind (the tree to the left); and I even bought extra under-garments to stave off the cold from the arctic weather we’ve been experiencing here in the Flint Hills. The temperature at 1500 was 20 degrees, with winds at 10-15 MPH creating a wind-chill that made it feel like 5 degrees. But I went anyway; wearing two pair of “thermals” under my SHE hunting pants, four shirts under my winter hunting jacket, and two pair of wool socks in my boots. I had my balaclava on my face, two pair of gloves on each hand, Hot Hands stuffed in each glove and in my pants pockets.

While the sun was up, I was reasonably comfortable. Once the sun set, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, and I found myself shaking like the Cowardly Lion when he faced the Wizard for the first time. Except I was cold, not scared. By the time I got home I could barely move my feet. It felt like the blood in my toes had frozen solid, and when I undressed my extremities, my feet were red, with a little purpling at the tips.

All the people I know who hunt quit when the weather chilled. Not me. This is my first year hunting and I want to experience it with gusto! Had I bagged a deer today, folks would be calling me hardcore, a diehard hunter, a rock star…. As I didn’t even see a deer, most folks who know I went out hunting probably just call me crazy. I’d like to attribute it to something apropos like Buck Fever; but Buck Fever is nervous excitement felt by the novice hunter at the first sign of game. I don’t have that. I have an obsession; a compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea… the idea that I’m going to bag a second deer my first year hunting, using my rifle to complete the task.

Tomorrow is my last hope; my last opportunity to triumph. Technically Sunday is the last hunt day until bow season starts again in September, but I have to have a down day. Sun or not, I need that last weekend day to get my “sun daze” on, or do laundry. And as I have never seen a deer while hunting in the morning, I will only hunt tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately we’re expecting a heat wave and it will be a high of 36 degrees, with a low of 20.

Whatever happens, it will be nice to have the obsession squashed, albeit by state hunting regulations. I think I remember doing things on the weekends, before I started hunting; and I do want to go see American Sniper at the movie theatre. On the other hand; I truly love my time in the blind, especially in the meadow where I started hunting last weekend. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and the tall grass smells so sweet. Come Spring, however, I’ll be taking some field trips out to the meadow and woods looking for antlers, taking photographs, and possibly getting a feel for where the deer hang out – for next season.

To bastardize an online quote; “God has added one more day in your life, not because you need it… but because it’s still hunting season.”

Extended Deer Season: One More Shot in Kansas

It is the first day of 2015, and the first day of the extended rifle deer hunting season in Kansas. My unit has until January 11 to bag another antlerless deer. Well, I have until the 11th for an antlerless deer; others may get to shoot their dream buck. But that’s a whole different story related to hunting permits, tags, and my lack of understanding on the subject.

Although I was in no hurry for the holidays to conclude (because time with family is precious), I have been anticipating this day eagerly, as my rifle season in December left much to be desired. I had hoped that hunting on Fort Riley was finished, and that the cold weather would keep many hunters indoors so my chances of seeing some white-tailed deer would be improved. Not quite the case, unfortunately.

My hunt started at 1315 this afternoon; dressed in three shirts, a winter jacket, underwear pants (not as thick as thermals), my new She brand (from Bass Pro Shops) pants, two pair of socks under my boots, a bandana and head gear… I expected to be warm enough. I also brought three pair of gloves, an orange knit head cover and my balaclava. None the less, by the time 1730 rolled around, my feet were so cold I could barely walk and the tips of my fingers (even wearing two pair of gloves) felt frostbitten. I even found myself starting to doze off at times; wondering if I was pre-hypothermia.

I went out to the blind early, hoping that the deer would have returned to the area where I hunt, which holds their watering hole. As usual, nothing much happened until 1600, which is about the time the deer usually reach my neck of the woods. No deer ventured into the clearing leading to the pond, however, likely out of fear from the hunters on the other side of the berm who kept unloading at them. I’m not sure what angered me more; that other hunters interrupted my hunting, or that they seemed to be lousy shots. One after another round could be heard being discharged, as if the deer weren’t actually in range but the hunters thought going semi-auto on the deer would make a difference. Perhaps it did; I wasn’t about to venture deeper into the woods to challenge any overzealous hunters who shoot before targeting.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an avid gun lover, second amendment supporter, and now hunting enthusiast. Having said that; I have to share that sometimes having other hunters in the areas surrounding mine angers me and agitates me. I’m also a firm believer in the law of attraction, and I believe there’s enough prosperity to go around, for those who are willing to generate energy for it… but I don’t think that way when it comes to hunting. I know there are enough deer; but the deer just fail to come my way when they’ve been shot at prior to reaching my hunting grounds. As soon as I hear rounds being discharged in the woods in front of me (where the deer come from to get to the pond) I already know my objective for the day will go unmet.

Sadly, I also have some mistrust of the hunters in the woods near me, as many are soldiers hunting without permits, or hunting intoxicated (I know this from the stories my soldiers tell me in treatment), and they trespass from Fort Riley land to my friend John’s in an effort to make the kill. Several weeks ago in Walmart I overheard two men in the hunting section, both of whom looked like soldiers, talking about hunting and grabbing some beers to go out with. Then there’s John’s neighbor, a farmer, whose property adjoins John’s. This evening as I reached my truck, parked in front of John’s house (and the farmer’s soy fields) I saw a doe. I got very excited hoping that she might wander onto John’s property, giving me an opportunity to take a shot. Then a herd of does came behind her and they grazed, slowly moseying closer. I put down all my gear, save for my Browning 270 bolt-action rifle, and slowly started heading for some trees to hide behind. Blam! Blam! Blam! The farmer started shooting at the deer (missing each time) causing them to flee.

I recognize hunting is considered a sport, and I suppose in the truest definition of the word (an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature) I am hunting for sport; although I am not endeavoring to shoot more deer than someone else, or the biggest buck; I am hunting for free-range, organic meat. However, I believe there is a level of integrity and responsibility inherent in the “sport” of hunting, and I do not believe that using a semi-automatic and shooting repeatedly in hopes of hitting a target is benevolent. As with bow, compound or crossbow, when shooting with a bolt-action rifle there is one shot, because the deer will scatter by the time a hunter slides the bolt back to reload another round. Don’t misunderstand; I’m welcoming of semi-automatic rifles for hunting; just not the use of successive rounds as a handicap in lieu of sighting in on the target, breathing appropriately, and squeezing off a round.

My father, although I don’t believe he ever actually hunted, taught me that hunting (as fishing – which he did engage me in) is acceptable so long as the animal is used for food and if as much of the animal is used as possible. I hunt with that in mind; and when I processed my doe at Clay Center Locker in November, I asked them to cut some leg bone for me to give to my service dog as a treat. This week I defrosted the bones and when I went to grab one for my labbie-girl I noticed a short, fat bone covered in meat. Instead of giving in to my dog (who would have loved it, I’m sure) I put it in the crockpot with my black eyed peas and pork, for my New Year’s prosperity meal. To me, that is part of responsible hunting, and where the physical prowess and skill cease being part of a sport and become an act of self-sustainability.

Tomorrow I will return to the woods; however instead of sitting in my blind and being at the end of the deer path, I’m going to venture up the berm above the pond and into the woods. I hope to have a better chance of sighting white-tailed deer there, so I can have an opportunity to bag a deer. As a newbie to hunting, I am cognizant that I will only ever get one “first deer” and only one “first” deer with each weapon type. I am blessed to have bagged my first-ever deer with a crossbow, and now I seek to get my first deer with a rifle. Knowing that I am heading into the woods where others may be hunting; I will also be sure to wear enough orange so as not to be mistaken for game. According to The Weather Channel, tomorrow will also be a slightly warmer day with a high of 37 degrees and a low in the 20s, instead today’s low of 19.

There is a saying in Judaism, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, “Next year in Jerusalem.” My version for this small extended hunting period is, “Tomorrow in the woods.” Sounded wittier in my head….

Started off my hunt wearing my new She brand head cover and pants (from Bass Pro Shops), but the temperature dropped & I chose to exchange style for my balaclava.

Started off my hunt wearing my new She brand head cover and pants (from Bass Pro Shops), but the temperature dropped & I chose to exchange style for my balaclava.