Defining a Hunt Season

Although this is only my second-ever deer hunting season; this is the worst hunting season ever! I suppose, really, it depends on how one measures a hunting season. Being a newbie, I tend to rate it first by number of deer harvested, and since the current number as we soon begin the month of December is zero, it rates as a suck hunting season. Yes, I almost got a nice buck with my very first shot, one Friday evening back in October… but you know how the saying goes, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, grenades, and atomic bombs.” Of course there was “Threeper” the 3-point “buckling” who stepped within about 12 yards of me and waited for me to harvest him, but we know how that story goes and Threeper is alive today to tell the tale. And there were those two close encounters with bucks, as a direct result of not shooting the buckling, which then urged me to adventure further from my comfort zone in search of deer; but they basically fit in the “almost” category, which we’ve already determined might make a good story but doesn’t provide food for the incoming year.

In my efforts to harvest at least one deer, preferably three, I have logged in (I literally write down in a log book every time I hunt and the hours I hunted) about 100 hours. Perhaps this is more like a deer hunting season and last year’s harvest at only 40 hours of hunt time was a fluke… but it’s all I have to compare to. Every opportunity I have to go out is taken, to include showering in my office shower and heading out in my scent-free garments straight from work. I have hunted in the rain, a futile effort in my opinion, and deprived myself of sleep in order to maximize my time in the woods and blind on a five-day weekend. Today kind of “takes the cake” though in my self-imposed hunting insanity.

When I left this morning around 1000, it was barely drizzling and the forecast showed a reprieve from rain. My Hunting Predictor app (for my smart phone) indicated it was a fairly good day for deer, so off I went. I dressed extra warm today as we’ve been having below-freezing temperatures and icy roads. I wore five shirts, the outer being my BDU blouse, and a coat, two pair of leggings under my slacks, two pair of socks – with a Hot Hands in between the socks to keep my feet warm, my full face mask, and my winter gloves – also stuffed with Hot Hands. If you can imagine a camouflaged Oompa Loompa than you’ll have an idea of what I looked like. I dutifully let my truck warm up, scraped the ice from the windows and gingerly drove down the road, headed to the Fort Riley woods beside my regular hunting area on my friend’s property. About 500 yards from my apartment, while endeavoring to slow to a stop at the intersection, my “Danger Ranger” began to slide… across the lane and toward the guard rail.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how commandingly or loudly you state, “No! No! NO!” you can’t control a vehicle in an ice slide?! Sure enough, my truck hit the guard rail and then bounced off, and as I didn’t break the rail and go plummeting down the embankment I figured I’d continue toward my hunting destination. I concluded the time to have made a change in plans was before I pulled my truck out of the parking space, and since I hadn’t made that choice, and the truck was still operational, I might as well continue with my hunt – hopefully making it all worthwhile.

Hoping to have better luck on the Fort Riley side of the woods, I parked on the side of the road and hiked in. It took me over 30 minutes to get to where I decided to stop; not because I went that far, but because I walked that slowly and purposefully, trying not to sound like an approaching army of one on the ice and frozen tall grass. I stayed in that spot, a small clearing in the woods, for over an hour waiting for deer to decide it was an excellent time to come out for a nosh. As the rain increased in intensity I decided maybe I should go deeper in the woods where the deer might be hiding. I walked through a thicket of tall grass and bush branches (there were no leaves) which reminded me of a booby trap to ward off invaders. There was nowhere that didn’t create noise, or try to trip me. Finally I reached a cluster of evergreen trees that looked like they might lead further into the woods. I had to duck to walk under the branches of the evergreens, although there was a clearing of a couple of feet. The ground was covered in ice, and as I walked through the passageway I was reminded of crossing a magical threshold into a new world (maybe of faeries and wisps). On the wooded side I saw rich colors of autumn leaves on the forest floor, red berries growing on green bushes, and twisted tree trunks. There were deer tracks in the ice so I knew that this route was a pathway from the deep woods to the clearing. I sat on my stool beside a tree and listened. That’s when the rain became even heavier and colder. After about 30 minutes I realized I would perish before I saw a deer; as my gloves were soaked, my coat and face mask were soaked, my glasses foggy and stained with water droplets trying to become ice, and my crossbow was drenched in water and covered with forming ice. Reluctantly, I went home.

Despite yet one more failed attempt to harvest a deer, I appreciated the beauty surrounding me. Forcing my phone camera to operate while wet and cold I took photos of the area. You could say I was bound and determined to shoot something, even if just photos! One of the hardest things for me to curtail when I hunt is my photographic world-view. Having been a photographer in the Army, and throughout my adult life since, I see life as a photograph, and every hunt presents many missed photo opportunities; as snapping away with my camera would surely keep the deer at bay. Not that they’ve been very forthcoming anyway.

Now home, dry, warm, and comfortable, I have my soaking wet hunting clothes washed and in the dryer to be scent-free and ready for next weekend. Next weekend is rifle season though, and I had a very poor rifle season last year, so am cautiously optimistic. It would be fabulous if this rifle season was opposite last year’s and I finally score a deer. If not, it will be just one more reason to remember this as the suckiest hunting season ever; but one in which I’ve had more fun and more adventure than my first.

Stay tuned….

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Hunting: I Can Truly Be Me Until Monday

Headed out to the Cabelas in Kansas City this morning, the country station I’d tuned into played the Steve Azar song, I Don’t Have To Be Me (‘Til Monday). As I sang along it occurred to me the lyrics are all wrong from my perspective; I can totally be me until Monday.

The “me” I’m referring to is the outdoor loving, hunting & fishing, camo and flannel wearing (not at the same time) me. When I’m out in the blind, or in the woods, as well as beside a lake, I am my true self. Granted, the tools of being a psychotherapist are also deeply ingrained in my persona at this point, so even on a hunt I am self-assessing.

Take for instance my hunt yesterday morning. Sitting in my blind by the pond, I had looked down for a moment (okay I’ll admit it; there was nothing happening so I checked my Instagram account – @gal_huntermidlife). When I looked back up, a young buck had walked into the clearing and was standing 10 yards in front of me, with his side showing, as if to say, “Shoot me already!”. At first I thought it was a doe and I turned on my Midland video camera, attached to my crossbow, and aimed. I needed only take the safety off and squeeze the trigger. But then I saw his rack…. I suppose at one time he was a four-point buck, but his left antler was broken leaving him only three points total. He was otherwise healthy looking, and would have still had fairly tender meat. But because I’d taken my head out of the game for long enough to check Instagram and see photos other hunters had posted of their full-racked bucks, I returned to the present moment with my head in the wrong game; instead of being focused on the fact I hunt for food, I was focused on the trophy atop his head. I told myself to let him pass, because he was young and needed time to grow. When no other deer manifested, I started to berate myself and assess my real motives.

That’s when I realized I had let the buck pass mainly because of my big ego and his little rack, not because I am really all that compassionate about the “buckling,” as a friend of mine called him. Last year I was that compassionate. This year I have a goal to harvest three deer so I can successfully switch to a Paleo lifestyle. Harvesting him would have placed me 1/3 of the way closer to my goal.

I’ve come to learn, however, that part of my process with hunting is getting to better understand myself. I’ve spent all my time hunting this year, through yesterday morning, in my blind; sitting like a princess waiting for deer to come at my beck and call. Yet I’ve wanted to learn to hunt like the folks in the magazines I read; stalking the deer through forests and mountains, rather than sitting politely by and waiting for them to arrive. So yesterday afternoon I headed into the woods, just below the natural berm on my friend’s property.

I spent 30 minutes trying to decide where to take cover; at first trying to sit comfortably on my camo tree stand seat, until I finally realized I would have to just kneel in the tall grass behind a berry bush. I had a view of several paths the deer take, and low and behold 30 minutes before sundown I heard feet walking along the berm. I positioned myself and saw an 8-10 point buck heading toward my location! He got within 10-15 yards of me, but got spooked when I used my deer call. I was given hope though, that all was not lost after my epic fail in the morning with the 3-pointer.

Once back from Cabelas this afternoon I showered and changed, and headed right back out into the woods. At almost the same time as yesterday afternoon, I heard a buck snort. I got poised and ready… but he never left the other side of the berm, where there is a clearing the deer call home. I waited until it was almost the end of the hunt time and got up to collect one of the key-wicks I’d doused in doe estrus and hung in a tree. I heard movement in the tall grass on the hill leading up to the other side of the berm. I inched myself up beside the evergreen with my crossbow at the ready. I followed the footfall of the deer with my crossbow until a beautiful buck head rose over the berm. I froze, with his head sighted in my scope. He stomped the ground with a hoof. He snorted at me, but I remained as still as I could. Content I was not a threat, he began his ascent up the hill and along the top of the berm. As I was trying to get a fix on his side he heard me move and ran off! I waited, in case he came back up, but he took a different path to my side of the berm, bleating his warning as he ran into the woods.

It was the most exciting moment in hunting I’ve ever had! Our faces were five yards or less apart before he began to walk away. And though I was unable to take a shot, I experienced a true thrill with the hunt. It made me think of a combat exercise, albeit one in which I am the enemy. I crouched in waiting, tracking his movement and preparing for the chance to strike. My heart was pounding in my chest and I had to purposefully steady my breathing. And I realized… this type of hunting is far more fun than sitting in a blind like a camouflaged princess!

Although it truly would have been nice to have already harvested one deer, my lesson in not taking the 3-pointer was worth it. Because I did not harvest the “buckling” I stepped outside of my comfort zone and went into the woods to hunt. And I had a close encounter both afternoons with a gorgeous buck. I also experienced hunting as something exciting and genuinely more skillful than waiting for a deer to present before my blind; although I had many misses last year, so I know that shooting with a crossbow still takes skill.

Tomorrow morning I will return to the woods to actively hunt, using my camouflage and hiding technique to work on my stealth skills, all the while embracing who I really am.

Hunting in the woods....

Hunting in the woods….

Trick or Treat Hunting on Halloween

Today is Halloween, and like every day out in the blind it started out and ended hopefully. You know; until the sun went down and I couldn’t see, and still no deer had presented. Yet, I was blessed to watch a beautiful unfolding of morning in my upper blind, and a delightful closing of the day in my lower blind.

Before hunting this afternoon, I made a cardboard sign that read, “Forget the trick. I want the treat (with a hand-drawn deer head).” It was a nice thought, but I was given the trick instead. After about 30 minutes in the blind I looked in the direction of some scratching noise, hoping for a deer that perhaps I had not seen due to the sun shining directly in my eyes. Instead it was the flock of turkey gals scratching around for food. I watched them for quite some time, fascinated; especially when one turkey reprimanded another by taking her down and pinning her head and neck. At first I wasn’t sure if the dominant turkey was scolding the other or killing her, but they eventually moved on and I watched the scolded turkey running for her life along the bank of the pond while the dominant turkey chased her the whole way!

I carry a small pocket notebook in my cargo pocket to track my hours and times hunting, and anything particularly interesting. At almost 1800 (6:00 PM) I wrote, “It smells wonderful out here as the sun begins to set and the air cools; like Kansas sweet grass occasionally punctuated by wafts of doe estrus which I have strategically placed around the clearing. It almost reminds me of the earthen smell in Magalia (California), when I would visit Grandma Pearl as a child.”

My second trick came as I was preparing to end the hunt. It was almost so dark I could no longer see through my crossbow scope, but I heard something walking toward me and I jumped in anticipation of a deer; hoping to be able to strain my eyes enough to sight in on the target and harvest a deer. Alas, two raccoons tottered on by the front of my blind, as if playing follow-the-leader in the almost-dark.

In Kansas we are able to officially begin the hunt 30 minutes prior to sunrise and 30 minutes past sunset. It seems last year I stayed those 30 extra minutes in the evenings. This year I’m lucky if I actually reach the official time for sunset before having to pack it in because of the onset of darkness. I suppose there could be a strange aura about this year, with darkness falling prematurely (like the hastening collapse of freedom in this country – but that’s for another essay) yet I suspect it’s due to my vision. Last year my eyes received a clean bill of health. This summer my eye doctor stated she found the early stages of cataracts in my eyes, which she seemed to believe were unusually speedy. I was told I will likely need cataract surgery next year, whereas most folks can go 10 years or so (according to my doc) before requiring corrective surgery. I’m not sure how I “lucked out” with some expeditious-type of cataract, especially with dark brown eyes and a penchant for sunglasses, but it seems to me that my eyesight is already being affected. I’ve heard the sun and light colored eyes make a winning combination for developing cataracts. Perhaps my 100% increase in outdoor activities since moving to Kansas four years ago is to blame.

In Florida I stayed in-doors most of the summer, and really much of the year because of my distaste for heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. In Nevada I stayed inside much of the time because of my distaste for excessive dry heat. Once I moved to Kansas, however, I rediscovered fishing, and then was blessed last year to finally begin hunting. Although deer season just began in September and it is not quite November yet (Central time); I have already hunted 56.5 hours in search of just my first deer…. As I plan on beginning the Paleo Diet in January, I have great aspirations of bagging three deer this hunting season. Of course, I’ve yet to harvest one….

Be that as it may; I will return to the hunt next weekend with the hope of finally getting my first deer. My first-ever deer, last year, was harvested on November 08, which happens to be the birthday of a veteran friend of mine in Las Vegas. He has assured me that I need wait only eight more days to get my first deer of the season. We shall see… at least as long as the sun is up!

Forget the trick. I want the treat! Deer hunting on Halloween 2015.

Forget the trick. I want the treat! Deer hunting on Halloween 2015.