Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding

Recently I joined Whitetails Unlimited as a Lifetime Member (for which I have two payments to go) and then purchased a ticket to their Capital City Deer Camp for January 23rd. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet some other hunters and maybe make some connections, or dare I say – friends. The Kansas Monster Buck Classic was the same weekend, so I thought I’d peruse the Monster Buck Classic and then head on over to the Deer Camp.

Sadly, I received a message that the Whitetails Unlimited event was canceled as not enough tickets were sold; so I had decided I probably wouldn’t drive the hour to Topeka for the Monster Buck Classic either. But a friend of mine, whom I used to work with, said she had a friend from school who was at the MBC and she thought he and I should meet. Since my initial goal was to make connections and possibly build friendships I opted to make the drive. My service dog, Daisy, and I had gone last year and Daisy had been spooked by the sound of firearms at the event (competitions and games), so I packed extra treats to keep her mind focused on me.

After a couple of hours of walking around the event, perusing vendors, chatting with folks, introducing Daisy to many wonderful scents, and spending money, I was able to meet up with the friend of my friend, Phil Taunton.

Phil is a passionate outdoorsman, yet a very soft-spoken guy. Retired from his railroad job he now spends all of his time empowering people to get outside; especially children who, in this modern age of technology, have given up the tire swing and fishing pole for video games. Phil was at the Monster Buck Classic educating young folks and their parents about the joys of fishing and introducing people to the healing effects of getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” Through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) Phil will be one of several instructors on February 20th presenting a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, which certifies participants to become instructors in the hope that adults will pass on the joys of fishing to youth. One of the activities Phil participated in at the Monster Buck Classic was an educational fishing booth where young people could practice their casting with a pole that had a small plastic fish on the end where a hook would be. Then while reeling in, the fishermen (boys and girls) would endeavor to get the little fish into bigger plastic fish, of various colors, on the floor. Once reeled in, the bigger fish had a picture and description of one of the species of fish found in Kansas. The children appeared to have great fun, and each successful catch was rewarded with a Frisbee!

Phil and I chatted for about an hour; about fishing, quality outdoor experiences, the love of canines, and how time spent in nature just might be the glue needed to bond families together. He shared with me his belief that being outside can be spiritual, and healing to our insides, hence the motto, “Outside for a Better Inside.” Phil also shared his affection for veterans and his belief that getting in nature may also help combat veterans release some of the inner demons causing them so much heartache. To that end, Phil walked me around the event introducing me to people and connecting us together, and sitting me down with a veteran from Wounded Warriors United so we too would connect in our mission to help folks heal. As Phil and I chatted, it also came up that I write about my hunting and outdoor exploits, and he invited me to join the Outdoor Writers of Kansas, an organization with its own mission to send underprivileged children to Outdoors Adventure Camp.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip to the Monster Buck Classic this year. I was delighted to meet Phil and spend so much time walking around with him, meeting other like-minded folks. And I learned that there is far more happening in Kansas than what has been on my radar! Along with Wounded Warriors United which was founded for combat wounded and combat veterans with the mission, in part, of increasing public awareness of the effects of the outdoors on the mental and physical disabilities of wounded warriors (and then engaging veterans in outdoor activities), I also connected with a group called Vets4Vets (Veterans 4 Veterans) which also has the mission of engaging veterans in out-door activities.

Something tells me my little corner of Kansas is about to get much larger!

Links to the organizations listed, and those I connected with thanks to Phil Taunton:

http://www.fishingsfuture.org (and to register for the Instructor Workshop – fishingsfuture.org/node/459/register)

http://www.kswildlife.org

http://outsideforabetterinside.org/

http://www.outdoorwritersofkansas.com/

http://www.woundedwarriorsunited.com/

www.hodgeman.ksu.edu

https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures

Fishings Future is also hosting a Youth CPR Fishing Contest June 01 2016 – August 6, 2016. CPR stands for “Catch, Photo, Release.” To get more information, visit www.fishingsfuture.org or find and like them on Facebook.

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Mango Madness Meatloaf: venison & paleo

In an attempt to make a yummy venison meatloaf that ascribes to Paleo guidelines, I created the following recipe, which I call Mango Madness Meatloaf. Because I am allergic to tomatoes I have come up with alternatives over the years, primarily mango and papaya, to replace tomato in certain recipes.

Mango – one
Almond meal -1/2 cup
Ground venison – 1 lb
Ground chicken (or turkey) – 1 lb
Eggs (omega3) – 2
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Sage – 1 tbsp
Thyme – 1 tbsp
Garlic – 1 tbsp (or 2 cloves)
Black or 4 season pepper – 1 tsp
Red bell pepper – 1
Yellow bell pepper -1
Celery – 2
Onion (sweet) – 1/4
Apple, Gala – 1/2

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Using food processor, almost puree mango. Add eggs, oil & seasonings and mix. Place ground meat in a bowl and add mixture with hands. Dice up veggies and apple. Add veggies and almond meal to meat mixture and mix with hands. Rub a small amount of olive oil on sides of baking dish (Pyrex) and put meatloaf mixture in with enough room for meatloaf to rise as baking. Cook for 60 minutes and let sit for 10 minutes after baking. This makes over two pounds of meatloaf, so use a large baking dish or be prepared to bake meatloaf in two episodes. My dish holds one pound so I had to bake two separate batches.

Because I’m endeavoring to follow the Paleo lifestyle, there is no salt added, no seasonings with salt or sugar, and I used a glass baking dish instead of aluminum or Teflon. The meatloaf smells wonderful while baking, and tastes very good. The chicken I used was from Perdue, as they advertise being hormone-free. The ground venison is fresh from my December harvest.

My palate and tummy are very happy with the outcome!

First-ever Squirrel Hunt

Today was the last day to hunt deer during extended rifle season for my unit here in Kansas. I gave it the old college try; morning and afternoon on January 1st, morning hunting on the 2nd, and morning hunting today. I returned to the upper area blind this morning, having seen deer in the area mid-morning on my game camera. Alas, none showed up for me today; but I was prepared, on the off-chance no deer showed up (hint of facetiousness in that off-chance comment), I brought my Mossberg .22 rifle with me for squirrel hunting.

Yesterday afternoon I laid down some corn near the feeder, primarily in hopes it would lure a doe, but also knowing that the squirrels in the upper area have gotten fat from eating the deer corn I’ve placed in the feeder since late Spring. True to their hungry little natures, they found their way to the deer corn this morning, along with blue jays and an assortment of other fine feathered critters.

My Mossberg does not have a scope on it. When I’ve shot it at the range I’ve always done well using just the front and rear sights, so surmised I’d be just as accurate targeting squirrels. After 2.5 hours of idle sitting in the blind waiting for a deer opportunity, I decided it was time to rest the Browning and set the Mossberg upon my bipod. Carefully I took aim and squeezed the trigger. The squirrel in my sights remained sitting as if still eating corn while the other squirrels and all the birds took off for cover. So I took a second shot.

The squirrel turned and began to run away, but clearly in a manner that indicated she’d been hit. I endeavored to follow after her, but she lost me, and my initial efforts to find her were unsuccessful as there was no blood trail. My heart sank and I felt really sad, and guilty, thinking that I’d injured a creature. In my mind I imagined that I’d perhaps just shot her foot. The squirrel’s ability to run and hide left me sure I’d only wounded her.

I packed up my belongings and walked to my most recent hunting spot along the berm, hoping that maybe a doe would engage in late morning movement. My plan was to remain no longer than 45 minutes, as I’d already been out for three hours and wanted to get back home to take my dog outside. The area remained calm, so at 1230 I left, making every effort to make peace with the knowledge I would have no more deer hunting for nine months. After unloading my Browning rifle in my truck, I decided to return to the upper hunting area and do another search for the squirrel. Ethical hunting is something I strongly believe in, and I did not want to be someone who shot a squirrel and then walked away.

On my second search, I went a bit farther into the woods and took a slightly different path. Low and behold I found a small blood trail at the base of a tree. It was hard for me to believe that the squirrel somehow managed to climb up the tree, but I didn’t see any blood trail leading away from it. Something caught my eye to my right; a dinner plate-sized piece of wood with some red on it. When I moved over closer to investigate, I saw the squirrel under a fallen tree. My shot had been fatal, which I thought was a good thing, in lieu of my earlier opinion that I’d only wounded the squirrel.

Back at my truck, I field dressed and processed the squirrel, managing to keep the hide intact (which I now have drying for preservation). Tonight’s dinner consisted of baked squirrel, which I placed partially covered with unsalted chicken broth, and accompanied with sweet onion, pear, parsley and bok choy. The recipe I’d found online called for celery but the store was out. Bok choy has a similar consistency to celery but added a much stronger flavor that I probably wouldn’t add again. I also seasoned the squirrel with fresh ground garlic, ground pepper, and some sage. Salt is not an option as I’m making the switch to a Paleo lifestyle. I’ve been told that squirrel meat is tough and needs to be slow cooked, or deep fried. I found it fairly moist and acceptably chewy being baked for 45 minutes with the broth to keep it basted.

Although somewhat gamy tasting, the cooked squirrel made my apartment smell wonderful, and I enjoyed ingesting the fruits of my labor. Only hunters and fishermen can claim to harvest a critter during the day, prepare it, cook it, and eat it that evening.

Unable to harvest a second deer and fulfill that goal, I did manage to fulfill my goal of harvesting and preparing a squirrel. And I was able to maintain my code of ethical hunting, while also providing myself a protein source considered lean, healthy, and appropriate for the Paleo Diet.

Deer hunting may be over, but there are plenty of other critters appropriate for a healthy, home-cooked meal.

New Year’s Hunting

Today is the first day of 2016. I had hoped to kiss the old year goodbye by harvesting a deer yesterday, but no such luck (I don’t normally ascribe to the concept of “luck” but when it comes to deer hunting, I believe there’s some luck involved – good or bad ). I then shifted to what a great omen it would be for the New Year if I harvested a deer today.

My expectation was that it would be quiet, with most hunters sleeping-in to compensate for a night of frivolity and alcohol. For the most part that seemed true, except for someone to my north who was either unloading at birds or chose 0800 to target practice (or shoot at coyotes)… and those soldiers on Fort Riley, off in the distance on a field training exercise (FTX).

I arrived at 0645. The morning was still and quiet, save for my footfall as I made my way to my hunting spot atop snow, ice, and frozen tallgrass. But once seated; there was nothing but silence. No wind. Even the chill was calm (there’s a brief period of time in the early morning when 17 degrees doesn’t feel cold, as the morning seems completely motionless). As sunrise approached, one and then a symphony of birds began singing, as if on cue. The scent of the prairie changed, and then the wind picked up (albeit minimally), and the temperature dropped – feeling every bit 17 degrees. It was barely 0800 when I heard the gunfire in the distance, and the sound of artillery.

Before I move forward in my story; I want to first explore the smells of Kansas. Perhaps it’s a change of wind direction, or a temperature shift, but throughout my hunts, especially in the morning, I notice distinct shifts in the scents around me. I always hope that an earthier smell is an indication that deer are approaching, but honestly I have not figured out what the changes mean or why they happen. It’s a phenomenon, however, that I don’t recall experiencing anywhere else; which may be due to not hunting prior to 2014. To feel the subtle shifts in temperature and discern the changes in scent, I think one needs to be stationary out in nature for a significant period of time; something most people just don’t do. For me, experiencing the shifts is part of my developing intimacy with Kansas.

Now as for this morning’s hunt; I heard gentle steps around 0815 or so, and looked to my right. Approaching me along the berm, coming from the woods, were two coyotes. The lead coyote was within about 10-12 yards of me. We made eye contact, and I swung my rifle over and held it aimed at the coyote in case s/he demonstrated ill intent. I doubt he knew what the rifle was, but he did understand I had claimed my spot and wasn’t moving from it. After a short time, but what seemed like minutes, the coyote seemed to realize he couldn’t ease on past me and would have to find a different path. Both coyotes turned around and headed back into the woods. I didn’t sense any aggression in either of them, at that moment, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

My thought afterward was that I likely would not see any deer, as the coyotes had probably scared them off. But about 0830 my Spidey sense tingled and I looked behind me in the field and saw a beautiful buck walking toward me. Although he was easily 70 or more yards away, he saw me. I’ve read somewhere that it’s a misconception that deer are color-blind (just as it is with dogs) and that they do see some color and shades, to include orange. In any event; he was not spooked by me, but paused to contemplate, and then decided to change course and walk across the field headed east. A minute later, a lovely doe followed him. What a blessing to see such beautiful creatures this morning, and I felt good knowing the buck had survived this hunting season and would be in-play next deer season.

My hope was that the deer’s presence was an indicator that movement was happening and I might be graced with some does to choose from this morning. Well, as luck would have it; a herd of about four does showed up, however not in front of me coming from the funnel, but up on the berm. The lead doe walked toward me, pausing from time to time. My mind raced as I remembered last extended rifle season when I was unable to get a shot off; I had placed myself precariously in some branches and scrub, and when I saw three does walking out of the woods to my right, I was unable to readjust to take a shot. With the herd walking straight toward me, on the same path the coyotes had been earlier, I knew I was doomed to be an observer, because any attempt I made to move caused the lead doe to stop and watch me. She got within 15 yards, give or take, and eventually I moved in such a way that she and her herd ran back into the woods, with the lead doe screaming her warning!

I suppose the benefit to a tree stand is the ability to shift positions for deer coming from any direction. As a ground hunter, and not in a blind, I have to choose a direction to hunt and hope the deer are compliant with my plans; such as the herd I encountered on December 5th when I harvested my first doe of the season. I waited until 1000 before calling it quits for the morning. The temperature with the wind-chill was bitter cold and penetrated my boots and two pair of socks. My toes hurt like crazy and I was concerned that any further exposure might do irreparable harm to my phalanges, toes and fingers, as I’d dropped my right glove somewhere and had only a left glove and a fingerless glove on each hand. Temperature-wise, I was ready to leave by 0900, but forced myself to stay until 1000 on the off-chance the herd doubled back and decided to take the lower path where I was aiming. In my head I heard Eva Shockey telling the Fox News interviewer that sometimes you really want to stop hunting in the moment but have to make yourself stay. And that’s what I did, as long as I could, but I was also cognizant that I was being impacted by the cold, and I didn’t want to be the next new story about being injured (or worse) on a hunt. Its times like this, though, when I question how I ever thought I could live in Alaska, where a Kansas winter looks warm in comparison!

Prior to my deer encounters this morning I had been praying, really fervently, asking for some deer. I’m pretty sure I specified wanting a doe to harvest, but perhaps I was weak in that portion of my prayer. I was certainly blessed with multiple deer and multiple sightings; just none I could do anything about ethically. Part of me wants to return this afternoon; but I realize that it’s not ideal to hunt the same spot all the time, and since the herd of does ran off screaming, they will not likely return today.

Yesterday I picked up my processed deer and placed the meat in my freezer. There was at least 45 pounds, probably 50, but a second harvest would insure that I have enough free-range, healthy meat for my new Paleo lifestyle. However, I also recognize that I am blessed to have gotten even one deer; and if the best I can say for the New Year is that I had deer and coyote encounters, that’s still pretty sweet.

Fortunately, there are still two more days left for my unit’s extended rifle season… and tomorrow is a new day.

NewYearsDay2016