Spring Turkey Part 2b: Filling Tag #2

Flush with confidence from my special hunt (that I’d gone and done it, not that I saw and conquered) I headed out Saturday morning to my friend’s property where just the Saturday before I had faced a long-beard with my crossbow and been deemed the victor. Because my labbie-girl was still on her vacation at Paws Inn I was able to prepare and eat a hearty breakfast before heading out, although I somehow still managed to run a bit behind schedule; indicating it is me, and not my labbie-girl, who causes my tardiness in the morning.

The weather report called for thunderstorms and scattered rain, but I did not let that deter me. Of course, by the time I got parked and began to get my gear out of my truck, the rain started. By the time I got my decoys up and sat myself down beside a tree, behind my Turkey Fan, the thunder and lightning showed up. Fortunately I had my son’s multicam rain jacket he’d left with me, when he and his wife left my place on their globe-trotting honeymoon (www.globalcrusades.net), and I dutifully put it on to avoid getting soaked.

By 6:30 I had started calling, again using my Turkey Thugs raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) with inclusion of my Illusion wooden box call. The morning sky was colored hues of grey, indigo, blush and salmon, and streaked periodically with bolts of white light. I wasn’t sure if the gobblers would welcome my clucks, cackles and kee-kees given the storm, but by 7:00 a.m. I was rewarded for my efforts with the first response gobble. With my confidence boosted by the turkey repartee I continued to call out, using both forms of calling to entice the long-beards to investigate.

The rain came intermittently, causing just enough of a nuisance that I had to fuss over my Contour video camera, which was beside me on a tripod, and my mobile phone, which was attached to the bottom of my shotgun barrel with my Bow Mount mobile phone mount. But during those still moments, when the rain paused to give the clouds a rest, I reveled in the serenity of the morning. The atmosphere in my hunting spot was changed by the colors and energy of the storm, and it donned a magical appearance.

At about 7:15 a.m. I spied movement to my right and a hen had come in to find out who was making all the noise. I had hopes she would bridge the 10 yard gap between her and my decoys and make some noise of her own, to help draw any Toms in, but she opted to walk away unimpressed. Closer to 7:30 a.m. the gobbles got louder in response to my calls, and when I looked to my left toward the pond I saw three gobblers walking the sandy bank of the pond headed my way. They quickly approached my Primos Jake decoy, but only one Tom puffed out his chest and fluffed up his fan. As the other two walked just past my decoy, Mr. Tom pounced on it, knocking my Jake decoy partially out of the ground and scaring the other two long-beards. Mr. Tom seemed somewhat taken aback as well, perhaps hoping for more of a fight. He walked past my decoy and then turned back to look at the Jake, helplessly beaten down with one pounce. That’s when I aimed the front bead of my Mossberg 505 20 gauge shotgun at the back of Mr. Tom’s head and squeezed the trigger.

Now I know any regular shotgunners out there are probably beside themselves because I aimed my shotgun. In my defense, I’m primarily a rifle and handgun gal, and my use of a shotgun is minimal. So when I argued with myself over whether I should point with both eyes open and risk missing, or close one eye, aim the shotgun and hit my target… I naturally opted to hit my target. It was the first time I’d ever had the chance to harvest with my shotgun. In the past, turkeys have never shown up when I have my shotgun at the ready, and only when I have my Parker Challenger crossbow; which is why my lifetime record of turkey harvests up to that point (one hen and two long-beards) had been with my crossbow. My shotgun had finally been able to do its job. If it could smile, I know it would have.

This was also the first time, since I started hunting three years ago, that I filled my tags. Two tags, two turkeys. Albeit a very short hunt on Saturday, just one hour, it took hours upon hours of preparation; seven hours in Clay County the day before, and before that episode after episode of hunting shows, and much practice with my mouth calls to get any sound to come out, let alone a respectable turkey call. And as any hunter will tell you; it was well worth it!

As I went to inspect my harvest, hail started falling, followed by more rain. Taking photos with my prize was a bit of a challenge, but I managed a couple decent selfies, and then brought him up to my truck where I field dressed him to the bone. Most folks who hunt turkey say that only the breast meat on wild turkey is worth eating. I disagree. In my quest to achieve ethical hunting and pay homage to the bird who gave his life up for me, I take every bit of meat I can; breasts, legs, thighs, bits & pieces stuck to the bones, the liver and the heart. The breast meat I portion out and vacuum seal at home to create tender turkey breast steaks. The rest gets cleaned, trimmed and vacuum sealed for turkey stew in the crockpot. Once slow cooked, a dark tough leg is moist and very palatable. And turkey stew (stoup, as I call it; thicker than soup but thinner than stew) is a marvelous high protein meal on cold winter days.

That, my friends, is my spring turkey hunting story. From my crossbow harvest on Saturday April 8th to my shotgun harvest Saturday April 15th anticipation had been high, and I have come to truly appreciate the art of turkey hunting. In fact, I still have much to learn, and hope that, in the years to come, I’ll be able to make more out of a special hunt than I did yesterday. But for now; I am happy, I feel satisfied, and my freezer is well stocked with wild turkey. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t hunt; it is so much a part of who I am, and I feel my hunting birthright deep down in my soul.

Stay tuned for my adventures with predator hunting, coming soon. And check out my YouTube channel Gal HunterMidlife as I post my hunts and improve my videography along with my hunting skills… and please subscribe.

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Spring Turkey Part 2a: Special Hunt

Having never won a special hunt before, I didn’t know what to expect; but visions of wild turkeys flocked my thoughts as I imagined a veritable buffet of gobbler choices in my special hunting area. To prepare, I made sure my aim was true with my shotgun, had cameras charged and ready to go, packed my Field & Stream backpack with extra knives and food storage bags, and tucked away my son’s multicam raincoat just in case. I took my service dog to Paws Inn, the kennel/doggie resort in town on Thursday evening so I’d be unencumbered on the day of my hunt; and took Friday off of work in order to utilize the first special hunt day.

The weekend prior, my labbie-girl and I had driven out to the location in Clay County, an hour away, to make sure I’d know where it is; which I was thankful for given the dirt roads and such I’d have to traverse in the semi-darkness of pre-dawn. By 4:20 a.m. Friday morning I was out of bed and getting dressed for turkey war. I opted to eat a hearty breakfast first, as I was unsure of how long I’d be out in the field, and even made a ham sandwich on a bolillo roll that I packed with an ice pack in with my gear.

By 6:30 a.m. I was parked and making tracks onto the property I was hunting, heading past the tree line that I supposed provided turkey perches and across the first field I came to. A deer walked across the field ahead of me, seemingly not alerted to my presence. Once I reached the location I thought would be best, I set up; decoys out, game camera set up at turkey level, Turkey Fan in front of my tree stand cushion I was using for seating, Contour camera on tripod set up and aimed at me, bipod adjusted to height, and shotgun loaded and ready to go.

As the morning awakened before me, I called out using my Turkey Thug raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) and my Illusion box call. I recorded myself on my Contour video camera, speaking normally in hopes of being heard on camera, as my previous recordings of my hunts have been at a whisper and inaudible (and I have since learned that even a conversational tone outside is not well captured by the Contour microphone). Sometime around 9:00 a.m. I decided to move locations as I had no reciprocal clucks or gobbles in that position. Packing everything back up (four decoys, my game camera on a metal ground stand, and the rest of my whole shebang) I traipsed through a thicket of woods, heavily riddled with deer tracks, across another field to a spent corn field alongside some woods and the winding creek on property. I set back up and, calling all the while, waited.

The location was beautiful and I imagined that turkeys would be spilling out of the woods into the corn field looking for bugs and responding to my calls. Instead, two coyotes came a ’calling; the first ran off quickly, but the second, a slightly smaller and mangier looking yote, stood about 30-40 yards in front of me listening and watching. He (could be she, I didn’t check) spied my decoys and took interest, but seemed to notice they didn’t smell like live turkeys and therefore weren’t actually prey. I called quickly, just to see what he would do, as I was fascinated by the encounter, and of course recording the whole thing. At one point, the yote began to approach closer, but a noise in the woods (likely a deer) startled him and then caused him to look at me. In response I stared back, bared my teeth and growled, which prompted him to hightail it out of there.

It was an exciting diversion, and the only wildlife encounter I had all day. The wood line looked beautiful, and part of it was fenced belonging to the neighboring property, so I took a small hike along the edge of the woods and corn field until I reached the creek. Deer tracks were abundant, and had I been hunting during deer season I’d have been plenty hopeful. Yet I didn’t see a single turkey track, turkey scat, or feather. Looking over the creek, however, I saw another part of the property edged by the neighboring land and a lush green field. Perhaps if I were young and spry (although I don’t ever really recall being spry) I would have tackled crossing the banks of the creek; but at almost 55 years young I decided to drag all my stuff back to the truck, drive the block to the other side of the creek, and hike back in. It was about 11:00 a.m., and I’d already eaten half my sandwich. The wind had been blowing like Kansas (I was going to say “like crazy” but anyone who knows Kansas knows the wind blows here far more than crazy), with rain drizzling the whole time I was in that second location. So I was cold, damp, and ready to sit in my truck for a spell.

It was no easy feat, but I made it back to my truck. My backpack had loosened and was falling off my shoulders, pulling on my neck and back, and I was carrying a burlap bag stuffed full like Santa packed it, with my four decoys. Once I reached my truck, I drove down the road to the other side of the creek and rested for about 15 minutes as I endeavored to get my strength back; then I grabbed it all again and hiked to the far side of the property, up against the neighboring green field, through a low lying spent corn field covered in muddy water and accented with violet wild flowers. And enough deer tracks to make a deer hunter climax. I found an area slightly raised above the water, where some green grass was growing and set up, with my two Primos decoys and two random decoys in a dry area of the corn field. And there I called, and called, and ate the other half of my sandwich, and called some more; but I neither saw nor heard any turkeys. At 1:00 p.m. I decided I’d stay until 1:30, and at 1:30 I packed it all back up and walked back to the truck.

By the time I got home from my special hunt I was in pain, tired, and feeling somewhat dejected. I decided for certain that Saturday I would just return to my friend’s property to hunt, where I knew turkeys lived (and sometimes died….).

As with any hunt though, it’s not just about the harvest – it’s about the journey. This was the first time I had ever hunted unfamiliar land. It was my first ever special hunt, and I felt blessed to be a lottery winner out of almost 1,300 applications (169 special hunts were awarded). My special hunt marked a significant increase in my confidence as a hunter, a willingness to get out of my comfort zone, and an opportunity to hike around an area in search of my prey. The hunt brought me outside for a better inside, as my friend Phil says (and I hashtag often #outsideforabetterinside), and thrilled me with a coyote encounter.

Let me sum up my special hunt with the following three very apropos quotes:

“One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted… If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it; the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting.

“If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well.” – Jonathan Safran Foer.

“If you consider an unsuccessful hunt to be a waste of time, then the true meaning of the chase eludes you all together.” – Fred Bear.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Spring Turkey Hunting Part 2 (which would be categorized 2b, I guess….)

Living the Kansas Lifestyle

You likely wouldn’t be able to tell it now; but I was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area for a significant portion of my life. I even moved back in my late 20’s after having given birth to my son (now a 25 y/o Army veteran on his globe-trotting honeymoon: www.globalcrusades.net). When I was a child I absolutely loved going into the city, and reckoned I’d move into the heart of San Francisco one day. At the same time; I spent much of my youth in a suburb of San Francisco; a coastal town in San Mateo County aptly named Pacifica. What I loved about Pacifica back then was that one edge of town was sandy beaches and rock cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the opposite edge of town was forested hills and mountains. Farms dotted the area and I loved seeing the lush green pastures winding their way into the hills, with horses frolicking amidst the sea breezes.

It was there, in that country-ocean oasis on the outskirts of San Francisco, that I developed my dream to one day own a ranch or farm. Some place where I could live off the land surrounded by an assortment of critters. Having grown up with a myriad collection of domesticated animals (dogs, rabbits, ducks, and a tortoise) I couldn’t imagine a life without them. But Life happens and sometimes reality gets in the way of our dreams, and in the blink of an eye I was 30-something, with a young son, a cat, and a mobile home in the East Bay, toiling away at graduate school with a mindset far from my youthful dream of Eagle Mountain Ranch (EMR is what I named my ranch, and all my Breyers model horses were given the EMR brand).

Fast forward to 2011; when I was notified that I was being offered a position in the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Riley, Kansas. I had applied for a position at one of the three installations in Georgia, having fallen in love with the South when I served in the Army, and I wanted to remain within close proximity to my son who, at 19, would be living on his own in Florida. But G-d had a different plan for me, and in October 2011 I relocated to the heartland.

Although I didn’t know it back in 2011; moving to Kansas was, in a sense, going home. My first abode was a room for let on a horse farm, which reconnected me to my childhood love of horses and my childhood desire to own one. I stayed on the horse farm for only five months, but before I moved closer to post, I bought one of the horses I’d fallen in love with. In 2012 I bought my first-ever fishing license and reconnected to my childhood joy. I have fond memories of sitting atop my father’s shoulders at the Sports & Boat Show, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and fishing for trout in the “kiddie pond,” and sipping hot coffee with my dad while we fished from a canoe on some pond. Easily 30 years passed between my youthful fishing adventures and my return to fishing with my step-father, who took me out trolling for trout on his boat when we did a family RV trip to Eagle Valley, Nevada. It was that later experience that got me hooked again, yet two years passed before I started fishing regularly in Kansas.

For a year, prior to getting my service dog, I fished as often as possible; being outside, at water’s edge, was my stress relief and re-creation. During trout season (October through April), I could be found fishing on post before work, grabbing 30 minutes of trout time, and after work, sitting for hours, and of course on weekends, weather permitting. I seldom found myself alone, however, as there were almost always other fishermen out, even at 7:00 a.m. before work.

In late summer of 2014 I met my friend, John, who has been my hunting benefactor ever since. As we sat in a Starbucks one afternoon, sipping coffee (there’s definitely a coffee theme….), I shared with John my desire to hunt, while discussing being an avid gun lover. John welcomed me to hunt his property, took me out and showed me around, and remained close by if I needed assistance (his home is on property). When I harvested my first whitetail doe in autumn 2014, John came running to help me track the blood trail and taught me how to field dress a deer… and then helped me drag the 150 pound (somewhat less without guts) creature up to his truck. One of his neighbors came out to help as well, and then John volunteered to drive me with my prize doe to the meat locker 45 minutes away. When I harvested my first autumn turkey in 2015, John showed me how to field dress it. For almost every step of my adventure into hunting, John has been there, often with another neighbor friend, Dave, ready to assist.

So it really came as no surprise when John recently asked me to “farm” with him. He had purchased an antique blue tractor, tilled a plot of land on his 15 acres, and began purchasing veggies. All I’d have to do is buy something I want to plant, help plant the seedlings and seeds, and weed every weekend. With frequent thoughts of Eagle Mountain Ranch in mind, especially over the past two years, I jumped at the chance to participate. After harvesting my spring long-beard on Saturday, I started the task of digging holes and planting. It felt good to have my fingers in the fresh Kansas soil, and by the time I got home to shower I was sporting an official Kansas red neck.

As a side note: The term “Redneck” is considered a derogatory slang term for poor rural southerners who are viewed as politically conservative, racist and religious fundamentalists. In Kansas, the term reverts to its more accepted original meaning, as a reference for agricultural workers with a red neck from being burned by the sun while working outside in the fields (per American Heritage Dictionary online).

As I admired my red neck and dirty hands I realized that, in my own small way, I am living a Kansas lifestyle. With rare exception, my weekends (and sometimes evenings after work) are spent outdoors; fishing, hunting, and now tending to my crops. It’s a lifestyle that agrees with me, and something I far more enjoy than sitting in a hospital all day. Kansas has reconnected me with myself; with who I am at my foundation. Even taking a brisk walk with my service dog through the woods on post, after work, creates a sense of peace and wellness. The woods have become my true home and it often feels like there’s no place I’d rather be (except I don’t like my neighbors there; the Mosquito family and the Tick family).

One day I hope to own my own piece of Heaven on Earth that I can cultivate, hunt and fish; but until then, I feel extremely blessed by G-d to have been given a home in Kansas where I can grow spiritually and personally, like a vibrant, maturing snap pea. I may not always live in Kansas, but I am sure that Kansas will always live in me… and I will continue to enjoy embodying my Kansas Lifestyle.

Spring Turkey Part 1

It wasn’t that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, that I was still a wanna-be hunter; reading hunting magazines, sporting hunting t-shirts, and dreaming about the day I’d finally get to hunt. Now, as I approach 55 years young, with almost three years of hunting experience, I think of little else but the next hunt.

And so it’s been; waiting for spring turkey season to reach Kansas… watching the calendar and ticking off the days until I could get out hunting. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism has an informative and interactive website that works in conjunction with the iSportsman website, offering short online classes for permits to hunt on the Fort Riley military installation, and which allows electronic check-in of harvested game. During a recent perusal of both websites I came upon a notice in my account stating I hadn’t yet applied for my special turkey hunt. I didn’t know what a special turkey hunt was, but I knew I didn’t want to be remiss in applying if so prompted; so I completed the application, chose a nearby county, and completed whatever mission had initially brought me online.

Lo and behold; a month or so later I received an email that I’d been awarded a special hunt! As I’ve learned since, the special hunts are part of the KDWPT’s “Recruitment & Retention” program; conducted on department lands, walk-in hunting areas, and county properties. The special hunts limit the number of participants hunting to ensure a quality hunting experience as well as to achieve specific management goals such as herd reduction. My special hunt is in North-West Clay County, on 238 acres belonging to a private owner. I have three days, Friday through Sunday to hunt, and as both people I invited are unable to make it, I have all 238 acres to myself!

In Kansas, we are able to get two turkey tags, and as excited as I’ve been about my special hunt, I wanted to hunt my friend’s property as well. I’d seen quite a few long-beards on my game camera, and I wanted the opportunity to hunt with my Parker crossbow, because I’ve already determined that my special hunt will be with my Mossberg 20 gauge shotgun.  So this past Saturday morning, before the crack of dawn had even awakened, I got myself dressed, slammed down a cup of Black Rifle coffee and a nutrition bar, and headed out.

My goal was to leave my place at 6:00 a.m. to be situated on my friend John’s property by 6:30. I tend to run a bit behind with the morning care of my labbie-girl, so I ended up on property just before 6:30 a.m. and then spent 30 minutes setting up my decoys, game camera, and determining where to place my ground chair and Turkey Fan (which I sat behind). I had my mobile phone mounted to my crossbow scope to videograph the action, and my Contour video camera mounted on my Challenger crossbow aimed at me, for yet another attempt at filming a hunt.

Sometime after 8:00 a.m. I heard gobblers responding to my calls. This season I used mouth calls, after much practice at home, and apparently the gobblers were forgiving of the mistakes I made. I had been practicing with the youth sized mouth call I purchased at the Monster Buck Classic, but then happened to buy a package of Turkey Thugs mouth calls from Quaker Boy. The package had come with a tutorial CD, which I found helpful and fun to practice to at 10:00 p.m. a few nights (likely to the chagrin of my apartment neighbors). The use of the mouth call freed up my hands, but also gave me the opportunity to use my box call periodically in conjunction with the mouth call so that it sounded like a couple of hens. I had four decoys set up; one Jake and three hens and it looked rather like a party.

For about an hour, the long-beards responded vocally, but remained out of sight across the pond. Then, just as I was getting ready to do some more calling, I saw movement in my peripheral vision and I froze in place. From behind me and to my left, a Tom came walking in. He headed straight to my Jake decoy, puffed up and strutted around the decoy, pecking at it for good measure. I watched the turkey dance until I had no more patience, aimed my crossbow, and squeezed the trigger. My arrow hit the mark, just below the wing joint on the turkey’s left side, downing the Tom in his tracks. Fearful of another harvest trial like last spring, where the Tom ran off into the woods and evaded capture for an hour, I switched to a turkey broadhead; the Spitfire Gobbler Getter by New Archery Products (NAP), and added a lighted crossbow capture nock from Red Hot (powered by Lumenok) to my Parker arrow.

The gobbler was about 25 pounds, with a 9 inch beard, and a pretty fan. I harvested about 10 pounds of meat; as I take all salvageable meat, not just the breasts (which were huge), for use in the crockpot. It is, in part, my homage to the turkey for blessing me with his harvest. I endeavor to waste very little. One night this week I grilled his heart, along with a breast steak for a thoroughly enjoyable dinner.

As soon as I compile all the footage, I’ll be uploading the hunt to my YouTube channel; Gal HunterMidlife. Stay tuned for that, and please subscribe.

In all honesty, up to this point, I’ve hunted turkey because I can; because it’s a viable hunt and provides wild harvested, free-range food. But I came to truly appreciate turkey hunting this go-around and believe I am now truly a fan! There is something so thrilling, above and beyond the challenge, about successfully calling turkeys in, hearing them respond, and then watching as they strut their stuff, and investigate decoys. And I find something very satisfying about a skilled harvest with my crossbow. I have yet to have a chance at harvesting a turkey with my shotgun, which is why I’m utilizing it for the special hunt this coming weekend.

The more I hunt, the more it becomes an integral part of who I am; not just something I do, but who I am at my core. The longer I hunt, the more experience I gain and the more confident I feel to try new things and hunt outside of my comfort zone. Now, thanks to this season’s awesome turkey hunting experience, I can add turkey season to my list of favorite hunting seasons… and turkey as one of my favorite game animals.

Stay tuned for Spring Turkey Part 2 – the special hunt….