On Becoming a Kansan

It’s a beautiful, albeit humid, summer Saturday in Kansas. This morning my labbie-girl, Daisy, and I headed out fairly early for Milford Lake in order to do some fishing before the temperature got too hot. Personally, I don’t like hot summers but will stay outside if I’m having fun despite my discomfort. Daisy, however, has a thick coat of yellow Labrador fur which keeps her heated up even when the temperature hasn’t reached uncomfortable for sweating bipeds.

While it seemed the fish opted to ignore my bait all morning, I still enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings. The lake was fuller than when I last visited (just last weekend, I think), so the water lapped against the rocks as boats passed by, creating a hypnotic, relaxing sound. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dappled with puffy white clouds here and there. On the shore across the inlet from me I could hear a heron screeching for fish, and at one point a fisherman aboard a small watercraft yelling for all to hear that he had “big Bertha” on the line.

Although I believe the personal is political (a modicum of sense from my days as a Liberal), I endeavor not to mix politics with my outdoor adventure writing. They are connected to me, but separate to most.  But recently I have been thoughtful about living in Kansas since reading Flyover Nation last weekend (written by Dana Loesch). The book is a perusal of what makes the Heartland, a.k.a. Flyover Nation, special from the coasts. It focuses primarily on the politics of Flyover Nation as opposed to the East and West coasts, yet I suspect Ms. Loesch recognizes the personal as political as well. Whereas folks in the Heartland may be Democrat or Republican, they tend to share similar values with regard to religion and faith, caring for and living from the land, and embracing the spirit of the second amendment.

I have known for quite some time that I enjoy living in Kansas, being a transplant to the area for my job working with soldiers who have substance abuse issues. My roots are Californian (San Francisco-Bay Area), and much of my adult life has been lived in Florida (Orlando), so I’ve got legitimate Coastie energy, but I have also lived down South (the real south, not the Florida version)  and spent time in Ohio. All in all, I think I’m an acceptable blend of environments and ideologies. Reading Flyover Nation clarified for me, however, how much I have become a Kansan, and how I have grown into myself, found myself, since moving here in 2011.

Kansas re-introduced me to fishing; something my father and I did when I was a child, but that I walked away from for decades. It is in Kansas where I finally fulfilled my desire to hunt; having now spent two, almost three, years filling my autumn mornings and evenings with deer hunting and turkey hunting, and turkey hunting again in spring. I’ve grown from a wimpy disabled chick, to a crossbow wielding, rifle toting hunter; from a designated hiking trail gal to a woman excited to spend hours in the woods pretending to be a bush or tree; from a environmentalist attending Earth Day festivals to a conservationist having real-life encounters with deer, coyotes, turkeys, and myriad other woodland creatures (including ticks). And I’ve gone from a suburban grocery store shopper to a rural harvester of much of my animal protein, be it an assortment of Kansas fish (which I gut and prepare myself), or Kansas game which I harvest, field dress, and cook myself. Very important as well; my spiritual encounters with animals aren’t just in meditations anymore – they’re up close and personal. I’ve written previously that my connection to G-d has grown in my time outdoors; and though I’m spiritual and not religious (perhaps part of my coastal upbringing), my faith has been nurtured by my presence in G-d’s natural creation. Being in nature lets me re-create myself. After-all, isn’t that what recreation is all about…?

Though my position as an Army civilian affords me some fluidity in my career, I have come to realize that Kansas is now my home. I am a Heartlander; an American by birth, and a Kansan by the grace of G-d. I don’t think I could ever return to the concrete jungle. There is no art in a museum more beautiful than a Kansas sunset, or more breathtaking than being hidden five feet away from an 8-point buck or seven feet away from wild coyotes who want to walk on the berm I’m sitting atop while hunting.

My labbie-girl and I went fishing yesterday and today and walked away without a single fish. But the experience of being connected to the water and the land far exceeds the momentary thrill of having a fish on the line (yet having that struggle while reeling in is an awesome experience). Weekends were made for fishing, and I will continue to pursue aquatic game… until September 12th, when archery deer season begins!

Fishing for Independence

By the time you read this, it will likely be Independence Day – tomorrow is the 4th of July. The Independence Day weekend this year is a four-day weekend, at least for those of us blessed to be Army civilians. And I’ve spent two of the four days out at the lake fishing.

In my four-plus years in Kansas, I’ve gone out fishing at Milford Lake only a handful of times; most of my fishing has been done on post, because I almost always catch fish on post and seldom catch anything out at Milford Lake. Even last weekend when my son was visiting, post-deployment, and we rented a boat for four hours; I didn’t catch a thing (although my son did catch a 15” goldeneye shad). Great memories were created though, so I decided to venture out to the lake this weekend to soak up some of the ambience.

Yesterday I spent a beautiful three hours in solitude, with just my labbie-girl and two fishing poles. My bait consisted of worms and chicken liver, and I used the set up my son and I had fished last from the boat; a worm hook and a weighted bobber. It’s ironic that my son, Dare, and I used lures galore on our boating adventure and the only thing he caught his fish with was a live worm, with a bobber. I suppose if one is fishing for something specific, than using a specific lure and fishing style is best. But nothing works like the old tried and true worm; and out at the lake, I rather enjoy the surprise of not knowing what I will harvest.

Initially I caught a sunfish, which I released and then a bluegill, which I kept. My fishing ended with a goldeneye shad about as big as my son’s. It was so peaceful and relaxing in the secluded spot I found that I decided to return again today. It was a gloriously overcast day (both days were) with light rain sprinkles on occasion, and cool breezes. I came to realize today that the air temperature was considerably cooler than the water temperature, after I waded out into the water to rescue my bobbers and hooks, which had gotten caught on the rocky lake bottom. Thank goodness for fishing slacks; the kind that unzip at the knees and become shorts, and dry very quickly.

Upon arrival, I had videographed myself with my tablet camera, and posted on Facebook how I enjoyed being alone, and felt the need to have some more quiet alone time in nature. While walking (sliding on the slippery rocks, really) back to shore from my waist level wade on my bobber rescue mission, I saw three people walking down the hill toward my spot, and heard the woman up front call out, “Is that you, Sara?”

What are the chances that someone I know would choose the very same spot to fish at the very same time I’m there…? It doesn’t seem to me that I really know all that many people here in Kansas; but I guess that’s part of the charm of living in Podunk. Given that Milford Lake covers 24.71 square miles, I can only acknowledge the inclusion of someone I know into my nature space as an intervention of a spiritual nature. Perhaps I was being a bit too “emo” even for G-d.

My first hour of fishing today had brought a sense of calm, but no fish. In no time at all, Tara (my acquaintance) and her bestie, also named Sara (maybe with a letter H), had reeled in a catfish. Tara seems to enjoy fishing; but does not enjoy eating fish, so they offered me the channel cat in lieu of releasing it. I subscribe to the Ted Nugent form of fishing; catch and eat, so I planted a big kiss on the catfish’s lips for luck, and placed it on my stringer. Luck be a lady, which Tara’s fish had been (she had a sack of eggs I found out later when I gutted her); not 30 minutes later I too caught a catfish! Both were 17” as I discovered once home.

The remainder of my time out fishing was more like a charity dinner; feeding the fish who grabbed my worms but not my hook, seasoned with intermittent conversation with my fellow fishermen… fisherpeople… fisherwomen. I’ve never been big on the sexist labeling of men and women. I just consider myself a hunter and a fisherman. When the worms were gone, my labbie-girl and I called it a day and headed home, two channel cat richer for the effort.

In the U. States we celebrate Independence Day to remember our sovereignty, hard won during the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. But I like to recognize my individual independence in the act of harvesting my own food; fish from the lakes and ponds, and mammals from the woods. To me, nothing says freedom like self-reliance sculpted with the tools of harvesting; fishing poles, crossbows and firearms.

My Kansas Lifestyle; Living American Ideals

A Facebook friend commented recently on one of the myriad photos I took of myself holding a fresh caught catfish, stating, “I love your lifestyle….” Within minutes, I had this essay outlined in my head.

The fact is; I love my lifestyle also, although it would be better if I had my own property in lieu of apartment dwelling. Give me time for that. As I’ve gotten older and found myself greatly enjoying the Kansas outdoors, I’ve pondered how great retirement would be; the opportunity to fish and hunt more regularly, and write about it with photographs. That will require significant time to manifest, however – likely another 14 years or so.

But what initially spurred me into this lifestyle, aside from my love of nature, is a desire to be self-responsible. My hunting and fishing have a distinctly political aspect; what some would deride as being “prepper’ish”; although I prefer to use the term “survivalist.” No one (no one I know) wants to manifest the worst case scenario, but it is wise to hope (and pray) for the best and prepare for the worst. My choice of verbiage, survivalist, focuses on the positive outcome I wish to create for myself… if the SHTF, I want to survive it, not just prepare for it.

Let’s be honest; whether it’s local, national, or global disarray, it is important to have the skills to survive. Now I don’t watch zombie apocalypse shows, and I have minimal shelter building skills, but I have a good chance of being able to keep myself fed in the event the commercial food supply is cut off. It is my desire to learn that ability which led me to push beyond my uneasiness and begin hunting.

Several years ago, while visiting me over the holidays, my son noted that I cook fish as if I’d survived the Great Depression. To me that is a badge of honor, although I was born considerably past that era in history. My son was referring to the fact that I don’t filet my fish, but rather bake it with the head and tail on (primarily for trout, as I do remove the catfish head) in order to scrape off all the meat on the bones. I have taken to doing the same with any game I harvest as well. With my deer, I request even the leg bones from the meat processor to either please my service dog, or use in soup; with my turkey, I take the legs and thighs, not just the breast, despite the fact that dark meat on a wild bird is tougher than on a farm-raised turkey; and even with my squirrel, I cook the entire carcass neck to knees, claiming all the meat the squirrel has to offer. I guess you could say I’m a waste not – want not kind of gal.

I recognize every opportunity to hunt and fish as a learning experience as well; a chance to understand my quarry better, to gain a greater understanding of the environment and how each creature uses it, and how better to find and harvest what I’m looking for. It’s fun hunting deer from a blind in a safe location and waiting for them to enter my territory. It’s awesome to seek the deer out and find an appropriate place to hunt from on their territory! With experience and time, I’ve gotten better at identifying tracks and trails, types of scat, and how to recognize how nature’s critters use the environment to their advantage. All of this will benefit me in the long run, should I one day have to fish a wild lake instead of a man-made and/or quarterly stocked pond, and hunt in the wilds of nature instead of on personal property bordered by farms.

Lastly, I distinguish self-responsibility as an American trait. It may be hard to tell that these days, with youngsters and aged hippies calling for a European socialist-style Democracy in place of our unique and blessed Constitutional Republic… but I embrace the values this country was founded upon, and I envision hunting and fishing as being paramount to Freedom. In the phrase “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” I read between the lines to find self-determination; the guarantee that I can maintain my life and nourish it with the creatures G-d has hallowed our wilderness with, the freedom to use whatever means are necessary to harvest the game to nourish my life, and the promise that I can pursue these means to empower the result I am seeking. I also understand the reason we have conservation laws and hunting regulations, in order to maintain the strength and health of the wild ones, for their benefit and ours; and the rules of ethical hunting that have been set in place guarantee me the chance to pursue game, not to succeed at harvesting it. There is a reason for the saying, “survival of the fittest.” Survival, also known to me as liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a state of mind afforded to those who are willing to put forth due diligence in acquiring what they seek; in direct opposition to having it handed to them by a nanny state.

I hunt because I am an American – and I can hunt. I fish because I am an American – and I can fish. I own hand guns, long guns, a crossbow and compound bow because I am an American – and documented in the Declaration of Independence (The unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America) is the truth that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights bestowed upon me by my Creator, and for which governments are created to protect; not to deny me or force me to surrender.

My lifestyle, since moving to Kansas, is what I envision as the epitome of the American lifestyle. I cannot now envision living my life any other way.

 

Earth Day 2016: My Kansas Tribute

There was a time, many moons ago, when I used to genuinely celebrate Earth Day as a holiday (of sorts). Living in California, and being in graduate school studying holistic and transpersonal psychology, it was almost mandatory to buy-in. Each year I would take my young son, toddler through kindergarten, to the Concord Pavilion where the Earth Day celebration would be held and we’d peruse the displays about evil chicken farmers, admire furniture made of reclaimed wood, and engage in face painting. That was our Northern California urban tradition.

These days (these years) I barely even remember that April 22 is Earth Day; because as a hunter and fisher, I daily pay homage to the Earth and the myriad blessings G-d has bestowed upon us. My fishing and hunting licenses, annoying though they may be at times, and my deer & turkey tags, and trout stamp, do more for conservation on a regular basis than a decade of Earth Day celebrations will ever do.

I tend not to be a religious person, albeit quite spiritual, and therefore am not well versed in the Bible; however I turn to the Old and New Testaments when I seek guidance, or a verse that punctuates my point. One such verse that I take to heart is: 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.” And with that in mind, I joyously fish and hunt to provide sustenance for myself, my family and my friends.

Today, Earth Day 2016, was no exception. Having already filled my first spring turkey tag last weekend (with my gorgeous first-ever Tom) I decided to spend at least part of this weekend fishing, before trout season ends when the Kansas weather turns sizzling and the trout cannot survive. So with today off from work, I headed out to my favorite trout pond on post, Cameron Springs, to engage in some trout fishing. As it was midday, and not a particularly good time for trout fishing, however, I also used a second fishing pole with a soft bait treble hook filled with stink bait to try my hand at catfish.

It didn’t take long before I had my first channel cat on the line; a decent sized 10-12 inch fish. I gave it the obligatory kiss on the lips for luck, placed it on my stringer, and cast out again, meanwhile continuing to tend to my trout line. My second channel cat was a fair bit larger, at about 18 inches, and I felt quite pleased at this second catfish. I continued to have minimal action with my trout line, not because they didn’t like my bait (this year, salmon eggs are all the rage with pond trout!) but because it was early afternoon and the weather had begun to warm up. So out went my catfish bait again. I genuinely enjoy channel cat, finding it an awesome accompaniment to farm fresh eggs in the morning. Another hit on my catfish line… and I reeled in the largest channel cat I have ever caught; two feet long and easily five pounds!

I moved from pleased to ecstatic when I saw the size of this fish! His head was so big that he didn’t fit on my metal stringer and I had to tether him to my rope stringer all by himself. By this time, about two hours had passed since my labbie-girl and I got to Cameron Springs and set up, so I tried one more time for a trout. I tend to be like a Retriever when I’m fishing; the slightest nibble will get me fixated and I can’t turn away. Finally, as we approached 3:30 PM, I managed to hook a trout, almost three hours after I started fishing. The trout was small, enough for one meal, but ultimately I was thankful to have gotten one at all. My yellow lab and I headed home with quite a generous bounty.

This essay will spare you the pain, primarily physical, of gutting and cleaning the catch of the day – specifically the largest catfish, whom I decided would be best without his skin. Normally I leave the skin on when I prepare my catfish, mainly because I have never learned the proper way to gut them. But this fishy was quite dirty, and being so large (all things considered) I determined his skin would hinder, rather than help, the palatability of this catch. Needless to say; it took over an hour to clean the catfish, and half of that was spent just on my “big guy.”

As far as Earth Days go, it was a fabulous day. It started out in the woods this morning, setting up a new Ameristep ground blind in a new location on my friend, John’s, property, as well as putting up a Moultrie game camera to catch the whitetailed foot traffic in the area. I spent three hours fishing; which was both productive and relaxing. And it ended with a dinner of wild turkey breast (from my Tom).

I have always known that being out in nature is a spiritual experience for me, one that calms and empowers my well-being. It was only recently, however, that I learned of a new friend’s philosophy, which makes a great hashtag; outside for a better inside. On this Earth Day, unlike those of years’ past, I didn’t just observe the commercial definition of being a good steward of the Earth; I practiced it, I lived it, I embraced it… and I ate it.

As a hunter and a fisher; I recognize that Earth Day is every day. I care for the environment in which I live, because it cares for me. And I can think of no place I’ve ever lived that more exemplifies the principles of Earth Day than Kansas; a state whose very existence is a tribute to the blessings of this Earth.

Spring Turkey 2016: After the Hunt

The thing about hunting is; it doesn’t end after successfully harvesting an animal. A deer doesn’t drag itself to the hunter’s truck, a turkey doesn’t field dress itself, and fish (with regarding to fishing – which is really like water hunting) don’t gut themselves. Hunting is a process; enjoyable, but also time consuming.

Take for instance my harvested Tom during spring turkey hunting this weekend: Once my friend, John, and I got the turkey back to my truck and lowered the tailgate, I had easily 30 minutes’ worth of processing to do. Granted, a more skilled hunter would likely not take so long to field dress the turkey, and John was adamant that, had this been his bird, the remaining carcass would have become fodder for the yotes (that’s slang for coyotes in Kansas-speak) and such. Yet I was endeavoring to keep my cuts precise and minimize damage to the bird’s body because my intent was to take him to a taxidermist. I don’t know how to successfully remove the tail feathers without damaging the fan, so I wanted to insure I could deliver the entire turkey to the taxidermist Saturday morning.

In all honesty; my knives went dull sooner than expected while trimming the breast meat off, as I’d neglected to clean them and sharpen them after their last use. It also got dark quickly, making it difficult to see, and I became agitated with the mosquitoes feasting upon my neck while I worked; like the tiny little vampires they are.

I inadvertently cut through the Tom’s bowels while attempting to be thorough, thereby releasing putrid liquid, feces, and a horrific smell; all of which soaked my hands. This led John and I to bring the turkey over to his hose to wash him out, then placing the Tom in a heavy duty garbage bag for me to transport home and refrigerate until morning. To add insult to injury; the three new freezer bags I’d placed in my backpack, just for the purpose of a successful hunt, had managed to disappear and the only one John could find for me to use for my turkey meat was the freezer bag I’d brought to the hunt that had veggie pulp in it. The bag had been emptied prior to my hunt, but remnants of veggie pulp lined the inside thus covering my turkey breast meat with tiny vegetable slivers.

When I got home at 9:00 PM, I placed the garbage bag with the turkey carcass in the fridge and headed to the bathroom for a shower. In my urgency to find the Tom in the woods, I’d pressed myself through the woods in a devil-may-care fashion with total disregard for poison sumac, my sworn enemy, or limbs, brambles, or spider webs. I knew I needed to ditch my hunting clothes as quickly as possible and clean up to eliminate the potential for urushiol oil settling on my body, and wanted to minimize the chance of ticks turning me into a buffet. There was also the matter of turkey bowel I’d soaked in, which had forced John to comment that I smelled so bad he couldn’t hug me goodbye.

Once in the shower I immediately found a tick searching for a table for one. As I began to wash my hair, I realized that my ponytail had acted as a catch-all, and I pulled enough thorny vines and twigs from my hair to begin a table decoration. By the time I was ready for dinner, about 10:00 PM, I’d lost most of my appetite and interest in eating. As I endeavored to unwind from the night’s excitement, I felt a tiny bite on the back of my neck and got hold of another tick before it had settled in. After finding the second tick, I started to itch all over, and while scratching my freshly washed scalp found a third tick who seemed to have gotten somewhat trapped in my mane of hair.

Saturday morning, I woke up to find that the turkey had discharged blood and water (presumably from the shower he’d had the night before), which had seeped through the garbage bag, and covered the bottom of my refrigerator, dripping onto the floor. As I stared at the absolute mess, pondering how I would clean it all up, I remembered I purchased a shop vac when I got my service dog a few years ago (although I’d never really used it). Fortunately the shop vac did the trick and sucked up all the bloody liquid. In that moment I was glad I’m the kind of gal who likes tools and such. I removed the turkey from the bloody garbage bag and placed him in a plastic tub I’d purchased for pickling my squirrel hides. That’s when I noticed there was a lot of meat left on the Tom that I’d neglected to get the night before. Before setting my sights on collecting the remaining meat, I had to scrub the refrigerator, the vegetable crisper bins, and wipe down all the bottles that had been sitting in the bloody water. It’s ironic really; the turkey got me to clean my refrigerator when I had been putting it off for a very long time.

I was able to carve an extra 1-2 pounds of viable meat from the breast area and thighs. I also took his neck, thereby adding future yummy goodness to turkey soup and also making it easier to fit the large turkey in the small red tub. The turkey in a tub was then placed in a new garbage bag and transported to the taxidermist in town, Kansas Pro Taxidermy, a fairly new member of the Junction City community. John had informed me about KPT, and I recognized it as a great way to keep my dollars local.

The work did not cease at that point, however, because I then had about 10 pounds or so of turkey meat to clean, cut up, and segregate in vacuum seal bags to prepare for being placed in my game freezer (which is one of the most expensive pieces of furniture in my bedroom). All in all, it took over an hour to process the meat and secure it for later use. And lastly; today I emptied and cleaned the shop vac, and washed and sharpened my knives in preparation for the next successful hunt.

With the exception of writing my two essays today and doing laundry (the hunting clothes were washed yesterday), the after-hunt work took up my whole weekend. Whereas it took an hour to hunt the Tom, and another hour to find him; it took a full half day, spread out over two full days, to complete the hunt in its entirety. That’s not counting the several hours it took to write both essays about the hunt.

As I progress in my hunting experience, I hope to decrease the time it takes me to field dress my harvest, and I look forward to improving my meat prep skills, although I’d be happy if I could just decrease the number of times I cut myself with a knife during the whole process. One day I also pray to have my own house with a garage so I can process all my own meat, including deer, and have a large space in which to do it, rather than the small galley kitchen in my apartment.

Until such time, however, I consider the whole experience to be an integral part of the hunt; something I look forward to and enjoy. And a process which reminds me of my ability to be self-responsible (and therefore Free) every time I consume a meal consisting of the wild game I harvested.

SpringTom Meat

Spring Turkey 2016: A Hunt to Remember

One of the key lessons I learned recently at the NWTF sponsored turkey hunting clinic I attended in Emporia, Kansas is that turkeys will do whatever they want. As I hunted after work Friday late afternoon (15 April 2016), endeavoring to enhance my patience (not a known Leonine trait), I repeated that thought in my head.

My choice to hunt after work was whimsical; I didn’t think anything would come of it, but it presented an opportunity to get outside of my normal hunt schedule (which is at dawn). I didn’t engage in any preparation ritual as I normally do; no scent-free shower, or mind psyching. I simply went home with my service dog, fed her, changed into my hunt clothes, and went out to the blind. I put up my decoys with no stealth. I even walked the clearing dropping veggie pulp from recent juicing sessions, not wanting to throw the pulp out but no longer baking veggie bread with it (I figured some creature would enjoy it).

So imagine my surprise when I got seated in my blind and started turkey calling with my Illusions box call at 5:00 PM and was immediately answered by a nearby gobbler! As I strained to follow the gobbles with my eyes, I saw the turkey’s red wattle and caruncles through the wooded scrub. He was 20-25 yards away! As I called, he responded. After about 10 minutes, there were no more gobble responses to my calls and I thought perhaps he’d moved on, providing me just a titillating hunt experience. Yet, I saw some movement and then the red of his wattle again.

This pattern continued for an entire hour. At about the 30 minute mark, the turkey stepped out into the open to move to a different location. I wasn’t afforded a shot, but I was able to see that this was no Jake, as I suspected my first successful spring turkey hunt (whenever I had a successful hunt, that is) would produce; this was a nice sized Tom. He went into another patch of trees and scrub, craning his neck in the direction of my decoys (which he never seemed very interested in), and appearing at least three feet tall from head to toe.

Several times I turned my Midland video camera on, which was mounted to my Parker Challenger crossbow, hoping the camera was picking up what I was seeing. I realized, from the get-go, that the excitement of my turkey encounter was causing a physiological reaction in my body; my heart was pounding hard, my throat became as dry as the sand in a desert, and a lump developed in my throat which felt the size of a golf ball. This physical response continued the entire 60 minutes I sat there in my blind watching that Tom. Even in his new location I could see him. He’d eat a bit, raise his head and rotate it side to side to assess potential threat, and at one point appeared to lie down for a rest. All the while, I kept calling, alternating between my box call and my H.S. Strut triple glass call, with periods of silence.

At the 60 minute mark, there-about, the Tom decided to get up and head toward the clearing. His movement was slow and precise. He stepped into a small clearing just behind my Moultrie game camera, and paused. It appeared to me he was going to head back into the woods, so I had only that chance to take a shot. It was about 21 yards from my blind, but I felt fairly confident having re-zeroed the scope on my crossbow a couple of weeks prior. I aimed for his chest, figuring that was a bit more of a target than his neck, and knowing that my chest shot during autumn turkey season had been fatal for the hen I’d targeted.

The shot was dead-on. The Tom responded with a squawk and began moving to find cover while flapping his large wings in distress. I could see the vanes and nock protruding from his front, so knew the arrow was lodged in his body. I leapt up, as best I can (not a graceful sight), and ran out of the blind toward where I’d last seen him, and headed in the direction it appeared the Tom was heading. I searched for about 10 minutes, following sounds of rustling (thinking it might be him surrendering his last breaths) with no trace of him before texting my friend, John, on whose property I hunt, and asking him if he’d assist me in searching. John contacted his friend and neighbor, Dave, and before long all three of us were scouring the woods in search of my turkey. At one point, John found two small feathers on the ground, with blood on them, which headed him and me off in a direction different than I’d suspected the Tom had gone. We went deep into his property finding no more signs of the turkey, but finding many deer tracks and a new area we decided was primo for placing a ground blind. Meanwhile, Dave searched the perimeter of where we searched with no success. At one point I grabbed my flashlight to use, albeit still daylight, hoping the light would illuminate the Tom’s iridescent feathers. At about 45 minutes in, the guys were about done. Dave suggested this was a lost harvest, but would feed critters well. Yet I couldn’t let go of the thought the turkey was somewhere, and we could find him.

I still heard rustling from time to time, but thought myself insane for even considering it could be the turkey this long after I shot him. Out loud I mused, “How could he have disappeared,” to which Dave responded jokingly, “Gamma rays.” Dave and John poked fun at me a little; Dave teasing that I would have nightmares of the turkey trying to exact revenge. But to me, with a firm belief in ethical hunting, and a history rooted in ecology and animal rights (in a prior lifetime), shooting an animal and not harvesting it is not okay and should be avoided when at all possible.

As we headed back to the beginning, where the turkey had been shot, my flashlight picked up the rear shaft of my arrow sticking up from the ground. Initially I had the bizarre thought that I’d actually missed the Tom, but as I picked up the shaft and vanes I saw it was covered in blood and only half the arrow. Excitedly, this led us all in a different route and we endeavored to track the Tom in this new direction (which was the initial direction I’d thought he’d gone). Dave ventured off ahead of John and me, and within a few minutes called out for me to hurry up to his location. 20 yards away, Dave found the turkey… alive! He also found the head of the arrow, which the Tom had also managed to dispel from his body. Apparently, the rustling I’d been hearing had in fact been the Tom, who circled around us wherever we went, evading capture. But he was mortally wounded and losing his fight, albeit still feisty enough to use his spurs to cause some serious damage if we weren’t careful.

Dave endeavored to herd the turkey toward John and me, but the Tom had enough energy to put up a fuss. Dave tried to humanely end his struggle, but the Tom had the spirit of a warrior. Finally I was able to approach him and grab his neck… but then was unsure of what to do from that point. John suggested slitting his neck, but I was unable to get the knife to penetrate; his neck was so thick. It was then suggested I hold the bird by his neck and spin him, to break it; yet I was unable to succeed at putting the Tom to rest despite my best effort. John then followed suit and did the same, which seemed to have little impact on the Tom either. Remembering he had a much sharper knife than me, John then assisted in severing the turkey’s neck. He passed his last breath as I carried him back to the clearing.

Turkeys will do whatever they want. I went into the hunt with a personal schedule. Complete all hunting activities by 6:30 PM and get home to take my labbie-girl outside, fix dinner and watch Sleepy Hollow at 7:00 PM. After an hour of practicing patience and turkey calling (otherwise known as hunting), it took another hour to find the Tom and put him to rest. Then there is the regulatory completion of the game tag and electronic registration of the bird, and photographs of the trophy. It was probably close to 7:30 PM when I finally began to field dress the turkey… and 9:00 PM by the time I got home.

It was an experience I won’t soon forget however, and to pay homage to the spirit of this wild warrior Tom I took him into a taxidermist on Saturday for a full display plaque; fan, beard and spurs. And I’ll be keeping his wings also. The broken arrow will be mounted on the plaque.

I also claimed about 10 pounds of meat to nourish myself with… but that’s for a different essay.

The pursuit was captured on video, and is posted on my channel on You Tube. It was a memorable and surprising hunt. In my turkey hunting fantasies I never imagined I would harvest a Tom for my first spring turkey tag. I couldn’t have dreamed that the gobbler would be standing in the woods waiting for me to show up, or that a turkey could have such a fighting spirit. And it means the world to me that, not only did I acquire such a beautiful Tom as my first successful spring turkey, but I also managed to maintain my ethical hunting standards by finding and harvesting him.

 

My Kansas Lifestyle….

Recently, a new co-worker and I were discussing the benefits of a Kansas lifestyle and what makes the state feel like home to me. Hunting and fishing both came up, of course, as I lauded the virtues of the Flint Hills wooded habitats. To my surprise, my co-worker sat back in her chair, shaking her head. “You hunt? (pause) Really?” I affirmed that I do indeed, and shared my excitement that spring turkey season is about to start. “I took you for an animal rights activist,” my co-worker stated. I inquired if she meant like a PETA member (the radical animal rights group – not people for eating tasty animals). “Yes! Like a PETA member!”

Although I’ve never been a supporter of PETA (and never will), I did have that period in my life when I supported similar organizations; such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. What can I say? I was born in the San Francisco – Bay Area during the hippy era. Ecology was a real thing, and Sugar Bear, the breakfast cereal icon, was leading the way with the Sugar Bear Ecology Club.

My idea of animal rights now entails conservation and ethical hunting. These days I favor organizations like National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. And when it comes to water creatures, I support organizations like Fishing’s Future, Trout Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited.

So in February, when I had the opportunity to take a fishing instructor course, presented by Fishing’s Future and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) I jumped at the chance. The course presented a great opportunity to learn more about Kansas, and to gain some angler knowledge that I hope to one day pass on to youth. As my friend Phil Taunton, an avid outdoorsmen with a passion for connecting folks with nature expounds, there is much healing that comes from getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” At this juncture, I am still awaiting my notification from KDWPT that I’m cleared to begin volunteering as a fishing instructor.

One of the great folks I met at the Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, Fred Masters, is a board member with the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and a Prostaffer for Wounded Warriors United. He arranged an invitation for me to attend the 15th annual Flint Hills Gobblers Spring Turkey Hunting Clinic on March 26 at the Dry Creek Sporting Clays compound in Emporia, Kansas. The event, hosted to bring the joy and skills of turkey hunting to youth, attracted hundreds of young people who were given lessons in clay shooting with a shotgun, how to use a compound bow, how and when to call turkeys, the benefits of hunting in a blind, how to track turkeys, and  the significance of practicing safe hunting. Youth were also given a membership to the NWTF’s Jakes program.

Although I did not participate in some of the activities, I did learn quite a bit about turkeys and tracking, and had the opportunity to shoot at clays; successfully hitting two of the five clays. Due to my disability I tend not to make public displays of my shotgun shooting, but wanted to challenge myself while the occasion was before me. The experience motivated me to find a clay range where I can practice using a shotgun despite my left shoulder. I’ve shot my 20 gauge effectively at a standing paper target… a turkey is a slightly more complex target. For now; I’m delighted to hunt with my crossbow, and am counting the days until I can go out in the blind (six and a wake up) with my Parker Challenger crossbow and harvest my first Jake or Tom. I made sure to take my crossbow to the indoor range this week to re-zero the scope. I’m feeling ready!

Though my long hair may hark back to my holistic California days, and my transpersonal manner as a therapist may suggest I’m a conduit for white light and uplifting energy; once out of the office, this Gal_Vet is a camo wearing, gun toting, arrow shooting huntress (normally I avoid the sexist differentiation between male and female tasks, but here it just seemed to fit). And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) held a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop on Saturday, February 20th at the Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, Kansas. In conjunction with fishing’s future, participants were given basic skill sets and knowledge for introducing children and their families to the sport of fishing.

Instructor certification was held through the KDWPT Angler Education program, and participants successfully completing the three hour course and passing a background check will be able to volunteer to teach fishing and aquatic education.

The workshop, instructed by Kansas Master Instructors and the KDWPT aquatic education coordinator, David Breth, explored fishing basics; types of reels and fishing poles, how to adjust a reel’s drag system, knot tying, safety, and appropriate handling of fish, as well as exploring how to create a curriculum for teaching fishing to youth. Breth educated participants on the condition of fishing in Kansas, reporting Kansas is currently showing a downward trend in number of Kansans fishing, at 12%. The goal of the KDWPT angler education program is to increase awareness and appreciation of Kansas’ angling opportunities and to increase respect for Kansas’ natural heritage.

Present at the workshop was fishing’s future founder, Shane Wilson, who discussed the value of the organization in assisting the KDWPT with meeting its goal. The mission of fishing’s future is to reconnect children to nature, improve child-family bonds, teach environmental stewardship, and increase participation in recreational angling. According to Wilson; the fishing’s future logo, two letter “f’s” that create a fish, represent the belief in “family forever.” According to Breth, with the support of fishing’s future, the KDWPT has been able to grow its workforce from only 17 biologists statewide to 250 certified volunteers who contributed 3,600 volunteer hours in 2014 at 170 different events.

Over 60 participants from around Kansas attended the instructor workshop. Many organizations had representatives at the event, including Friends of the Kaw,  Flint Hills Bass Club of Topeka, Kansas Wildscape, Newton Parks and Recreation, Kansas Wildlife Federation, the state coordinator of fishing’s future Chapters of Kansas, and three organizations representing disabled veterans; Heroes on the Water, Wounded Warriors United, and Patriot Outdoor Adventures.

To learn more about fishing opportunities in the state of Kansas, visit the KDWPT website: http://ksoutdoors.com/Fishing.

 

Valentine’s Day; A Love Inventory

Valentine’s Day is one of the holidays lost on single folks with no partner to snuggle with, dine out with, get flowers from, or dress up for. But always one to seek the positive; I’ve grown accustomed to taking an inventory on Valentine’s Day of who and what I love.

As a mom I have to start out with my son. He is truly the only person I have ever been “in love” with. From the moment he was placed in my arms for the first time, I knew we would have a special connection as parent and child. Of course, he’s a ‘grown-ass man’ now (his words, not mine), and engaged to a woman he wants to spend his life with, but as any mother knows; he will always be my son, my Angel Boy.

Now, as a service dog handler/dog mom, my sweet Daisy holds a very special place in my heart. A couple of years ago I read a book written by Caroline Knapp, Pack of Two, which gave voice to the fact that we can be “in love” with our dogs as well. My sweet labbie-girl accompanies me to work, spends every waking and sleeping moment with me, looks after me when I’m hurt (inside or out), and is always nearby if not by my side. Daisy is my snuggle lab, and is the beautiful spirit I get to spend my Valentine’s Day with.

Getting past the personage of love, the dictionary definition includes passionate affection, warm personal attachment, to need or require; benefit greatly from. So on Valentine’s Day, for several years, I’ve dedicated myself to being in love with my country; with freedom and independence, with the Bill of Rights and my inalienable rights. This year I add nature to the mix, although my love of nature was mentored from childhood by my father. Yet this year, as last, I have come to create a special, intimate relationship with nature due to my time spent hunting.

In previous essays I have described my relationship to outdoors Kansas as that of a lover; growing intimacy in the woods, as the pre-dawn breeze caresses my face, as the stars twinkle from a barely-waking sky like a field of diamonds, at dawn and dusk as woodland creatures create a symphony of sounds no orchestra could ever duplicate. As hunters can attest; hunting is not just about harvesting an animal for food, but includes sitting in awe of wildlife as it goes about Being. My love of nature, deepened by my time hunting, fills all my senses and my soul with Eros and Agápe; appreciation of beauty itself, and the love of G-d for humankind and of humankind for G-d.

Which brings me back to my love of Country and freedom; because Americans are blessed to live in a Country founded on the principles of independence and liberty, where our rights are bestowed by G-d, not man, and therefore cannot be taken away by the will and laws of politicians. Although hunting exists in other countries around the globe, I believe none have the freedom of hunting that we have here in the U. States. For the most part, anyone can hunt here, if properly educated and equipped; it is not a sport only for nobility. In fact, it is those who fancy themselves noble in this country who generally do not hunt (but rather spend overpriced amounts of money on “free range” and “organic” farm-raised meat).

Hunting speaks to me of living the American ideal; self-responsible, free to embrace life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing quite fills me with happiness and peace like being out in nature (except spending time with my son and my service dog – especially when in nature). When I hunt and fish, I embrace the bounty of Earth and of this great country. Like those who came before me, be they courageous souls heading west through the Great Plains, or members of the tribes of Kansa, Osage or Pawnee; I feel a great connection with the environment when I’m out in it, and I feel freest as an American when I’m in the woods, the forest, or by a lake, owning my destiny if only for a few hours.

On Valentine’s Day, though I may be without a mate or life partner, I am full of love; love given and received: Love of family (human and canine), love of Country and the freedom at the heart of it, and love of the Divinity in nature.

Valentines2016

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.