Deer Season 2017: Part 1

In my effort to get as much time in hunting as possible, while I prepared for my Christmas travels, I neglected my writing. Which is why I find myself now, 1200 miles from home, writing on my laptop in front of a pit-fire at my parents’ home.

This year’s deer season has been unusual, challenging, exciting, and surprising. As a bow hunter, crossbow due to my disabilities, and a rifle hunter; I embrace the opening of deer season-archery in early September, fairly confident that between September and the end of December I should be able to harvest at least one deer. My concern this year was that I could have a repeat of last year; which had me out hunting every possible day off, in every weather climate, with no harvest at all. (Thankfully the great patriots at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures donated venison to me last year). It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying.

So this year I went out the first week of archery, when the mosquitoes were still thirsting for blood, primarily mine, and I began my three month quest. When the opportunity arose to pass it on, as they say, and involve my adult son in deer hunting, I jumped in head first. With his agreement, I signed him up for hunter safety education, bought him a Barnett Crossbow, got him his hunting permit and deer tag, and took him afield. It was still September; Dare (my son) and I went out for three hours on the 14th in the afternoon with no sightings of deer. The following morning, I roused my son in the dark of pre-dawn and set us up in the same location as the night before. I knew deer perused the area, especially the deer known as Floppy, as my Moultrie game camera showed the evidence. We’d been sitting in the chill of the morning for about three hours when three does silently walked into the clearing before us. Floppy, the alpha female and largest of the three, led from behind, and as they all stopped and looked our way, Floppy assessed the danger and turned around, walking back into the woods. Floppy did no favor to her little herd, however, disappearing into the woods without making a single warning bleat. The other two smaller does, unaware that Floppy high tailed it out of there, continued to stand before us giving my son ample time to sight his crossbow on the larger of those two and successfully harvest his first-ever deer.

As a mom, I was extremely excited for my son, who had officially become hooked on deer hunting (my goal, in hopes that we could now hunt together at times). As a hunter, in all honesty, I was a little taken aback…. My first year deer hunting (at age 52; I’m now 55) it took me 40 hours of persistence to finally harvest a doe (100 hours my second year). My son had spent all of six hours. It was truly a blessing, and perhaps even a Whitetail miracle; as I didn’t see a deer the rest of September, all of October, or all of November and didn’t finally harvest a deer until December 2nd, with my rifle.

Actually I did see quite a lot of does in early November when I was blessed to go on a KDWPT Special Hunt at Glen Elder State Park; however I was hunting with my crossbow and all of the deer stayed about 90 yards or more away from me, so I never got a shot. Compound bows may have a farther range, but my crossbow shoots to 50 yards… and I only shoot to 40 comfortably. The Special Hunt was a week-long; unfortunately KDWPT didn’t give me much notice that I’d won the lottery, and I was only able to beg for two days off of work to accompany the weekend. In the Army hospital where I work, leave requests must be made six weeks in advance, and I wasn’t given that much time. Surely if I’d have been able to utilize the full week, I’d have eventually harvested a deer. It took a couple of days to pattern them. The hunt was a great experience though; one which I embraced as a primitive camper. My goal has been to challenge myself as a hunter, to gain experience outside of my comfort zone, and I’ve never primitive camped alone. In fact, except for RVing with my folks, I haven’t camped at all since my son was a Webelo in Cub Scouts; he’s 25 now and a soldier.

My primitive experience had me out camping Thursday evening through Sunday morning, and my hunt began Friday morning. I left my campsite every morning in the dark and cold, and returned after huntset every evening – in the dark and cold. The truly awesome thing about my campsite is that it was within my hunt area; so deer were walking all around me. That Thursday evening, after setting up camp, but while sitting shivering in my truck, for lack of a fire, two young does walked passed my truck and tent, within 10 yards, to go drink at the lake beach I’d set up next to. The Special Hunt at Glen Elder State Park was indeed special, albeit not producing a harvest. I learned a lot, had fun, challenged myself… and broke my nose.

It was Sunday morning, the day I was ending my hunt, and I wanted to go out one last time hoping that I’d get a deer within 50 yards. The night prior, I’d seen deer and they came to within 50 yards but not until huntset was over, so I hoped for a re-do. Of course; Sunday morning was windy as Kansas, and the deer opted not to come out at the same time they had been. In my attempt to hurry myself to the location I planned to hunt, I chose not to use my flashlight in the dark, and I tripped over one of the ropes acting as a tent anchor. But that is now just one of those adventure stories I can tell. And a testament to my motto, “You’re never too old….” For the first 40 years of my life I suffered zero broken bones. At the age of 55, I’d broken my nose twice in a one month period. You’re never too old to break your nose. But more importantly; you’re never too old to start truly living and enjoying life, whether that means hunting (as in my case) or beginning something else you’ve put off your whole life.

To read more about my deer harvest and my second broken nose; stay tuned for part two of this blog.

 

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Hunting: Real life adventure

Hunting is an adventure, for sure; and to be honest, I really like harvesting what I hunt. Having said that however, I can’t help but be continuously mesmerized by nature and the experiences the hunt affords.

This weekend just past (Veterans Day weekend) I gave up my usual plans of watching the Veterans Day parade in downtown Manhattan (the Little Apple) in order to be up at 0400 and positioned by the pond where I hunt on my friend’s property. I even dragged out my life-sized Flambeau Boss Buck decoy hoping that he, along with my calling and rattling, would bring in at least one buck. There’s a dominant buck in the area, whom I’ve seen either in-person or on the game cameras, every year since I started hunting several years ago. My second year of hunting, I had ventured onto other parts of the property, kneeling for hours along the berm the deer travel upon. The big guy got within 5 feet of me not knowing I was there, and being new to hunting I opted to bleat at him to get him to stop rather than just shooting him with my crossbow at point-blank range as he walked by. Of course, it spooked him, not sensing a doe anywhere and then having an unseen one yell in his left ear…. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a deer, and to a trophy buck. But I digress…. I believe I saw him walk past, up on the berm, Friday morning. I spied only the upper body of a whitetail walking through the shrubs, but the big guy has a very distinct way of walking, with his head down, and it seemed the deer I kind of saw walked that way. None the less; all morning facing West, and all afternoon facing East I sat poised to take a shot and not one deer showed up.

Interestingly, while I was hunting in the afternoon, a flock of turkey hens showed up, but I didn’t fill my turkey tag because I had hopes that a deer would still materialize. I spied two adorable (from a distance) skunks waddling along the sandy beach of the pond, and as the sun set I watched three raccoons begin dining on the deer corn I had out. It’s raccoon season now, too, but I didn’t want to use my last G5 T3 broadhead on a raccoon.

Believing myself to be clever; I went up to the berm Saturday morning and kneeled near the same place I had two years prior, and in the same location I’d seen the deer walk by the day prior. I had promised myself a morning hunt only, because I wanted to get changed and visit Texas Roadhouse for my complimentary Veterans Day meal. My hope was that a deer, possibly the big guy himself, would saunter on past at about the same time in the morning as the morning before; so I waited. From 0530 to 0900 I kneeled and rested my bum precariously on a downed tree limb for support. By the time I gave up on that spot, my knees were screaming in pain and my privates were numb. My initial plan was to stay there until 0930, because one of the hunting apps I use stated major or minor movement happened until 0930, but instead I grabbed my gear and stealthily (for me, which is probably rated a 4 out of 10; with 0 being no stealth and 10 being total stealth) walked down the West side of the berm, sat at the base of a Juniper tree for 30 minutes, and listened.

I had the sense about me that deer were moving around nearby; but then Kansas trees have a way of colluding with the breeze to rustle leaves just enough to flush the heart with adrenaline. So at 0930 I packed back up and decided to move a blind I haven’t used since coyote hunting with my son this past summer. I hadn’t stepped far into the clearing when I heard the warning bleat of a deer! Yet I didn’t see any running off, so I stopped in my tracks and hunched down to the ground. I slowly inched closer to a tree, just in case I needed some form of cover, and about 90 yards away I saw a young buck’s head, looking left and right trying to assess any danger. I tried to calm his fears (falsely, of course) by sprinkling some Golden Estrus near me, using my doe in estrus bleat can, and sounding a couple of buck grunts. As I watched him for several minutes, he continued to look left and right like a deer head window bobble. He had only two antlers; one curving spike on the left and a curving spike on the right. It was rather reminiscent of the crescent moon facing upward on the pagan horned god symbol. After five minutes or so, I saw the young buck get up and head into the clearing. I had hopes he would peruse by me, and quite honestly, my intent was to harvest him if he did. But instead he walked off in the opposite direction, onto someone else’s property. It was a fun interaction for me with a whitetail; confirming my belief that I do a pretty good job of being scent-free, and blending in, albeit not stealthy enough when walking to quit my day job and become a spy.

What with the rain and such on Saturday afternoon I did not return to the woods, but I did break habit and go on Sunday. I normally choose not to hunt on Sundays because I tend to require some recovery time from hunting; sleeping in, being still (on the sofa instead of on a stool or in a blind), doing chores, but with the rut supposedly in full force I decided to make an afternoon of it on the West side of the berm, 20 yards from where I’d seen the spike the day before. I had awakened in the morning from a dream in which a 6 point buck charged out of the woods into the clearing, but I awoke before I could target him. Usually when I dream of a deer, I see and harvest one, but I didn’t go out in the morning which is likely when the dream buck would have actually shown up in real life.

The woods were alive with energy Sunday afternoon; I heard critters chewing behind me, foot fall throughout the woods, and had a marvelous encounter with a flock of turkey hens. The queen hen appeared to make me, and ceased walking in the field, choosing instead to take-off in flight. Her flock followed, clucking all the way, and I was able to capture the flying hens with my phone camera. One hen perched up in a tree across the field from me, which was also very cool as I’ve never seen turkeys in trees even though I know they roost there. After a bit of time, the turkeys all gathered together again to feed, just around the small grove of trees I was stationed at. I decided to change out my arrow for one with a Bloodsport broadhead in case the hens returned to view, but they stayed nearby for about 30 minutes or so and then moseyed on. I even thought I heard deer; snorts and bleats a couple of times, but I can never be sure. I want to see a deer so intently that I often see and hear phantom deer. I’m amazed by how birds can make just the right noise to get my attention, until I realize it’s actually just a bird.

And while on the topic of birds; I also saw a beautiful bald eagle in flight nearby on Sunday. Like I wrote earlier; hunting is an adventure! I truly do love the harvest; but the woods seldom disappoint even when no deer are seen. Sitting for hours in the woodlands is like watching nature’s own reality television; and there’s never a re-run!

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….

Kansas Monster Buck Classic 2017

On Saturday, January 28th, I went to my third Kansas Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, at the Kansas ExpoCentre. It was not my intention to make the Monster Buck Classic an annual event; however it does appear that I have attended each year since I started hunting. Unlike the two previous years, I was really looking forward to this year’s event; given that I would be afforded the opportunity to see the great guys at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures at their booth, and visit with Phil Taunton of FishingsFuture and What’s In Outdoors (Phil’s broadcast on KVOE radio).

This year I took advantage of the seminars also, which are next door to the ExpoCentre at the Capital Plaza Hotel. As I got a late start Saturday morning, still recovering from a bout of bronchitis or such, my first seminar was Game Calling Adventures at 12:30 PM facilitated by Melissa Bachman, host of Winchester Deadly Passion on Sportsman Channel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never attended a hunting seminar of this type, and having no familiarity with Melissa Bachman. It didn’t take long before I had the notes application on my phone up so I could write stuff down! The seminar was very educational, and Melissa Bachman was very down to Earth and entertaining as well. When I sought her out later at her exhibition booth, I was able to take a photo with her (albeit poor quality on my little not-so-smart phone) and acquire an autographed promo picture (I figured maybe some luck and hunting prowess would rub off on me).

Later in the afternoon, while perusing the myriad vendors at the Classic, Phil Taunton spied me and urged me to come along with him to observe Ms. Bachman’s second seminar, Getting Kids Involved Outdoors. Mr. Taunton was inspired to hear the seminar as his life is about getting children involved in outdoor activities. My interest was slightly more personal; hoping to gain valuable information to store in my brain until such time as my son and new daughter-in-law (my son just got married earlier this month) bless me with grandchildren!

While visiting with Mr. Taunton at his booth earlier in the day; I learned that the National Youth CPR Fishing Contest will be coming up again June 1 through August 6, 2017. CPR stands for “catch, photo, release,” and is sponsored by Fishings Future. Fishings Future is a great 501c3 organization, with the mission of “changing the recreational habits of millions of kids and families across America” by encouraging and teaching fishing. The National Youth CPR Fishing Contest is a way to get youth involved in fishing and spending time outdoors.

Phil Taunton also shared his excitement about a student organization, WILD; whose focus is on activities that promote the environment, conservation, and outdoor activities. The mission of WILD is, “To make a positive difference in the lives of students and the land in which they live by developing leadership, personal growth, and connections to their environment.” Given Mr. Taunton’s passion for the outdoors, introducing youth to fishing, and his motto, “Outside for a better inside” (which I’m often hashtagging), I’ve no doubt he will find great ways to help empower the WILD program in Kansas.

I spent some quality time at the Vets4Vets booth; meeting the other members of the Board who work alongside Jesse Mudd, the founder of Vets4Vets, and host of my buck hunt in November. They are just such a great group of guys, all veterans, who spend as much of their free time as possible advancing the mission of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. The organization appears to be expanding its reach outside of Kansas as well! As Jesse Mudd said to a guest at the booth, he spends all his time, when he’s not working, advancing the Vets4Vets mission and is blessed when, on rare occasions, he gets to have a half day off to relax with his wife and children. You can take the guy out of the Marine Corps, but you can’t take the Marine Corps out of the guy!!! (Vets4Vets is a great organization to donate to!)

Throughout the day I also managed to peruse the myriad vendors at the Monster Buck Classic. There were plenty of organizations to join, and of course a lot to buy. I was introduced to Tyler Kirby, a regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Kansas seems to have a lot going on with the NWTF. I donated money in exchange for a 2017 NWTF calendar and a chance to win a sweet 12 gauge shotgun. I also bought a youth sized turkey mouth call from vendor Jeff Fredrick and his company Champions Choice. In the past I have failed miserably at using mouth calls that I’ve purchased on sale, primarily because I didn’t even know to seat it at the roof of my mouth, or which side is up. Jeff Fredrick was kind enough to explain the process to me, and even demonstrate the concept using his fingers in place of a tongue, so I could observe the interaction between the tongue and the mouth call. Although I’ve failed to hunt autumn turkey this season, spring turkey will be here licitly split and I’d be thrilled to have the skill to use the mouth call in order to keep my hands free. Lastly, I bought a scope mount for my mobile phone from a vendor called Bow-Mount, which can also be adapted for a Go Pro or such, in hopes that I can start successfully videographing my hunts.

All in all I thought this year’s Monster Buck Classic was a big success; at least it was for me. I had so much fun that my estimated two hour stay turned in to a five hour adventure! My service dog reminded me we really had to leave when she looked at me with her sad, very hungry, eyes and I realized I hadn’t brought her any food. It was just as well; the Monster Buck Classic is not an event to attend for very long when one’s wallet is faint of heart. It takes a lot of will power to walk passed all the latest gadgets and camo patterns, and I was forever repeating to myself, “You don’t need that. You don’t need that!”

Now I need only wait a tad over two months for spring turkey season; and until then, rabbits and squirrels beware.

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Ending 2016 with a hunt and a prayer

With slightly more than an hour left, Central Time, in 2016, it seemed appropriate to briefly reflect back on the year.

First; it has become the first deer season since I started hunting three deer seasons ago that I have not harvested a deer; at least not in 2016. There are still two days left in the season, the 1st & 2nd of January 2017 for extended rifle – antlerless in my Kansas unit.

Although 2016 is the year of the missed deer (having shot at and missed one doe and two bucks with my crossbow); I did harvest my first-ever Tom turkey during the spring, as well hunting and harvesting squirrel and rabbit. And though I failed to fill my freezer with venison, I was very blessed to have venison donated to me by Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures; the same awesome not-for-profit organization that sponsored my buck hunt in NW Kansas (my first missed buck) this autumn.

Second; 2016 is the year my son returned home safely from deployment, and renewed our annual Thanksgiving tradition. I was very blessed to have my son and future daughter-in-law visiting for Thanksgiving, to include a family adventure to Colorado Springs for a short road trip. To add to my good fortune was the gift of venison roast, given to me by a friend and her hunting husband and son, so that I could prepare my “traditional” early Christmas dinner for my son and his fiancée. Although it is always hard to hug my son goodbye as our visits end; I take comfort in knowing I will see him in less than two weeks for his wedding!

Third; 2016 was the year of health and vitality for me, as I participated in the Army Performance Triad and decreased my body fat to 17%, and my weight to below my enlistment weight in 1983 (when I was 21 years old)! I was also blessed that my mother and step-father have risen above whatever may have ailed them from time to time, and my service dog and I spent a lovely short week with my folks in Las Vegas for Christmas.

Fourth; I include in my blessings the wonderful people I associated with this past year, be they friends, co-workers, acquaintances, or veterans – who have expanded my veteran family here in Kansas.

Fifth; my service dog, Daisy, remains a daily godsend in my life. We continue to rescue each other as a pack-of-two. I truly believe that Daisy has given me additional emotional fortitude which has empowered me to be daring; to hunt, excel at work, and experience new things.

And sixth; I would be short-sighted if I didn’t recognize that my continued employment as an Army Civilian is a blessing. I have not been happy with changes that occurred where I work, yet I have remained employed, and continue to believe in, and honor, my oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution (an oath civilians, as well as military, take). Though I have struggled with the changes that have occurred; I have been gifted with some clarity, and am looking forward to being guided in the new year to new opportunities.

This afternoon I went out hunting for deer, as I would not be a truly dedicated hunter if I didn’t go outside in camo on the last day of the year. I can think of no better way to pay homage to the wonder of nature and life, and G-d, than to sit still among the wildlife (that which showed up), listening and observing. Although I saw no deer today, I enjoyed the lively antics of cardinals, blue jays, and red-headed wood peckers. I saw a squirrel in an area where I’d never seen one, heard critters munching so loud I was certain they were a deer, and as the day surrendered to evening I was serenaded by several owls (whom I have ever only heard in the morning). All in all it was a lovely end to the year!

My hope and prayer is that 2017 will be a magical year; a year of liberty, prosperity, and joy… and a deer harvest somewhere along the way!

Buck Fever: It’s Real

The morning was cool, but not so chilly that two long-sleeved hunting shirts and a hoody weren’t enough. I was up at 4:30 AM in order to scent-free shower and get dressed before heading to the continental breakfast provided by the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I was staying courtesy of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Continental breakfast food is not normally on my menu plan, but I figured I would get hungry sitting in the blind, and didn’t want to experience my tummy grumbling like buck burps (as has happened previously). So I made half a waffle to accompany my cheese-filled egg, my 1/5 of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and my steaming hot cup of coffee.

By 6:00 AM I was riding toward my hunting location with Vets4Vets President/Founder, Jesse Mudd. To his credit, Jesse had showed me the location of the ground blind at least four different times on his mobile phone, with actual images of the terrain and landmarks. None the less, I managed to get lost out in the fields of hay and grass while walking to my location in the dark of morning, pre-sunrise. I knew I had strayed off course when I walked directly into a barbed wire fence before reaching my destination. Apparently I had turned East at the windmill, instead of West, and couldn’t see other landmarks well because I was using my Army angle-head flashlight with the red filter on the lens, for stealth mode. It was then I texted Jesse, reporting that I was returning to the windmill to try again. He promptly texted back to head West from the windmill; leading me to suffer a blonde/aged moment panicking because I didn’t know where West was in the field. Fortunately the caffeine from my coffee activated my brain and I remembered the sun rises in the East, meaning I just had to go in the opposite direction. Jesse also suggested I stop using my stealth flashlight and use my real flashlight so I could see. That did the trick and I was able to locate the ground blind, but not before traipsing all over the grove of Juniper trees with my bright white LED light.

Jesse’s rule from the night before had been “no shooting does.” He stated firmly that they are live bait to bring the bucks in, so are off limits until after the rut, during rifle season. After my 11 minute adventure in the fields I wondered if any would bother to even show up; but at 7:30 AM a healthy-looking, mature doe arrived at the feeder to nosh for a while. At one point a buck spied her, but he kept his distance 112 yards away and then scurried off as if spooked. After the first doe left, two more showed up at 8:30; one being young and still square-shaped and the other being slightly older, and acting maternally toward the smaller one. They left by 8:45 and the rest of the morning was uneventful; though I stayed out until 11:00 AM just in case.

After lunch in town, Jesse brought me back out to the blind and I was set up and ready for action by 2:45 PM. But at 3:00 I saw trucks driving up the trail toward my hunting spot, and found myself somewhat surrounded. Most of the men who had gotten out of the pick-up trucks remained by them, but one older gentleman approached the blind after someone told him there was a hunter sitting in it. Lowering my crossbow, I stepped forward and put my head to the blind window introducing myself. Long story short; the older gentleman was the property owner who had not been tracking that he agreed to allow Vets4Vets to use the land for disabled veterans to hunt, and his hunting buddies had shown up wanting to hunt. The landowner graciously left, with his men, and agreed that the location was mine for the weekend. They drove out of sight, but by 3:30 I heard gunfire which continued for almost 30 minutes at well-spaced intervals; at least 40 rounds. I wondered if it might be possible for any deer to show up that afternoon, given the trucks, the talking, the human odor, and the on-going gunfire.

Lo and behold, sometime around 6:15 a buck walked in. He was a beautiful buck and I immediately set my sights on him. He stopped to check the area out and I had a perfect shot of his left side; but having recently read an article on overcoming buck fever I decided I should breathe and not take a shot immediately. I’m pretty sure when the author of the article discussed taking time and acting slowly and deliberately he was contemplating more than 45 seconds or so; but that’s about what I gave the buck from that initial sighting. He walked to the feeder, and though he gave no indication that his dinner would be short or on the fly, I suddenly felt the need to take aim and shoot before he could get away. Unfortunately, the game camera was strategically placed between the buck’s kill zone and my crossbow, so in my haste to shoot I had to aim around the camera. It made for a lousy shot, although I didn’t realize that at the time, hitting the buck below his organs near his “arm pit” just above the white of his belly. The arrow didn’t set in far, and the buck ran off.

Night was beginning to fall as I searched for him, finding no blood trail and no indication of where he went. Later that night, Jesse and a couple of his friends joined us in searching the fields for the any sign of the buck; to no avail. But let me return to “night was beginning to fall….” I grabbed my phone to text Jesse that I shot a buck and needed help, but my phone battery had died. The only plans Jesse and I had made for my pick up was for transportation after dark. Alone in a field, at night, with no telephone or mode of communication, “after dark” could have been hours later. I left my hunting gear in the ground blind and, with my LED flashlight, headed down to the road in case Jesse pulled up. I had already heard many coyote calls, but that’s when my flashlight landed directly on the face of a yote staring at me from the other side of the barbed wire fence. I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Back home I’d have my sidearm on while hunting (as well as any time I’m in public), but on this evening my .9mm was back home on my nightstand and my .380 was nestled safely in my truck at the motel. I did an about-face and returned to the blind, where I figured I at least had my skinning and field dressing knives for self-protection. About an hour later, a truck arrived to pick me up, being driven by a fellow Marine friend of my host, Jesse. Later that night a group of us returned to the fields to search for my buck, and emboldened by the presence of three hunters and two hunting dogs, I took off in the late night in search of my lost prize. Jesse and I returned after lunch on Sunday also, to find no trace of an injured buck, but rather to see a similar looking buck hanging out with a doe napping (until we buzzed by in a four-wheeler).

So ended my buck hunt weekend. Although I ultimately left Mitchell County empty handed, I was taking home a lasting impression of the great folks associated with Vets4Vets, as well as memories of an awesome hunting experience, and gained knowledge about hunting and deer habitat. I also was gifted with first-hand familiarity of buck fever and how it genuinely corrupts the pivotal moment of any hunt – taking the shot for the harvest. Yet rather than feeling defeated; I returned home with increased passion and obsession for getting my deer, and built a home-made feeder which I placed out on my normal hunting property in hopes of turning Veterans Day 2016 into this veteran’s victory day in the blind.

Stay tuned….

Healing Through Hunting: Vets4Vets

Back in January 2016 I attended the Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, Kansas (see essay from January 24, 2016 titled: Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding) and met a Marine Corps veteran named Jesse Mudd at his organization table; Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Jesse founded Vets4Vets as a way to give back to help heal the physical and psychological wounds of military veterans through nature. As an avid outdoorsman, Jesse took his passion for hunting, fishing, and the great Outdoors, and combined it with his passion for service to create this Kansas-based not-for-profit.

At the time I learned of Vets4Vets I bought a long-sleeved t-shirt, and then didn’t give it much of a thought again; until last month when I came across some hog hunt photos on Instagram from a recent Vets4Vets hunt in Oklahoma. Much to my surprise, Jesse reached out to me after I’d liked some of their hunt photos; and I was invited to participate in a Vets4Vets buck hunt. Needless to say, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation!

Vets4Vets is a small 501(c)3 organization based out of Beloit, Kansas in Mitchell County. Every investment of time and energy that Jesse and the other members of the Board of Directors put into the organization is a labor of love. Jesse takes no income from the organization; he works a fulltime job, volunteers to mentor veterans who are incarcerated, spends much of his weekend engaging in Vets4Vets activities, and has a beautiful family (a very understanding wife, and two adorable, high energy children). Vets4Vets has some sponsors, the newest being Rogers Sporting Goods in Liberty, Missouri, but with minimal financial support the organization operates on a shoestring budget.

During my hunt weekend I was very blessed that Vets4Vets lodged me at the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I had a complimentary continental breakfast at 5:00 AM Saturday and Sunday morning, a comfortable place to sleep, and a shower for my scent-free hygiene routine before hunting. Jesse met with me Friday night, after I drove in from the Fort Riley area, and showed me around town. On Saturday morning he picked me up at 6:00 AM and drove me 30 minutes out to the private property I’d be hunting, came back for me at 11:00 and took me out to eat, and drove me back out to the ground blind in the early afternoon.  When he couldn’t come get me after dark because he was trying to find the buck another hunter shot, Jesse made sure a Marine Corps brother of his got me safely back in to town. At 9:00 PM Jesse had rounded up a small posse, which included Vets4Vets Director and National Guardsman Zak Koenig, and we returned to my hunting spot to look for the buck I’d shot.

I don’t know what time Jesse got home to his family, but he dropped me off at the motel about 11:00-11:30 PM, and then came back at 5:00 AM to take me back out to hunt. My experience with Vets4Vets was that of royalty; as a disabled veteran sponsored by Vets4Vets, I felt as if the world revolved around me for the weekend. Jesse and the organization did everything to provide me with an exceptional hunting experience… except guide my arrow to the kill zone and cure me of buck fever. After my morning hunt on Sunday, Jesse returned for me and we drove throughout the neighboring property, where the buck returned after being shot, in the organization’s Polaris Ranger to search for the buck in the daylight. Despite having no luck finding my buck (we determined my shot had been merely a flesh wound and not a mortal shot) I learned a great deal during my Vets4Vets weekend, had a great time, and met some truly dedicated and caring people.

Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventures. It is an organization of military veterans that embodies the phrase “a band of brothers,” and exemplifies the line from the Soldier’s Creed, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”   Vet4Vets provides an opportunity for disabled veterans to experience comradery, restoration, and holistic adventure in an emotionally safe environment.

To support Vets4Vets, or to learn more about their mission, visit their website at: http://vets4vetsoutdooradventures.org/ or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures/ and Instagram as @vets4vetsoutdooradventures.

Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

Here in Kansas we’re almost a full month into deer season; black powder and archery. One of the best investments I made as a hunter was my Parker Challenger crossbow. With the exception of this weekend, which is pre-rut rifle for antlerless deer, there’s no rifle hunting until December. Having the ability to hunt with a bow, in my case a crossbow, is indeed a blessing. It is also a boon because it allows me to extend my hunting area from my friend’s private property to the adjoining Fort Riley woods (with my Fort Riley hunting permit) which are archery only.

This is my third-ever deer season. My first, in 2014, gained me a doe harvest using my crossbow. Last year, I tagged zip with my crossbow but harvested a doe during extended rifle season in January 2016, with my Browning .270 bolt action rifle. So far this season, I have accumulated over 42 hours of hunting… and haven’t even seen deer, let alone had a chance to aim at any. The few experiences I have had, have been completely auditory; foot fall beside my blind in the dark of the morning, does bleating in the woods, and bucks snorting on either side of me but refusing to show themselves.

Up to this point, my hunting experiences look more like a camo fashion spread, made up of myriad selfies in the various hunting outfits and make-up designs I’ve donned. I even have a ghillie suit in order to more stealthily hunt on the Fort Riley side, and to have increased options in the woods, yet thus far I have only dressed to impress myself.

Granted, up to this morning, it has still been somewhat warm outside. The proof is the multitude of mosquito bites I’ve gained when I’ve forgotten my Thermacell, or forgotten to bring replacement butane. This morning, however, seemed beautifully autumn-like; a chill 45 degrees outside with low morning fog rising toward the tree tops. I was very surprised that I saw no deer today. This afternoon it was typically warm again, in the mid to high 70s, and I opted not to hunt; less because of temperature and more because I ended up in a foul mood which I suspected would negatively impact my hunt.

I suppose if I want to be assured to see deer I should wash my truck, and bring only my rifle to the blind tomorrow morning. I have held off washing my truck each weekend thinking I would tag a deer and get blood in the bed of my Ford, thereby needing to wash it again. And this morning, to be doubly prepared for either sex; I hauled my rifle and my crossbow into the blind and propped each up on a shooting stick. For four hours I balanced my crossbow and my rifle on their respective sticks, just waiting for either a doe or buck to grace me with its presence.

About mid-morning, the wind picked up just a tad, but only high above the canopy, causing the highest most leaves to stir like a deer walking through the woods. I was intently peering through the foliage in front of me trying to spy any deer that may come through when I suddenly saw something sandy-brownish moving. For just a second my mind saw it as a deer slowly and purposefully walking toward the tall-grass meadow. My heart became blasted with adrenaline and my hands went tightly around each weapon, not knowing if it was a doe or a buck. That’s when I realized it was strategically placed tall-grass blowing in the wind….

Tomorrow morning I’ll be back out in the blind, though I don’t know that it will be any different than this morning. The temperature should be about the same; good for deer, but not necessarily compelling. I’ll haul out my rifle and cross bow, and sit patiently waiting for a deer, any deer, to come out in the open. Thinking I was going to hunt this afternoon I left my backpack and my shooting sticks in my blind, so I’ll need carry only my weaponry in the darkness. I will wear a jacket this time, as this morning I opted for a vest over a hoody and a long sleeved shirt, and I ended up shivering on my stool and thinking about hot coffee.

Hopefully tomorrow will be THE day. My goal this year, as last, is to harvest more than one deer and to finally get a buck. However, the loftiest goals must still start with a single step. Many steps and 42 hours later, I keep going out into nature, with my crossbow in one hand and my hunting tag in the other. If nothing else, I am becoming a successful student in the art of perseverance and patience….

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Two Days & a Wake-up: Archery Deer Season Starts

Sitting here at my home office desk with the intention of working on my business management coursework, yet I can’t help but think about Monday. Today is Friday, and in just 59 hours I will be out in my newest blind for opening day of archery – deer season. Just thinking about it gets my body tingly with anticipation.

My clothes have been washed in scent-free detergent and placed in an air tight bag for a couple of weeks already, and last weekend I separated out Monday’s clothes from my other camo “outfits” so I won’t have to poke around looking for what I want at 4:30 AM. Under normal circumstances I’m not a name brand kind of gal; buying whatever scent-free detergent (or whatever) has the best price. But I’m endeavoring to hashtag myself into recognition, so when I can, I want to give a shout-out to whatever brand of clothing/detergent/game cameras/hunting blinds, etc., that I use. In this case; my most recent hunting clothes were washed in Scent Killer Gold, by Wildlife Research Center. My body soap and scent-free spray, however, are made in the U. States by Dead Down Wind. I just received a combo pack of Dead Down Wind products that I purchased from Midland USA, which included a nifty DDW skull cap, which I will definitely wear hunting at some point.

In all honesty I’m kind of uncomfortable being a brand name dropper, but from what I’ve observed in the realm of social media, it’s how one gets noticed. That brings me to the very next thought I had tonight when I thought about how excited I am for Monday. Once Monday is over; I’m stuck with Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong; I am delighted to work, to have a good job serving soldiers as a civilian member of the Army; but I don’t feel passionate about it anymore (hence the online courses in business management) and I’d rather remain in the woods hunting. At 54 it may be a bit too late to ponder what I want to do when I grow up, but if I could choose to just magically change careers, I’d want to be a hunter, seeking out adventures and game throughout the country (and beyond) and then writing about it.

It is in that vein that I endeavor to film my hunts. My Midland video cameras have provided me an affordable opportunity to capture my harvesting moments, but with limited quality. Recently my son, an avid outdoorsman with canoes, fishing poles, and now his motorcycle, recommended I get a Contour video camera. He stated they do better in low light situations and have good quality for the price. So, this past weekend I purchased a Contour Roam3 online and currently have it connected to my laptop charging. I also purchased an accessory set that came with a shoulder harness, so when I go out hunting Monday I will have the Contour perched upon my left shoulder. Hopefully I will have a wonderful experience for the Contour to record….

I’m planning on tackling Monday’s hunt differently than I usually do, as well. Because I have a service dog, I generally go out first thing in the morning, return home by mid to late morning to let my canine partner out and then don’t go back out to the blind until late afternoon. My Moultrie game cameras often reveal that the critters I’m hunting wait until I’m gone to parade around my hunting spot, well out of sight by the time I return. With success in mind, I’m taking my labbie-girl to doggie daycare at Wildcat Pet Resort Sunday evening, where she will enjoy (hopefully) a respite from working until I pick her up after work Tuesday evening. That way I can remain devoted to my hunt for as long as it takes Monday. I will still use at least one of my Midland video cameras mounted to my Parker Challenger crossbow for a slightly different angle. The difficulty in attempting to capture the hunt with multiple cameras as a one-woman operation is knowing when to turn the cameras on, without making noise and movement, and without spooking the deer or missing the shot. Last autumn, when I harvested my first-ever turkey, I became so fixated on the bird and my arrow that I forgot to turn the camera on all together, even though it was mounted right at the front of my crossbow.

However it plays out; Monday will prove to be an adventure. This will be the first time I’ve hunted all day, if necessary, which will mean a potentially long day with minimal food and no water. Personal as it is to share; I’ve got a nervous bladder, so if I drink while hunting (or before) I will spend too much time having to accommodate it. And unlike my friend on whose property I hunt, I cannot remain seated and just tinkle into a bottle. It’s a major affair to have to set down my weapon, move about the blind or get out of the blind, drop my clothes, and take care of business before mosquitoes snack on my bum cheeks.

Monday will also lend itself to excitement should I succeed in harvesting my first deer of the season, as I’m usually hunting when my buddy, John, is home and can assist me in dragging the deer out of the woods. As it’s a regular workday, which I happened to have taken leave for, any deer I harvest will need to be dragged out and placed on the bed of my truck by me… and me alone. For just such a purpose, I have a drag harness, although I’ve never had to use it so don’t know how easy or difficult it is to harness pull a deer.

Until Monday morning arrives, bringing along opening day of archery for deer season, I have a blessed weekend to enjoy. I will play a little, study a little, and do more fussing over my accoutrements for hunting. Then hopefully, maybe, wishing upon a star, and with the cooperation of my white-tailed friends, I will have something fabulous to share on September 12th….

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