Heaven on earth in the deer woods

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock

 

Recently I had the delight of speaking with a dear friend from Florida. Larry, has been a spiritual friend for many years, and though we don’t communicate with each other often, and didn’t see each other much even when we lived in the same city (except during a period when I was “self-employed” and seeing Larry regularly for Polarity Therapy sessions); we honor each other’s holistic journey and call each other “God Friend.”

We spoke of many things on our recent phone call, catching up and giving support; but when I shared my journey in nature here in Kansas, and my faith in G-d’s mission of service here at Fort Riley, Larry shared his feeling of awe at my story. He excitedly exclaimed that he felt inspired by my story to widen his experience in the natural world, and to get outside more often. After we completed our telephonic catch-up, I sent a video to Larry via Messenger of three bucks hanging out in the woods taken by my Moultrie game camera, as a visual aid of the joy I feel in the woods. Larry likened it to my own, private piece of Heaven on earth, stating, “You are my new standard for expanding the size of the circle of my life here in Southwest Florida.”

My friend summed up my experience in the woods perfectly; it is indeed a personal piece of Heaven on earth. Out in nature, especially in the “deer woods” at dawn and dusk, I am centered, calm and at peace. Whether I’m hunting, or just Being, I am filled with a sense of oneness with All That Is. It is this core connection to the spirit of the wild (hope Ted Nugent doesn’t mind my borrowing his phrase) that allows me to sit in wonder like a child, quite literally giddy at the sight of a deer, and to focus as a hunter within the circle of life.

In Kansas, on private property, we are allowed to bait; placing food that temps wildlife to hang out for a nosh. Although there is always the hope that the right creatures will decide to nosh at just the right time, affording a shot at a harvest, I like to provide for the wildlife for other reasons as well. I feel good providing sustenance to deer, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and the like. I imagine foraging is a difficult task at times, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate to grow the yummy greens and berries that are favored; but then it is said that G-d provides for all creatures great and small. So, what’s to say that my choice to lie food out isn’t part of that greater plan…? I also enjoy the videos and still photos my Moultrie game cameras provide when the wildlife partakes of the food I set out. I am fascinated by watching animal behavior, especially deer, when they’re just being themselves. Lastly, I consider it a form of offering; a tasty message of gratitude to Life for existing and letting me be part of it. Though we are all alive, how many of us truly live? And of those, how many experience Life outside of the world created by Man; in the natural world created by G-d…?

With those three reasons in mind, I decided to make a small food plot on my friend John’s property. I’ve been laying deer corn out, initially to tempt the squirrels (Do you ever notice that if you leave food for deer, squirrels and raccoons eat it; but if you leave food for critters, deer eat it?) for some critter hunting, but I saw that three of the buck boys, who came in a bachelor herd of 12 when it snowed this past winter, have been perusing the corn. Normally I buy two 40 lb bags of corn; at about $7 a bag, every 1-2 weeks… that can get expensive, and painful for a somewhat physically challenged almost-56-year-old. And as tasty as apple flavored corn is, and filling, it’s not the most nutritional choice of snack food. So, I ordered some clover seeds from Home Depot, and when they arrived at the store and I went to pick them up, I also purchased a hoe and a cultivator. The area I wanted to plant also has a nasty batch of poison sumac, so I bought a garden sprayer to mix up a vinegar water blend to spray on the sumac. My research indicated that vinegar water kills poison sumac.

On Saturday, June 16th, I went out with my sprayer and dosed the sumac. According to the YouTube video I watched, death should come to the plant in about 2-3 days. I went back last night, June 22nd, to pull up the “dead” sumac, and it was very much alive, save for the browning tips of some leaves. None-the-less; armed with long rubber dish washing gloves (the glamorous kind with cheetah spots), wearing surgical gloves underneath them, I liberated the entire area of poison sumac. Having developed an urushiol oil rash on my buttocks my first year of hunting, not knowing what it was, what it looked like, or that I was sitting on it, I’ve come to truly despise poison sumac and its urushiol oil. Yet I found myself somewhat impressed with its survivability as I attempted to pull one plant after another by the root, only to have the root unearthed and multiple feet long, connecting plants from one area to plants in another area. I can only guess that over time the poison sumac plant has adapted and learned how to thrive in an environment where some among the wildlife (humans particularly) want it dead.

Last night I filled a 30-gallon garbage bag with poison sumac and assorted weeds, cleared most of the fallen limbs and twigs out of the area and prepared it for my farming this morning. Mid-morning, after a hearty breakfast, I tasked my hoe and cultivator to get rid of the rest of the weeds, more of the sumac root, and to level out the small area I planned to plant. Then, with John’s antique push tiller, I tilled the area twice. Finally, after over an hour of sweating, I laid down the seeds. Having watched The Bucks of Tecomate, I naturally had purchased Tecomate seeds; King Ladino White Clover for summer and Brassica Banquet seed mix for autumn. Other than knowing one must work their tush off to prepare the soil, I don’t know the first thing about food plots (I glean just enough from Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel to think I can do it) but knew I wasn’t going to go through all of this again seasonally; so, put the autumn seeds down first, and the summer seeds on top of them. Then I covered the seeds with dirt in the hopes it really does rain tomorrow and Monday. My thought, accuracy unknown, is that the white clover will grow first while the autumn clover germinates, and then it’ll pop up as the summer clover dies down. Honestly, I have no idea if that’s how it goes… but any way it works out, as long as clover grows, and flourishes through September and maybe October, it will have been a successful adventure. And if the deer genuinely hang out because there’s thick, healthy clover to munch on, then my mission to provide healthy sustenance to the deer, to watch them eating from my game camera, and to possibly have a target during hunting season will not have been in vain… albeit after hours of “farming” it has been in pain.

As I side note; I’d hoped to battle the poison sumac unscathed, yet the insidious sumac found some way to dose me with urushiol oil. I’ve yet to figure out how; but I ended up with a rash on the inside of my right leg, almost to the ankle, which I noticed as a small spot this morning before I left for the woods, and quarter-sized rash by the time I returned home. It seems I also may have a spot on my left leg, on the outside down toward the ankle. Of course, everywhere I itch now, makes me paranoid. The baffling thing to me is that I was wearing my tall rubber hunting boots, from Field and Stream (I got some last year like Melissa Bachman touts), with my BDU pant legs tucked into the boots. Between the boot, the pant-leg and the sock – I have no idea how urushiol oil would have gotten on my lower leg! With courage I entered battle against my mighty foe poison sumac, and though I believe I won, I proved not impervious to harm.

As if to bless my efforts at producing a food plot for my deer friends; I spied two bucks and a doe last night while leaving the area, and then after completion today around noon, I observed a doe running toward the woods beside the highway. I’m not kidding when I say deer sightings make me giddy! Two nights ago, I felt my spidey senses tingle and looked across the apartment complex parking lot to the woods up against the post air field. There I saw two does feeding. I quickly grabbed my Nikon D3200 and started taking photos. It was the strangest thing; but after one doe left, the other doe seemed to develop her own spidey senses and she stopped grazing to look up in my direction before running off. Keep in mind, there was easily 400 yards between us, I was on my third-floor balcony, and the parking lot between us had cars driving past, car doors slamming, and people out milling around – yet she appeared to know I was there “shooting” her with a camera. Amazing!

Since relocating to Kansas over six years ago, and since starting to hunt almost four years ago, I have been blessed with an incredible journey of the soul; one that has taken me into nature to where I discovered my core self and come to experience Heaven on earth and within. And poison sumac aside (and be damned), I feel so blessed to be able to work the land to the benefit of my whitetail friends, and so fortunate that my friend John allows me to care for his property as if it were mine.

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Deer Season 2017: Part 2

So very long overdue; here is part two of my 2017 deer hunting story.

After my primitive camping and hunting experience at Glen Elder State Park in November, and my trophy broken nose, I continued to hunt the private property belonging to my friend, John, to no avail. Except for a hind-end and my son’s doe; the only deer I saw were on my Moultrie game camera. But jumping in to save the day, like Marines do, the great veterans at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures planned a guided hunt for me out in Republic County.

My hunt host, and lodging host, Josh presented me with many great opportunities on my hunt weekend. Josh, a Marine Corps vet, took me around Belleville for a tour, showed me the Rocky Pond Christmas Lights Display which was initiated in 2010 as a community event, and introduced me to his father and some other folks who helped out on my quest to harvest a deer. Josh’s daughter was also sweet in volunteering to stay with family so I could bunk down, literally, in her bunk bed. When I arrived Friday night, I met up with Josh and his dad at Bel-Villa Family restaurant, a friendly diner where the wait staff know customers by name. After dinner, Josh and I sat up until midnight talking about hunting and military service, and then grabbed some shut-eye before arising in the dark of morning to get started on our hunt quest.

The first location, where we watched the sunrise, was on private land, with permission, where Josh’s father had shot a buck just a few days earlier. We didn’t see any deer, but spied a gorgeous, chunky coyote at 200 yards or so, just sitting around watching the sun rise also. Later we headed to a different location, also private property (that’s pretty much all there is to hunt in Republic County; so, it pays to know someone who knows someone…), and Josh and I set up near a tree line, facing a field, where the intended deer was supposed to exit from a bedding area to our right, once nudged by Josh’s dad. Sure enough; the most gorgeous 10-point buck I have ever seen before me (possibly the only 10-point buck I’ve ever seen before me) came trotting out before us at about 180 yards. He stopped a moment but then took up again and I endeavored to make a moving shot.

This is where the bard-worthy adventure story comes in. You see, rather than hunting with my trusted Browning .270 bolt action rifle that I’ve used every deer season since I began hunting, I decided to use my new camo Savage Arms 30.06 that I received for my life membership in Whitetails Unlimited. I’d zeroed the gun on the range before, so I thought, and figured it would be fun to use my engraved, kick-ass rifle. What I didn’t consider was the extra weight, the possibility of making a moving shot (which Josh had educated me on doing properly), or the unknown factor of a loose scope. I also hadn’t considered the kick the larger rifle had, and the impact on my habit of choking up on the scope.

So, there I was; in a lawn chair instead of a hunt stool, trying to twist my body to follow the very handsome buck, while aiming my rifle balanced on my Bog Pod, with my face up against the scope to eliminate the dark ring around the outside of my vision area in the scope, taking my first-ever 180-yard shot. Bam! The round flew just over the buck’s haunch, who – believe it or not – dropped his hind quarter to avoid the round, and the scope slammed into my face, at the bridge of my nose, drawing blood from my forehead and my nose and leaving me punch drunk. You’re never too old to be punch drunk for the first time.

Josh knew the rifle scope made contact with my already-ethnically-large nose but wasn’t aware that my nose had been broken or that I was minorly concussed with loss of balance and coordination, and headache. He excitedly hurried me through a thicket of dead feral cannabis (ditch weed), which I also became trapped in, in order to set me up on the other side of the tree line where the 10-point buck was going to exit as part of his escape route. I endeavored to set up and steady the rifle on my Bog Pod, still not realizing the scope was loose on it’s base and therefore not truly zeroed, and I aimed at the buck, this time 300 yards away. I’d never shot 300 yards, as I’d only just shot 180 yards, but I took aim for the front of the deer, just forward of his shoulder in case my shooting was a tad off, and… Bam! My round went just over the buck again, sending him scurrying on his way; and slamming the scope back into my broken nose. Josh did a marvelous job of supporting my efforts, and we agreed that I should have made both shots. That’s when he inspected my rifle and realized it came from the factory with the scope improperly mounted. That’s also when we both realized my nose was truly broken, after not having fully healed from the first break in November (when my Doc had said, in no uncertain terms, “Don’t hit your nose again.”).

Off we went to a friend’s place, a fellow hunter, whom Josh and his father knew fairly well. There, Josh fixed my scope, re-zeroed my rifle, and off we went to hunt some more; this time with the friend and some of her family. It was the first time I’d ever gone on a group spot & stalk; however it didn’t work quite as I was expecting, and didn’t lead me to a harvest. By late afternoon, Josh and I decided to go it alone and we headed back to the first property we’d hunted at sunrise. Unfortunately, or fortunately, some friends of the land owner had taken over the place Josh was going to guide me to, so instead we walked along the ridge of the small canyon, on the East side. As we moved inland, some mature does ran off, but we didn’t let that dissuade us. As we paused to take a break and assess our next move, we spied a doe off in the distance, about 200 yards or so. “She” also spied us and moved into the brush to assess for danger. I set up the rifle on the tripod and waited. Finally, the antlerless deer headed back to the area where it been grazing on some corn (corn on the cob). Josh and I spoke about whether or not I wanted to harvest this antlerless deer, and I decided I truly did. A deer harvest provides meat, whether or not it’s a trophy buck. I sighted in on the antlerless deer….

Bam! This time I hit my target; and Josh was very excited for me, exclaiming, “Yes, that’s how it’s done!” What a difference a steady scope makes although… as I continued to unknowingly choke up on my scope, I again hit myself in the face. Keep in mind; at this point we still don’t realize how it is I keep hitting my face with the scope, though I was three for three so far that day. The deer went down, but then in an odd turn of events, started rolling on it’s back, flailing its legs in the air. Then the deer got up and moved into the tree line in front of us. There was visible blood all over the ground so Josh and I had no doubt I hit the deer, but to make sure it didn’t get away injured we packed up and headed around the other side of the tree line to cut the deer off from any escape. That’s when I came across it, lying under a tree with no energy to move, but not at all dead.

As we approached, we both realized that deflecting off my nose, jarred my shot to the right, and instead of hitting the deer in the kill zone, where I was aiming, I shot it in the neck. As I took aim with my rifle at close range to dispatch the young antlerless, Josh filmed me; which is how we learned that my face had been consistently too close to the scope and, and as I fired one last time, the scope came back slamming into my face, making me rock on my heels. Upon getting up to the deer, Josh and I realized that it was a button buck, with knobs protruding barely a quarter of an inch from the deer’s skull.

We finished field dressing Buttons, as I named him, and began dragging him out as huntset came. Josh wanted to take me back out Sunday morning to try again, still searching for a trophy buck (keep in mind, a trophy buck to me is anything with actual antlers); and we went out for a couple hours until the hunt was stopped dead by a flat tire on Josh’s truck. And apparently, GM/Chevy went out of their way to make dropping the spare as agonizing and time consuming as possible. By the time the tire was changed, I requested that we end all hunt activities and, instead, return to Josh’s place where Buttons was hanging around in the shed so Josh could show me how to fully dress down a deer. It was a great learning experience; and I was able to take home meat the way I wanted to, instead of ending up with over 50% of my harvest as ground meat, as when the processing plant does it. I even got to bring home venison ribs, which the meat locker refused in the past to give me, “because there isn’t enough meat on them,” and have since quite enjoyed tasty Buttons ribs!

Driving the two hours home, with coolers full of venison, I mused that G-d saw fit to answer my prayers in the most unexpected way. I had prayed to finally harvest a buck this year, and though my mind’s eye saw a 6-point or better, I did manage to harvest my first ever buck in the form of a button buck, which counts as an antlerless deer. None the less, upon field dressing Buttons, Josh and I did have to remove his tiny testicles; thus, demonstrating that prayers are answered, but not always in the same way the prayerful is intending. When Josh was showing me how to butcher the deer, he mused that I should keep the skull and do a European mount, to hang beside my future bucks as proof of my first-ever buck. I realized that if I didn’t, I’d come to regret it; so, Button’s skull remains frozen in my meat freezer waiting for the day I have my own yard and can bury the skull for a natural cleaning.

My 2017 deer hunting season provided many firsts and many adventures for sharing. Though not the first-ever time my nose has been broken (that’s an honor belonging to a husky-chow mix I had many years ago), it certainly was the first-ever time I’d broken my nose twice in a one-month period, and the first time I’d ever hit myself in the face with a scope while hunting – four times in one day! It was my first-ever buck, albeit a button buck, and my first-ever time being punch drunk. Stay tuned for 2018 deer season… where I will stick with my Browning .270 bolt action rifle, when not hunting using my Parker Bows Challenger crossbow.

And as if to prove that the tale I’ve shared is true; my nose starting aching mid-way through the writing of this adventure….

Hunting for wellness & energy

Over 30 years ago I was medically separated from the U.S. Army for problems with my knees which developed into arthritis, as well as a back injury which also developed into arthritis. Over 20 years ago I became permanently 70% disabled in my left shoulder after two bouts of cancer left me with a prosthesis and removal of my supraspinatus muscle and other surrounding muscles. Shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with an auto-immune deficiency; and again, recently was diagnosed with another, more insidious auto-immune disease. All of that, on top of just being a fairly short gal with a propensity for weight issues, and oh yeah – the arthritis I’ve developed in my hands over the past few years, give me plenty of reasons not to try; not to try hunting or fishing, or working out for vanity and vitality. But anyone who truly knows me knows that, just like that little ant who thought he could move a rubber tree plant, I have high hopes and high expectations for myself, even if it means pushing myself beyond what I should be capable of. (https://youtu.be/cJVewWbeBiY)

Frustratingly, since this new year began, I have found myself fatigued, ill, pained, with a myriad of issues that have drained me of my passion for hunting. Well, to be clear, I’ve been drained of the energy to hunt, not the desire to do so. Sometimes pushing beyond my limits works well for me, but lately I’ve come to realize that sometimes pausing and taking a break is okay too. Actually, it was my lack of motivation to hunt that brought me to the doctor and inspired her to do a blood panel, which then diagnosed the recent auto-immune issue. As I explained to her; “If I don’t feel like hunting, there’s something wrong.” Lo and behold – there was something wrong!

Lacking the vigor to coyote hunt prior to spring turkey, I settled on some trout fishing on post, catching the cold snaps to fill my creel limit. In one fishing session I caught five trout in 30 minutes and then went back home to rest – and clean fish. I find something very satisfying, especially on those cold-snap days, about casting out my line, hooking a 17” trout, and reeling him in. But nothing brings me peace like sitting in the woods at sunrise, or as the sun sets, listening to the birds trilling, and hearing the rustle of the foliage as the night critters return home, or the deer begin their evening walk-about.

It was my quest for energy to spring turkey hunt that inspired me to return to a vitamin regimen I used to follow, with a nutritional formula that is pharmaceutical grade and immune system inspiring. USANA Health Sciences is a company I came to know well and trust completely over a decade ago, and the CellSentials (formerly Essentials) had a tremendously positive impact on my energy and stamina. My hope is that I can kick start my immune system again, with empowerment from USANA, so that I’m as right as rain come autumn deer season. (To learn more about USANA – https://www.usana.com/pwp/#/site/270359212/page/751604)

My goal in writing this short piece was not to seek sympathy, although empathy is appreciated, but rather to explain why I haven’t been writing and have yet to finish part two of my deer hunting adventure from this past deer season. Much like my online Business Management certification that was supposed to take one year to complete and which I am pushing myself to finish while on my second 6th month extension, sometimes I have to tackle things in short bursts.

Life is full of excuses, and excuses are like derrieres; everyone has one. But there is no excuse for failing to try, even if every so often trying demands modest effort with frequent respites. For now, my hunting and writing will require a skosh more effort with a tad less result; but I’m manifesting a time, soon (I hope), when my energy is thriving, striving, and driving on!

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.

 

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!

Changing Perspectives Through Hunting

Since I began hunting almost three years ago, I’ve come to recognize something special, different, about myself; not so much about me as a person, but a shift in my perspective and the way I view the environs surrounding me. Take this evening for instance; as the Flint Hills of Kansas comes off several days with a heat index over 100 (heat category 4), the evening sky is blanketed in grey storm clouds. The temperature has dipped to 80 degrees as thunderstorms move in. The wind whips the tree-tops like intoxicated dancers at a nightclub. I took my labbie-girl for a walk just a bit ago in order to take care of business, and as we strolled along the chain-link fence dividing the apartment complex from the woods beside Fort Riley I found my gaze staring off deep into the timbers, hoping to spy a whitetail deer. For just a moment I could feel autumn beckoning, inching ever closer, even if only in my mind; but I swear my body responded ever so slightly to the thought of autumn asserting itself in summer’s place.

To passersby I may appear to be walking in a daze, or with my head in the clouds, staring off instead of focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. Yet other hunters, obsessed as I am with the opportunity to be nestled in the bosom of Mother Nature, likely understand and behave the same way. Harvesting an animal during a hunt is the sweetest frosting on the cake; but just experiencing G-d’s creatures in their natural habitat is the thrill.

On several occasions now I’ve gone predator hunting; most specifically for coyotes. I recently paid off and picked up a Savage Arms 22-250 that I placed on layaway at Bud’s Guns and Ammo for just such a purpose. In keeping with my desire to be an ethical hunter, and a decent shot, I took my new rifle to an outdoor range (Sportsman’s Acres – part of Geary County Fish & Game) to zero it at 100 yards. Then I hightailed it out to my friend’s property where I have had multiple coyote encounters over the past several years, and listened to the chorus of coyote song. I just had to get out to hunt in between spring turkey and autumn deer season.

The first time I went out, it was still early spring and the temperatures weren’t too bad. I had never called in a coyote but had watched some shows on Outdoor TV on the topic, so armed with my deer call, I set out to call in a yote with a fawn-in-distress call. By the end of the first day it was I who was in distress, as my calling hadn’t even impressed the crows. That was June 8th. I went again on June 30th while my son was visiting with his wife. I had watched even more hunting shows to prepare; purchased coyote urine, and multiple calls (coyote and jack rabbit) in order to up my game. The crows seemed quite impressed with my son’s rabbit-in-distress call, but the coyotes were nowhere to be found. We did experience the thrill of nature, however, when we moved locations and a big whitetail (likely a buck without a full rack yet) fussed at us and sounded the alarm. Later we saw a beautiful reddish-colored doe with big floppy ears high-tailing it away from us as we walked back to my truck. My friend John, on whose property we were hunting, said the doe, whom he named Floppy, has been perusing our vegetable garden and will come within 5 feet of John.

On July 8th, after my son and daughter-in-law had begun the second leg of their honeymoon – road-tripping to Alaska, I went out in the evening predator hunting, with the hope that I’d fare better later than I had at sun-up. But alas still no coyotes; but my hunt was redeemed with another sighting of “Floppy.” (Check out my son & daughter-in-laws travel blog: http://www.globalcrusades.net)

Even my appreciation for the common pigeon has been increased since I joined the ranks of American hunters. Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved animals. There was a time I even contemplated becoming a veterinarian, until I realized math and science were an integral part of medicine. Yet now that I sit for hours and watch birds, bugs (though I’m still not a fan of bugs), and other assorted creatures in their natural habitat, I have developed a greater respect for nature. So when I found a pigeon nest on my balcony a few months ago I provided a domicile for the pigeon to lay eggs, raise her squabs, and then enhanced my patience as I waited for the squabs to grow up and take flight, and move on. Of course, as with all creatures’ big and small, pigeons will do what pigeons will do… and the female squab-grown up, content that my balcony was her home, made her own nest, laid eggs, and now has two squabs of her own. I can’t help but be in wonder of their little “feed me” chirps, and the mama pigeon’s fulfillment of her squabs’ desires for food. This is the stuff found mostly on Nat Geo, not within inches of one’s view; yet I have now watched the ritual of pigeon parenting twice. *I absolutely do plan on reclaiming my balcony after this go-round though; I have wood-working projects to complete… once I scrape the bird crap off my pallet.

There isn’t a field I drive past or a wooded area within my view that doesn’t beckon me to search longingly for a deer or other critter. While “normal” people drive on by, oblivious to the world around them, I spy does feeding on leaves with their fawns, wild turkeys strutting, and assorted woodland creatures in action such as rabbits and squirrels. Non-hunters might consider my perseveration on wildlife a sign that I thirst with blood-lust and care not for our natural world… but au contraire;  I am more educated, more concerned, and more active in conservation now than I ever was as a youthful armchair member of Greenpeace, reading about the exploits of the Rainbow Warrior. Though my mind may imagine a successful hunt, it is the appreciation of the beauty, the wildness of the whitetail deer and such that I observe, and the wonder I feel in the gift of being a part of the habitat that nurtures their very existence. When I can walk the path a deer walked, and read the wildlife news of the day through tracks, scat, and scrapes; then I feel as close as I possibly can to being One with nature.

But had I not sought the way of challenge, of hunting, of following my arrow (straight to its target)… I would not have the perspective on nature that I have today. Had I not found my courage, and my friend John, I would still be a sideline conservationist; admiring the life spirit of nature from my sofa, instead of from my hunting stool in the woods.

Shooting Savage

Resting my Savage Arms 22-250 on my new Bog Pod at Sportsman’s Acres shooting range.

Squabs Deux

Pigeon squabs waiting for mama pigeon.

Yote Hunting

Predator hunting with my son (Savage Arms 22-250 and Browning 270)

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.

mbcblog

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.