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)

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Spring Turkey Part 2b: Filling Tag #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Turkey Part 2a: Special Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Kansas Lifestyle; Living American Ideals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Earth Day 2016: My Kansas Tribute

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

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

I tend not to be a religious person, albeit quite spiritual, and therefore am not well versed in the Bible; however I turn to the Old and New Testaments when I seek guidance, or a verse that punctuates my point. One such verse that I take to heart is: Genesis 9:3 – “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” And with that in mind, I joyously fish and hunt to provide sustenance for myself, my family and my friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Turkey 2016: After the Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpringTom Meat

Valentine’s Day; A Love Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentines2016