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….

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)

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….)

Living the Kansas Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Turkey Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earthworms, Buddhism, & Hunting: Some Thoughts

Walking in to work this morning, the pavement looked more like it had been raining earthworms than water. Apparently earthworms surface from underground during rains in order to move above ground to safety. Sadly, earthworms aren’t very good judges of what constitutes safety, and I’d guess that not many hospital employees took the time to walk in-between the worms in order to minimize smooshing.

Late morning I ventured outside with my service dog for her bathroom break and the earthworms remained overland, and moving very slowly. My initial response was, again, to walk between them to avoid pulverizing the creatures into the pavement; but my second thought was to scoop them up and place them back on the grass. I suspect this is a bit of a throwback to my days as an animal-rights liberal; all Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. I wondered if doing such an act of kindness would be recognized perhaps as a form of “Tsethar”; the Buddhist practice of saving the lives of beings destined to slaughter. Yet as I kept walking, I also wondered if endeavoring to save the earthworms, besides being a misuse of my work day, might also deny them their fate, “the course that life takes.” Perhaps coming overland and potentially dying underfoot or by drying out is the destiny that has been chosen for them, or some of them – as some earthworms may make it safely back underground.

Such are the thoughts of a transpersonal & holistic hunter; a bizarre combination of Earth Mother-psychotherapist and gun-loving hunter (like one of those small town buffet restaurants that serve all-you-can-eat American and Chinese cuisine with a sushi bar).

I greatly enjoy watching hunting shows, especially Winchester Deadly Passion; Melissa Bachman isn’t afraid to show her foibles and to laugh at them with a shrug. Sometimes, however, I’ll see a deer harvest that grips my heart a little, making me feel a tiny bit sad for the deer, even though I’m rooting for the hunter. Such as when the camera catches the expression on a buck’s face just after he’s been shot as he has a moment of confusion before stumbling and falling down. Crazy though it may be, I think perhaps, this is part of what makes me an ethical hunter. I don’t hunt just to prove I have power over other species. On the contrary, I have been bested, a lot, by many creatures; great and small.

Nature is where I most find G-d, and I have deep reverence for creatures of the wild. This past Sunday I took my Labrador Retriever service dog on a long walk through some woods on post (Fort Riley). The woods popped with bright green as the trees and woodland floor bloomed. There were numerous deer tracks along the way, so I hushed my voice to a whisper, pointing them out to my labbie-girl, whose nose was awakened with the smells. At one point I decided to head into the woods, off the path, to follow the deer tracks inward in hopes of finding a shed. I’ve still never found a shed. We came across deer scrapes on the branches low to the ground. I was fascinated as I’d never seen scrapes. We had apparently stumbled into the stomping grounds of a herd, given by the number of hoof prints in the ground.

At one point, Daisy (my SD) and I stopped so I could take some photos, and we heard twigs crunching under foot. We both stopped and turned toward the noise. It was fun to watch my dog respond to the sounds and scents, because I don’t normally take her out in the woods. For a moment I sat on a log and quickly downloaded a deer calling app to my phone, hoping that perhaps I could catch site of the deer I knew was surely out there avoiding us. Alas we did not see a deer; but I marveled at the beauty around me and know that my Daisy enjoyed our woodsy romp as much as I did.

Being in nature wasn’t about hunting in that moment; it was about honoring the sacred. And whether I’m adventuring in the woods, or avoiding live worms covering the sidewalk, I recognize the uniqueness of the natural world. I am in awe of it.

There is something magical about the process of wild creatures Being. I hunt, for food of course, but also because it is the closest I can come to being One with the natural world; not just sitting in a ground blind waiting to harvest a deer (or turkey, as spring turkey season is fast upon us), but studying the movements, sounds, and signs of the wildlife I pursue. Much as my son and daughter-in-law are venturing around the world on their honeymoon, learning and experiencing different cultures; I venture into Nature to explore the cultures of the creatures that reside there.

There is a balance between interfering in the environment, and allowing the natural course of nature. Today I chose not to impose my will upon the ecosystem. I left the earthworms to their fate; for it was not mine to create.