Healing Through Hunting: Vets4Vets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Imagining Autumn

Autumn is my favorite season; so when I saw the reported temperature this morning on my weather app, and felt the coolness taking my labbie-girl outside for her morning relief, I shut off the air conditioner and opened up the windows and sliding glass door. Allergies not withstanding (they are worse each year about this time) I even took my service dog for a walk along the Junction City wetlands.

We did those kind of things that one does on a Saturday; errands, truck washing, laundry, studying my online business management course, ending the afternoon with a nice steak dinner and a Redbox movie (Mother’s Day). Yet, as the sun began to set and the temperature cooled down further, I felt the calling to go out; to be outside where the pre-autumn breeze would gently caress my skin.

Needing an excuse to drive, I texted my hunting buddy, John, and asked if he was home, to which he replied affirmatively. Unbeknownst to him, I was about to deliver his birthday beer to him, which had been chilling in my refrigerator since I was unable to connect with John on his birthday last weekend.

Daisy, my ever-faithful service dog, and I trotted down the stairs and out to the truck where I rolled the windows down and cranked the music up (I have recently discovered the Christian rock group Skillet, and made a CD of their music via Amazon.com’s a la carte music feature). Just as I imagined it would, the cool breeze blew over my arms and across my face, almost like a panacea. It was a taste of heaven.

Aside from the diversity of colors during autumn, there is something spiritual to me about the season; the early morning frosts, the nippy temperatures that beckon the use of hoodies and flannel shirts, the decreased humidity that adds a crisp punctuation to the atmosphere, and of course, now that I’m a hunter, the deer.

Driving the few short miles to John’s place tonight I had the sense of all of that. Turning on to the dirt road that winds itself past the Army air field and the old race track along the woods to John’s house I turned my music down, so as not to scare any deer that may be around, and I drove slowly, as much to minimize the dust on my freshly washed truck as to attempt to see some wildlife. And there to my left, up on the berm that separates the military installation from private property was a buck. He just stood there, majestically, watching as I drove by, as if to herald in the season. I get goose bumps just remembering….

The only other wild things I saw this evening at my friend’s place were fire flies, or as some refer to them – lightening bugs. Yet I knew, in the shadows of the woods, white-tailed deer abound. Of course I know there is still another month before the autumnal equinox, and plenty of opportunities for temperatures to sore back into the summer range… and still 23 days before the start of archery season for deer.

Yet every autumn moment I experience, albeit in summer, is a welcome reminder that the autumn season is closing in, and with it comes the ineffable joy of deer hunting.

Pre-Hunt Season: Gaining Knowledge & Gear

Forty-three days and a wake-up. That is how long I have to wait for opening day of archery deer season, which I have taken off of work, in order to spend some quality time in one of my three blinds; just G-d, nature, me, and hopefully some deer. I feel positive that this year is my year for finally harvesting a buck. After my epic fail with Threeper, the buckling last year, I won’t be so aesthetically choosy.

Yet, even with over a month of wait time, there are still tasks to accomplish in preparation. Today I am scent-free washing the camo slacks and top I wore during spring turkey season, along with some accoutrements such as face masks, my backpack, and gloves. Granted, turkey season ended a while ago; but I had hung my clothes up over the shower rod to make sure any and all ticks died away before I handled the clothes again. I loathe ticks. Unfortunately; here in Kansas, they seem to love me. Just yesterday I was out in the woods checking my Moultrie game cameras, wearing long sleeves, long pants, long socks, long gloves and having sprayed my clothes down with Deep Woods Off, with DEET, to minimize tick encounters. Despite all of that, I felt an uncomfortable tickle on my stomach just below my bra. Lifting my shirt up, for the world to see (had the world been on the dirt road with me), revealed a big tick seeking a bosom to nourish from…. I quickly dispatched his nastiness back into the woods, away from me!

This morning, while enjoying a breakfast of brown eggs and store-bought salmon, I watched an episode of North Woods Law (I love that show). It highlighted a threesome of siblings heading out on a turkey hunt and mentioned the safety fact that one should not wear red during hunting season. That reminded me that until I had recently taken the turkey hunting clinic, sponsored by the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, I did not know that important bit of information. Not that I can imagine myself choosing red as a good camouflage color for hunting, but it is valuable information to have for, say, checking game cameras during spring turkey season. My prior thought would have been that red, like orange, would identify me to any hunters in the area. Not having had any real knowledge about a male turkey’s anatomy, however, I would not have considered that red might identify me to a hunter as a turkey’s caruncle.

Upon further reflection this morning, I realized there are a lot of important facts about hunting that late-bloomer hunters like me may not know. I suppose if I read every page of every hunting magazine I have collected over the years I may have far more information than I do. But you just don’t know what you don’t know; and hands-on learning, for me anyway, provides a higher level of retention than simply reading magazines.

For instance; field dressing a deer, turkey, or even a squirrel cannot be sufficiently explained in written word. For me, even videos, which I find more helpful than articles on the subject, are not as thorough as the act of field dressing. I have certainly picked up pointers through visual and auditory learning (reading is actually considered auditory because we tend to hear the words in our head as we read them); but nothing has “learned me some skills” like standing at the tailgate of my truck (or kneeling on the ground for a deer), knife in hand, with a creature carcass before me.

The same holds true for calling in game. I have read many articles and followed the guidelines step by step for setting up mock scrapes, calling in animals, using rattles and box calls; and yet sometimes some things work and sometimes not. Trial and error have been the best educators in my hands-on hunt school. For instance, in the episode of North Woods Law that I watched this morning; the hunting siblings described how spring turkey hunting requires being up before dawn and in the blind prior to the turkeys having the potential to spy the hunter. Yet my only experience with successful turkey harvesting has been during the day. My autumn hen was harvested in the afternoon as she and her flock passed through my hunting area, and I wasn’t even hunting turkey, I was hunting deer. My Tom happened to be hanging out 30-40 yards from my blind one evening, and failed to leave the area when I walked in and sat down in my blind. Granted, it took an hour to call him in, but he was already there. And I had chosen to hunt on a whim after work. The sagest statement I heard at the turkey hunting clinic was, “Turkeys will do what turkeys do.” In other words, like any other animals I’ve hunted, turkeys aren’t reading the magazines and manuals; they are doing whatever they want, unpredictably.

Yesterday as I approached the opening to the woods where my deep-woods blind is located, I saw the local flock of hens passing in front of my game camera. They were on the move, having likely heard my truck door close, but I chose not to enter the area so I could watch them instead. Had I been hunting, my harvest would have been at about 9:00 a.m. Hunters whom I work with, who have been hunting far longer than I, have shared their belief that it’s too hot out currently for deer to be moving about during the day. Yet my game cameras show them in the mid-morning, noon, and early evening, as well as under cover of darkness. When I hunt on September 12th, I hope the deer continue to follow the trails past my blind, regardless of the temperature (although I will be seated in my blind before dawn, just in case).

Next weekend I will be driving the two-hour trek to Cabela’s in Kansas City to get some gear and such. To be honest I already have what I need, more than what I need. But I love a sale, and my philosophy regarding hunting gear is to buy it after the season ends, or during pre-season sales, just in case I don’t like what I bought, or am trying something new. Today at Walmart, I found the sale section for spring turkey gear, calls and such, so bought a package of mouth calls from Mossy Oak; Turkey Thugs – The Teacher. It comes with two mouth pieces and a mini DVD to teach calling. I suck at using mouth calls, but I really want to learn to use them. I would not have paid full price for this training aid, but $5 was a great deal; especially if it works and I’m able to learn how to call.

Kansas deer tags are not yet for sale, but once they are I’ll be first in line to buy mine. I liken the pre-season as being like the month or two leading up to Christmas. The excitement builds as the preparation commences. Unlike Christmas, however, which culminates in one grand day, hunting season keeps on for weeks, sometimes months (like deer season), and you never know when the gift is arriving.

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On Becoming a Kansan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing for Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Kansas Lifestyle; Living American Ideals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Earth Day 2016: My Kansas Tribute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Turkey 2016: A Hunt to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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