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….

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Ending 2016 with a hunt and a prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.