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.

 

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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.

 

My Kansas Lifestyle….

Recently, a new co-worker and I were discussing the benefits of a Kansas lifestyle and what makes the state feel like home to me. Hunting and fishing both came up, of course, as I lauded the virtues of the Flint Hills wooded habitats. To my surprise, my co-worker sat back in her chair, shaking her head. “You hunt? (pause) Really?” I affirmed that I do indeed, and shared my excitement that spring turkey season is about to start. “I took you for an animal rights activist,” my co-worker stated. I inquired if she meant like a PETA member (the radical animal rights group – not people for eating tasty animals). “Yes! Like a PETA member!”

Although I’ve never been a supporter of PETA (and never will), I did have that period in my life when I supported similar organizations; such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. What can I say? I was born in the San Francisco – Bay Area during the hippy era. Ecology was a real thing, and Sugar Bear, the breakfast cereal icon, was leading the way with the Sugar Bear Ecology Club.

My idea of animal rights now entails conservation and ethical hunting. These days I favor organizations like National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. And when it comes to water creatures, I support organizations like Fishing’s Future, Trout Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited.

So in February, when I had the opportunity to take a fishing instructor course, presented by Fishing’s Future and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) I jumped at the chance. The course presented a great opportunity to learn more about Kansas, and to gain some angler knowledge that I hope to one day pass on to youth. As my friend Phil Taunton, an avid outdoorsmen with a passion for connecting folks with nature expounds, there is much healing that comes from getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” At this juncture, I am still awaiting my notification from KDWPT that I’m cleared to begin volunteering as a fishing instructor.

One of the great folks I met at the Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, Fred Masters, is a board member with the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and a Prostaffer for Wounded Warriors United. He arranged an invitation for me to attend the 15th annual Flint Hills Gobblers Spring Turkey Hunting Clinic on March 26 at the Dry Creek Sporting Clays compound in Emporia, Kansas. The event, hosted to bring the joy and skills of turkey hunting to youth, attracted hundreds of young people who were given lessons in clay shooting with a shotgun, how to use a compound bow, how and when to call turkeys, the benefits of hunting in a blind, how to track turkeys, and  the significance of practicing safe hunting. Youth were also given a membership to the NWTF’s Jakes program.

Although I did not participate in some of the activities, I did learn quite a bit about turkeys and tracking, and had the opportunity to shoot at clays; successfully hitting two of the five clays. Due to my disability I tend not to make public displays of my shotgun shooting, but wanted to challenge myself while the occasion was before me. The experience motivated me to find a clay range where I can practice using a shotgun despite my left shoulder. I’ve shot my 20 gauge effectively at a standing paper target… a turkey is a slightly more complex target. For now; I’m delighted to hunt with my crossbow, and am counting the days until I can go out in the blind (six and a wake up) with my Parker Challenger crossbow and harvest my first Jake or Tom. I made sure to take my crossbow to the indoor range this week to re-zero the scope. I’m feeling ready!

Though my long hair may hark back to my holistic California days, and my transpersonal manner as a therapist may suggest I’m a conduit for white light and uplifting energy; once out of the office, this Gal_Vet is a camo wearing, gun toting, arrow shooting huntress (normally I avoid the sexist differentiation between male and female tasks, but here it just seemed to fit). And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) held a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop on Saturday, February 20th at the Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, Kansas. In conjunction with fishing’s future, participants were given basic skill sets and knowledge for introducing children and their families to the sport of fishing.

Instructor certification was held through the KDWPT Angler Education program, and participants successfully completing the three hour course and passing a background check will be able to volunteer to teach fishing and aquatic education.

The workshop, instructed by Kansas Master Instructors and the KDWPT aquatic education coordinator, David Breth, explored fishing basics; types of reels and fishing poles, how to adjust a reel’s drag system, knot tying, safety, and appropriate handling of fish, as well as exploring how to create a curriculum for teaching fishing to youth. Breth educated participants on the condition of fishing in Kansas, reporting Kansas is currently showing a downward trend in number of Kansans fishing, at 12%. The goal of the KDWPT angler education program is to increase awareness and appreciation of Kansas’ angling opportunities and to increase respect for Kansas’ natural heritage.

Present at the workshop was fishing’s future founder, Shane Wilson, who discussed the value of the organization in assisting the KDWPT with meeting its goal. The mission of fishing’s future is to reconnect children to nature, improve child-family bonds, teach environmental stewardship, and increase participation in recreational angling. According to Wilson; the fishing’s future logo, two letter “f’s” that create a fish, represent the belief in “family forever.” According to Breth, with the support of fishing’s future, the KDWPT has been able to grow its workforce from only 17 biologists statewide to 250 certified volunteers who contributed 3,600 volunteer hours in 2014 at 170 different events.

Over 60 participants from around Kansas attended the instructor workshop. Many organizations had representatives at the event, including Friends of the Kaw,  Flint Hills Bass Club of Topeka, Kansas Wildscape, Newton Parks and Recreation, Kansas Wildlife Federation, the state coordinator of fishing’s future Chapters of Kansas, and three organizations representing disabled veterans; Heroes on the Water, Wounded Warriors United, and Patriot Outdoor Adventures.

To learn more about fishing opportunities in the state of Kansas, visit the KDWPT website: http://ksoutdoors.com/Fishing.

 

Valentine’s Day; A Love Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentines2016

Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding

Recently I joined Whitetails Unlimited as a Lifetime Member (for which I have two payments to go) and then purchased a ticket to their Capital City Deer Camp for January 23rd. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet some other hunters and maybe make some connections, or dare I say – friends. The Kansas Monster Buck Classic was the same weekend, so I thought I’d peruse the Monster Buck Classic and then head on over to the Deer Camp.

Sadly, I received a message that the Whitetails Unlimited event was canceled as not enough tickets were sold; so I had decided I probably wouldn’t drive the hour to Topeka for the Monster Buck Classic either. But a friend of mine, whom I used to work with, said she had a friend from school who was at the MBC and she thought he and I should meet. Since my initial goal was to make connections and possibly build friendships I opted to make the drive. My service dog, Daisy, and I had gone last year and Daisy had been spooked by the sound of firearms at the event (competitions and games), so I packed extra treats to keep her mind focused on me.

After a couple of hours of walking around the event, perusing vendors, chatting with folks, introducing Daisy to many wonderful scents, and spending money, I was able to meet up with the friend of my friend, Phil Taunton.

Phil is a passionate outdoorsman, yet a very soft-spoken guy. Retired from his railroad job he now spends all of his time empowering people to get outside; especially children who, in this modern age of technology, have given up the tire swing and fishing pole for video games. Phil was at the Monster Buck Classic educating young folks and their parents about the joys of fishing and introducing people to the healing effects of getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” Through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) Phil will be one of several instructors on February 20th presenting a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, which certifies participants to become instructors in the hope that adults will pass on the joys of fishing to youth. One of the activities Phil participated in at the Monster Buck Classic was an educational fishing booth where young people could practice their casting with a pole that had a small plastic fish on the end where a hook would be. Then while reeling in, the fishermen (boys and girls) would endeavor to get the little fish into bigger plastic fish, of various colors, on the floor. Once reeled in, the bigger fish had a picture and description of one of the species of fish found in Kansas. The children appeared to have great fun, and each successful catch was rewarded with a Frisbee!

Phil and I chatted for about an hour; about fishing, quality outdoor experiences, the love of canines, and how time spent in nature just might be the glue needed to bond families together. He shared with me his belief that being outside can be spiritual, and healing to our insides, hence the motto, “Outside for a Better Inside.” Phil also shared his affection for veterans and his belief that getting in nature may also help combat veterans release some of the inner demons causing them so much heartache. To that end, Phil walked me around the event introducing me to people and connecting us together, and sitting me down with a veteran from Wounded Warriors United so we too would connect in our mission to help folks heal. As Phil and I chatted, it also came up that I write about my hunting and outdoor exploits, and he invited me to join the Outdoor Writers of Kansas, an organization with its own mission to send underprivileged children to Outdoors Adventure Camp.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip to the Monster Buck Classic this year. I was delighted to meet Phil and spend so much time walking around with him, meeting other like-minded folks. And I learned that there is far more happening in Kansas than what has been on my radar! Along with Wounded Warriors United which was founded for combat wounded and combat veterans with the mission, in part, of increasing public awareness of the effects of the outdoors on the mental and physical disabilities of wounded warriors (and then engaging veterans in outdoor activities), I also connected with a group called Vets4Vets (Veterans 4 Veterans) which also has the mission of engaging veterans in out-door activities.

Something tells me my little corner of Kansas is about to get much larger!

Links to the organizations listed, and those I connected with thanks to Phil Taunton:

http://www.fishingsfuture.org (and to register for the Instructor Workshop – fishingsfuture.org/node/459/register)

http://www.kswildlife.org

http://outsideforabetterinside.org/

http://www.outdoorwritersofkansas.com/

http://www.woundedwarriorsunited.com/

www.hodgeman.ksu.edu

https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures

Fishings Future is also hosting a Youth CPR Fishing Contest June 01 2016 – August 6, 2016. CPR stands for “Catch, Photo, Release.” To get more information, visit www.fishingsfuture.org or find and like them on Facebook.

First-ever Squirrel Hunt

Today was the last day to hunt deer during extended rifle season for my unit here in Kansas. I gave it the old college try; morning and afternoon on January 1st, morning hunting on the 2nd, and morning hunting today. I returned to the upper area blind this morning, having seen deer in the area mid-morning on my game camera. Alas, none showed up for me today; but I was prepared, on the off-chance no deer showed up (hint of facetiousness in that off-chance comment), I brought my Mossberg .22 rifle with me for squirrel hunting.

Yesterday afternoon I laid down some corn near the feeder, primarily in hopes it would lure a doe, but also knowing that the squirrels in the upper area have gotten fat from eating the deer corn I’ve placed in the feeder since late Spring. True to their hungry little natures, they found their way to the deer corn this morning, along with blue jays and an assortment of other fine feathered critters.

My Mossberg does not have a scope on it. When I’ve shot it at the range I’ve always done well using just the front and rear sights, so surmised I’d be just as accurate targeting squirrels. After 2.5 hours of idle sitting in the blind waiting for a deer opportunity, I decided it was time to rest the Browning and set the Mossberg upon my bipod. Carefully I took aim and squeezed the trigger. The squirrel in my sights remained sitting as if still eating corn while the other squirrels and all the birds took off for cover. So I took a second shot.

The squirrel turned and began to run away, but clearly in a manner that indicated she’d been hit. I endeavored to follow after her, but she lost me, and my initial efforts to find her were unsuccessful as there was no blood trail. My heart sank and I felt really sad, and guilty, thinking that I’d injured a creature. In my mind I imagined that I’d perhaps just shot her foot. The squirrel’s ability to run and hide left me sure I’d only wounded her.

I packed up my belongings and walked to my most recent hunting spot along the berm, hoping that maybe a doe would engage in late morning movement. My plan was to remain no longer than 45 minutes, as I’d already been out for three hours and wanted to get back home to take my dog outside. The area remained calm, so at 1230 I left, making every effort to make peace with the knowledge I would have no more deer hunting for nine months. After unloading my Browning rifle in my truck, I decided to return to the upper hunting area and do another search for the squirrel. Ethical hunting is something I strongly believe in, and I did not want to be someone who shot a squirrel and then walked away.

On my second search, I went a bit farther into the woods and took a slightly different path. Low and behold I found a small blood trail at the base of a tree. It was hard for me to believe that the squirrel somehow managed to climb up the tree, but I didn’t see any blood trail leading away from it. Something caught my eye to my right; a dinner plate-sized piece of wood with some red on it. When I moved over closer to investigate, I saw the squirrel under a fallen tree. My shot had been fatal, which I thought was a good thing, in lieu of my earlier opinion that I’d only wounded the squirrel.

Back at my truck, I field dressed and processed the squirrel, managing to keep the hide intact (which I now have drying for preservation). Tonight’s dinner consisted of baked squirrel, which I placed partially covered with unsalted chicken broth, and accompanied with sweet onion, pear, parsley and bok choy. The recipe I’d found online called for celery but the store was out. Bok choy has a similar consistency to celery but added a much stronger flavor that I probably wouldn’t add again. I also seasoned the squirrel with fresh ground garlic, ground pepper, and some sage. Salt is not an option as I’m making the switch to a Paleo lifestyle. I’ve been told that squirrel meat is tough and needs to be slow cooked, or deep fried. I found it fairly moist and acceptably chewy being baked for 45 minutes with the broth to keep it basted.

Although somewhat gamy tasting, the cooked squirrel made my apartment smell wonderful, and I enjoyed ingesting the fruits of my labor. Only hunters and fishermen can claim to harvest a critter during the day, prepare it, cook it, and eat it that evening.

Unable to harvest a second deer and fulfill that goal, I did manage to fulfill my goal of harvesting and preparing a squirrel. And I was able to maintain my code of ethical hunting, while also providing myself a protein source considered lean, healthy, and appropriate for the Paleo Diet.

Deer hunting may be over, but there are plenty of other critters appropriate for a healthy, home-cooked meal.

New Year’s Hunting

Today is the first day of 2016. I had hoped to kiss the old year goodbye by harvesting a deer yesterday, but no such luck (I don’t normally ascribe to the concept of “luck” but when it comes to deer hunting, I believe there’s some luck involved – good or bad ). I then shifted to what a great omen it would be for the New Year if I harvested a deer today.

My expectation was that it would be quiet, with most hunters sleeping-in to compensate for a night of frivolity and alcohol. For the most part that seemed true, except for someone to my north who was either unloading at birds or chose 0800 to target practice (or shoot at coyotes)… and those soldiers on Fort Riley, off in the distance on a field training exercise (FTX).

I arrived at 0645. The morning was still and quiet, save for my footfall as I made my way to my hunting spot atop snow, ice, and frozen tallgrass. But once seated; there was nothing but silence. No wind. Even the chill was calm (there’s a brief period of time in the early morning when 17 degrees doesn’t feel cold, as the morning seems completely motionless). As sunrise approached, one and then a symphony of birds began singing, as if on cue. The scent of the prairie changed, and then the wind picked up (albeit minimally), and the temperature dropped – feeling every bit 17 degrees. It was barely 0800 when I heard the gunfire in the distance, and the sound of artillery.

Before I move forward in my story; I want to first explore the smells of Kansas. Perhaps it’s a change of wind direction, or a temperature shift, but throughout my hunts, especially in the morning, I notice distinct shifts in the scents around me. I always hope that an earthier smell is an indication that deer are approaching, but honestly I have not figured out what the changes mean or why they happen. It’s a phenomenon, however, that I don’t recall experiencing anywhere else; which may be due to not hunting prior to 2014. To feel the subtle shifts in temperature and discern the changes in scent, I think one needs to be stationary out in nature for a significant period of time; something most people just don’t do. For me, experiencing the shifts is part of my developing intimacy with Kansas.

Now as for this morning’s hunt; I heard gentle steps around 0815 or so, and looked to my right. Approaching me along the berm, coming from the woods, were two coyotes. The lead coyote was within about 10-12 yards of me. We made eye contact, and I swung my rifle over and held it aimed at the coyote in case s/he demonstrated ill intent. I doubt he knew what the rifle was, but he did understand I had claimed my spot and wasn’t moving from it. After a short time, but what seemed like minutes, the coyote seemed to realize he couldn’t ease on past me and would have to find a different path. Both coyotes turned around and headed back into the woods. I didn’t sense any aggression in either of them, at that moment, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

My thought afterward was that I likely would not see any deer, as the coyotes had probably scared them off. But about 0830 my Spidey sense tingled and I looked behind me in the field and saw a beautiful buck walking toward me. Although he was easily 70 or more yards away, he saw me. I’ve read somewhere that it’s a misconception that deer are color-blind (just as it is with dogs) and that they do see some color and shades, to include orange. In any event; he was not spooked by me, but paused to contemplate, and then decided to change course and walk across the field headed east. A minute later, a lovely doe followed him. What a blessing to see such beautiful creatures this morning, and I felt good knowing the buck had survived this hunting season and would be in-play next deer season.

My hope was that the deer’s presence was an indicator that movement was happening and I might be graced with some does to choose from this morning. Well, as luck would have it; a herd of about four does showed up, however not in front of me coming from the funnel, but up on the berm. The lead doe walked toward me, pausing from time to time. My mind raced as I remembered last extended rifle season when I was unable to get a shot off; I had placed myself precariously in some branches and scrub, and when I saw three does walking out of the woods to my right, I was unable to readjust to take a shot. With the herd walking straight toward me, on the same path the coyotes had been earlier, I knew I was doomed to be an observer, because any attempt I made to move caused the lead doe to stop and watch me. She got within 15 yards, give or take, and eventually I moved in such a way that she and her herd ran back into the woods, with the lead doe screaming her warning!

I suppose the benefit to a tree stand is the ability to shift positions for deer coming from any direction. As a ground hunter, and not in a blind, I have to choose a direction to hunt and hope the deer are compliant with my plans; such as the herd I encountered on December 5th when I harvested my first doe of the season. I waited until 1000 before calling it quits for the morning. The temperature with the wind-chill was bitter cold and penetrated my boots and two pair of socks. My toes hurt like crazy and I was concerned that any further exposure might do irreparable harm to my phalanges, toes and fingers, as I’d dropped my right glove somewhere and had only a left glove and a fingerless glove on each hand. Temperature-wise, I was ready to leave by 0900, but forced myself to stay until 1000 on the off-chance the herd doubled back and decided to take the lower path where I was aiming. In my head I heard Eva Shockey telling the Fox News interviewer that sometimes you really want to stop hunting in the moment but have to make yourself stay. And that’s what I did, as long as I could, but I was also cognizant that I was being impacted by the cold, and I didn’t want to be the next new story about being injured (or worse) on a hunt. Its times like this, though, when I question how I ever thought I could live in Alaska, where a Kansas winter looks warm in comparison!

Prior to my deer encounters this morning I had been praying, really fervently, asking for some deer. I’m pretty sure I specified wanting a doe to harvest, but perhaps I was weak in that portion of my prayer. I was certainly blessed with multiple deer and multiple sightings; just none I could do anything about ethically. Part of me wants to return this afternoon; but I realize that it’s not ideal to hunt the same spot all the time, and since the herd of does ran off screaming, they will not likely return today.

Yesterday I picked up my processed deer and placed the meat in my freezer. There was at least 45 pounds, probably 50, but a second harvest would insure that I have enough free-range, healthy meat for my new Paleo lifestyle. However, I also recognize that I am blessed to have gotten even one deer; and if the best I can say for the New Year is that I had deer and coyote encounters, that’s still pretty sweet.

Fortunately, there are still two more days left for my unit’s extended rifle season… and tomorrow is a new day.

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First Harvest of the Season: Finally

It’s 05 December 2015 and we’re half way through the two week rifle season for deer here in Kansas. And this morning I harvested my first deer of the year. It only took me about 105 hours of hunting to do it….

It was about time, I have to say, because my lack of a deer harvest had begun to cause me anxiety! And I had become obsessed; which anyone who hunts would agree is a natural state. In all seriousness, I have been waking from sleep to thoughts of hunting, dreaming of hunting, and I awoke in the middle of the night last night to a dream that a doe was running toward me. I scrambled to find my hunting gear only to awaken from the dream realizing I couldn’t find it because I was dreaming, yet upon awakening my heart was beating out of my chest! Given the dream, it came as no surprise to me that I harvested a doe this morning.

Although the doe was not running toward me, and in fact was clueless to my presence 25 yards from her, I did end up scrambling to sight in on her. You see, as with so many times before, I was looking down at my phone. Rather than being on Instagram, however, I was texting my massage therapist for an appointment. When I am not intently reconnoitering the area with my eyes, the deer show up. Recently I watched a television show or movie in which someone told the main character that if she really wants to find something, she has to stop looking for it, and it will show up. The “message” came after a day of hunting and I took it to heart. What I found is that the message rings true. When I stare my eyes out of my head searching for a deer, none show up. Once I relax and stop trying so hard, I have deer encounters. Such as with Threeper the buckling, back in November.

The doe I harvested this morning at 0900 wasn’t the first deer I saw today. At about 0800, while facing toward a field the deer are purported to enter the berm from, I happened to look over my right shoulder to see a buck on the other side of the berm, running away. I couldn’t spin around fast enough, given his quickened gait, but it gave me the impetus to seek out a different placement upon the berm; one in which I could still see the field and corridor atop the berm that the deer use, but also gave me a direct shot into the other side of the berm, where the deer travel and live.

I remember praying and asking for a blessing this morning; as the wind was blowing 15-25 MPH creating a wind-chill that was cutting through my body like a knife. I really wanted to retreat, but knew that I had to stick it out, sensing I would get a deer finally, and knowing if I left the hunt this morning, I’d feel the need to return this afternoon. There I was about to text my massage therapist about an appointment when I had the sense to look up. I call it my “Spidey sense.” I saw the doe…. My rifle was already resting on my bi-pod with the safety off. I let my phone drop to the tall-grass, and I set my scope cross-hairs at the doe’s kill zone. Oddly she was in a herd of does, but at the time I didn’t see any of them but her. I had tunnel vision. I aimed and I squeezed the trigger. It was my first deer with my Browning Medallion rifle, a beautiful bolt-action .270 that my step-father had gifted me years ago in hopes that I would hunt with it.

In an instant, I heard the crack of the rifle firing the round. The shot rang in my right ear for about 10 seconds. The doe bolted into the woods and up a hill covered in trees and brambles, running with the other does in her herd. That was the first time I realized there were other deer; about four others. I grabbed my backpack, with my knives, camera, and baggies for the heart & liver and headed for the blood trail. My shot was a kill shot, hitting the top of her heart, but her adrenaline must have been pumping in overdrive, because she made it to the top of the wooded hill, just before the Kansas River, leaving one heck of a blood trail on trees, limbs, and leaves as she ran.

My friend, John, on whose property I hunt, was also on the berm, in his blind, about 25 yards to my left. He knew his hunt was officially over at the sound of my rifle and together we followed the blood trail to the top of the hill. As he returned to his blind for his chest saw and such, I field dressed the doe. I had done much of the field dressing last year, on my first-ever deer, but this year I did the whole messy thing myself. I was, and am, very proud of myself for doing a thorough job, and keeping the stomach and bladder intact while removing the guts. I harvested the liver, and the heart which had only been hit at the top, and when I am finished with this essay shortly will make my dinner of fresh venison liver and eggs. My stomach says I had better hurry. The thing about hunting for me, is that I don’t eat or drink. I had one egg at 0600 this morning and nothing since but a latte from Starbucks. It’s almost 13 hours later….

My goal is to harvest two more deer, and I bought a second antlerless tag this afternoon at Walmart. Of course, I know all too well that deer follow their own schedule and do not care about mine. But as the morning in this particular hunt location appears to be productive, I will return tomorrow morning in hopes of making it two deer in two days. I also have next weekend available to me before the rifle season ends until the extended season starts in January.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as having said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” That was my motto when I began hunting last year, and remains true for me today. Although it has taken over 100 hours of actual hunting time to finally harvest my first deer this year, it has been 100 hours of exciting deer encounters, squawking turkeys, adorable prairie quail, and sundry other critter meetings. Hunting has become far more than something I do; it has become an integral part of who I am… and who I hope to remain for the rest of my life.

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