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.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

Hunting: I Can Truly Be Me Until Monday

Headed out to the Cabelas in Kansas City this morning, the country station I’d tuned into played the Steve Azar song, I Don’t Have To Be Me (‘Til Monday). As I sang along it occurred to me the lyrics are all wrong from my perspective; I can totally be me until Monday.

The “me” I’m referring to is the outdoor loving, hunting & fishing, camo and flannel wearing (not at the same time) me. When I’m out in the blind, or in the woods, as well as beside a lake, I am my true self. Granted, the tools of being a psychotherapist are also deeply ingrained in my persona at this point, so even on a hunt I am self-assessing.

Take for instance my hunt yesterday morning. Sitting in my blind by the pond, I had looked down for a moment (okay I’ll admit it; there was nothing happening so I checked my Instagram account – @gal_huntermidlife). When I looked back up, a young buck had walked into the clearing and was standing 10 yards in front of me, with his side showing, as if to say, “Shoot me already!”. At first I thought it was a doe and I turned on my Midland video camera, attached to my crossbow, and aimed. I needed only take the safety off and squeeze the trigger. But then I saw his rack…. I suppose at one time he was a four-point buck, but his left antler was broken leaving him only three points total. He was otherwise healthy looking, and would have still had fairly tender meat. But because I’d taken my head out of the game for long enough to check Instagram and see photos other hunters had posted of their full-racked bucks, I returned to the present moment with my head in the wrong game; instead of being focused on the fact I hunt for food, I was focused on the trophy atop his head. I told myself to let him pass, because he was young and needed time to grow. When no other deer manifested, I started to berate myself and assess my real motives.

That’s when I realized I had let the buck pass mainly because of my big ego and his little rack, not because I am really all that compassionate about the “buckling,” as a friend of mine called him. Last year I was that compassionate. This year I have a goal to harvest three deer so I can successfully switch to a Paleo lifestyle. Harvesting him would have placed me 1/3 of the way closer to my goal.

I’ve come to learn, however, that part of my process with hunting is getting to better understand myself. I’ve spent all my time hunting this year, through yesterday morning, in my blind; sitting like a princess waiting for deer to come at my beck and call. Yet I’ve wanted to learn to hunt like the folks in the magazines I read; stalking the deer through forests and mountains, rather than sitting politely by and waiting for them to arrive. So yesterday afternoon I headed into the woods, just below the natural berm on my friend’s property.

I spent 30 minutes trying to decide where to take cover; at first trying to sit comfortably on my camo tree stand seat, until I finally realized I would have to just kneel in the tall grass behind a berry bush. I had a view of several paths the deer take, and low and behold 30 minutes before sundown I heard feet walking along the berm. I positioned myself and saw an 8-10 point buck heading toward my location! He got within 10-15 yards of me, but got spooked when I used my deer call. I was given hope though, that all was not lost after my epic fail in the morning with the 3-pointer.

Once back from Cabelas this afternoon I showered and changed, and headed right back out into the woods. At almost the same time as yesterday afternoon, I heard a buck snort. I got poised and ready… but he never left the other side of the berm, where there is a clearing the deer call home. I waited until it was almost the end of the hunt time and got up to collect one of the key-wicks I’d doused in doe estrus and hung in a tree. I heard movement in the tall grass on the hill leading up to the other side of the berm. I inched myself up beside the evergreen with my crossbow at the ready. I followed the footfall of the deer with my crossbow until a beautiful buck head rose over the berm. I froze, with his head sighted in my scope. He stomped the ground with a hoof. He snorted at me, but I remained as still as I could. Content I was not a threat, he began his ascent up the hill and along the top of the berm. As I was trying to get a fix on his side he heard me move and ran off! I waited, in case he came back up, but he took a different path to my side of the berm, bleating his warning as he ran into the woods.

It was the most exciting moment in hunting I’ve ever had! Our faces were five yards or less apart before he began to walk away. And though I was unable to take a shot, I experienced a true thrill with the hunt. It made me think of a combat exercise, albeit one in which I am the enemy. I crouched in waiting, tracking his movement and preparing for the chance to strike. My heart was pounding in my chest and I had to purposefully steady my breathing. And I realized… this type of hunting is far more fun than sitting in a blind like a camouflaged princess!

Although it truly would have been nice to have already harvested one deer, my lesson in not taking the 3-pointer was worth it. Because I did not harvest the “buckling” I stepped outside of my comfort zone and went into the woods to hunt. And I had a close encounter both afternoons with a gorgeous buck. I also experienced hunting as something exciting and genuinely more skillful than waiting for a deer to present before my blind; although I had many misses last year, so I know that shooting with a crossbow still takes skill.

Tomorrow morning I will return to the woods to actively hunt, using my camouflage and hiding technique to work on my stealth skills, all the while embracing who I really am.

Hunting in the woods....

Hunting in the woods….

Preparation & Anticipation: 2015 Autumn Deer Hunting Season

As much as I’ve been looking forward to the new autumn deer season, I was endeavoring to pretend that I wasn’t, because it would mean my son had already deployed; but now that he has, and the anxiety around seeing him go is subdued, I am in full preparation and anticipation mode.

This year I’m going to be exploring tools for stacking the odds in my favor for a buck… I’m going to make mock scrapes. I’ve never done them before, this is only my second deer season, and quite honestly was not even familiar with them until I started actually reading some of the wonderful hunting magazines I subscribe to (it’s amazing how much can be learned by actually opening the magazine up and reading the articles). I’ve been busy buying scrape drippers, scrape scents, masking scents, and watching videos on the process. Recently I purchased, and read, a brochure on mock scrapes published by Wildlife Research Center, so I’m going to be using their products mainly, such as Golden Scrape, Golden Estrus and Red Fox Urine.

My arsenal also includes a second Ameristep blind, and a second Moultrie game camera. My first blind and camera have been on the upper portion of my friend’s land, where I hunted turkey this spring. Several weeks ago my friend, John, and I raised the second blind on the lower portion of his property, near the pond, in the exact location I hunted last year. Only this year I won’t be sitting on a stool by a tree watching deer watch me like I’m some Chernobyl tree. Today I placed my second game camera out at that location to keep track of the deer using the pond as their drinking hole. Next weekend is when I will likely put up my mock scrapes, to provide enough time for the bucks to re-pattern their nocturnal movements to daytime (hopefully).

I’ve already practiced at the range with my Browning 270 Medallion, the beautiful bolt action I used last rifle season, to no avail as I couldn’t get the shot the only time I saw deer. My plan is to begin hunting with my Parker Challenger crossbow the first week archery season starts, and use my rifle the weekend of pre-rut antlerless hunting. I would truly likely to bypass hunting during rifle season because there are so many hunters on Fort Riley, many hunting with rifles in archery only areas scaring the deer away; and it was really freaking cold. If I can avoid hunting in below zero temperatures I’ll be content, but I have to get my two deer first; an archery buck, and a rifle pre-rut doe. To use a John Steinbeck sentiment: The best laid plans of mice and men….

I’m really excited about truly challenging myself, and reaching beyond my disabilities and physical limitations; so today I drove with my dutiful, beautiful service dog two hours to Cabelas in Kansas City and purchased a compound bow. I shot one several times, years ago, and really enjoyed it, and that was the initial reason I bought my Knight and Hale Steady Ready stick. Now that I have a bipod support for my crossbow and rifle, I can use the Steady Ready to support my left arm when I use my Diamond Infinite Edge by Bowtech. My plan is to practice with it, and build my strength up, so that next year I can hunt with my compound bow. It won’t be as attractive as when abled folks use a bow, but if I can hit the target than I don’t really care how perty I look doing it.

The compound bow is a challenge I feel I must take, to demonstrate to myself and the world that 53 (I’ve recently had a birthday) isn’t old and physical disabilities are surmountable. In that same vein; I am scheduled for a motorcycle rider’s course the weekend before deer season starts, as I’ve wanted to ride a motorcycle for most of my life (having fallen in love with the concept while sitting behind my father on his motor scooter as a child). The motorcycle may prove more challenging than I can handle, but I’ll never know if I don’t try… and since moving to Kansas and finally taking on hunting, I am loathe to allow fear to dictate to me what I can and cannot do anymore.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Preparing for mock scrapes....

Preparing for mock scrapes….

Preparing for Deer Season

Less than two months until deer season opens for archery in the great state of Kansas. This summer has provided strange weather systems with a week here and there of unseasonably cool temps with thunderstorms and flooding, and typical hot and humid days that make me long for winter. Today is the end of the weekend, with rain showers and clouds this morning and a combination of heat and humidity this afternoon that make it feel six degrees hotter than it really is. And thanks to the extra rain this season, which we really needed, the mosquitoes have propagated like the wild fire in California.

Between the heat, humidity and mosquitoes I prefer to remain home-bound, where my air conditioner keeps me relatively comfortable. Staying indoors works out well, theoretically, because I have an online course to complete in PTSD, plus myriad books I’ve started, and hunting magazines piling up. Yet… I have not touched my PTSD course this weekend, already obsessed with hunting season. In my defense, my work as a clinical supervisor and substance abuse counselor for soldiers is quite anxiety producing, as is my son’s upcoming deployment, and the hastening destruction of this Country that I love. Makes a gal just want to shut down for a while.

Preparing for the upcoming hunt season, however, has not escaped me. Friday, my service dog and I drove two hours to Cabelas in Kansas City, Kansas in order to do some shopping. A friend and co-worker in the ASAP (Army Substance Abuse Program) gave me an event invitation to Cabelas for this weekend to shop with employee discount savings. My SD and I managed to spend three hours in the store, including a lovely lunch of smoked elk sandwich, in order to make the four-hour roundtrip drive worth it. My chiropractor, a hunter, had suggested I get a Thermacell mosquito repellant for the warmer autumn days at the beginning of the season. I also bought some vanity items, like a Cabelas t-shirt in tan and burnt orange with a buck on the back, and a burnt orange Cabelas ball cap to match.

One of my super finds at Cabelas, in the bargain shop, was a booklet published by Wildlife Research Center. The Hunting Scent Book is really a meaty advertisement for the various scenting products that WRC sells; but I have found it most informative, as I’ve used scenting products without an actual understanding of when, why, and where. So far, I have found the section on mock scrapes the most informative because of the potential value of the mock scrape as a tool. Prior to this weekend, I’d never even heard the term.

My desire to utilize the mock scrape led me to Walmart first thing this morning to shop for a scraping device (as shown on one of several You Tube videos I watched in bed last night) and scents. Apparently it’s too early in summer yet for Walmart to have anything besides clothes in the hunting department; although a new pallet of deer corn had been placed out… so I bought two large bags. Off I went to Orscheln’s farm store to see if they had scents out yet. Their products had not yet been unpacked, but I did still manage to buy a few items that may be handy at some point (that’s why I converted a wooden Army ammo box into a storage container for hunting accessories). Once home, I went online to Bass Pro Shops and ordered scent products, which I’ll pick up in-store on my upcoming trip to Florida for my son’s deployment ceremony.

The calendar in my mobile phone has already been set to notify me as opening day for deer-archery approaches, as well as to remind me of the weekend of pre-rut antlerless rifle hunting, and when autumn turkey season begins. I’m not really sure how the hunters of yesteryear managed without the myriad aids and tools that I seem to be accumulating. And then there’s the hunting attire, which used to be slacks and a blazer or coveralls and work boots. While endeavoring to purchase on a budget, I have acquired SHE apparel hunting pants, scent control long sleeve t-shirt and button-up long sleeve shirt, my camo winter coat purchased last year at Walmart, various camo shirts, and moisture wicking long johns for cold weather hunting, plus various face masks, hunting caps, and three different types of face paint. I’m not sure what type of tree I’m aspiring to be, but it’s all more kosher to the Flint Hills environ than my BDU pants are (although I managed to bag my doe last year while wearing my BDU Army pants). My bathroom cupboard has three packages of different types of scent eliminating dryer sheets, two jugs of scent eliminating laundry detergent, bar soap, liquid body soap/shampoo, and deodorant and foot powder. I’ve spent more money on personal hygiene products and “make-up” for hunting than on average for dressing professionally and attractively at work. I hope the deer appreciate my efforts… by ignoring me and allowing me a shot or two.

Since the end of March, I have also been providing feed and minerals to the deer near my blind so my Motrie game camera can pick up the action. Recently I started my journal of days and times that the deer come to feed in order to begin tracking their movement. I’ve had my “upland” blind out since April (for my unsuccessful turkey hunting) and have another Ameristep blind to place in my hunting spot near the pond, where I bagged my deer in November. Soon I will set up another game camera, down by the pond, and do my mock scrapes in the area of each blind. I sincerely wish to bag a buck this year with my crossbow, and get my doe with my Browning 270 during the antlerless-pre-rut hunt in October. My one and only deer during the 2014 hunt lasted half a year, so I’d like to get two deer this year to keep my freezer stocked.

Until the deer season opens, I will have to be content to catch a glimpse of deer here and there. Most recently I saw a small doe and a young buck munching on breakfast at the edge of the woods next to my apartment complex. I’ve also had enjoyable sightings of skunks (a cute pair frolicking), rabbits, and since turkey season ended – turkeys. I’ve been meaning to sit in the blind early one Saturday to squirrel hunt, but have either slept through the dawn or chosen to pass because of weather.

All in all I find myself day dreaming for autumn and the next hunt challenge; excited by my second deer season, and curious to learn if my studying and new tools will improve my odds. I’m also thrilled to engage in another year of hunting, to legitimize my desire and new-found passion. I turn 53 later this month with the goal of embodying my belief that you’re never too old to learn to hunt.