Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

Defining a Hunt Season

Although this is only my second-ever deer hunting season; this is the worst hunting season ever! I suppose, really, it depends on how one measures a hunting season. Being a newbie, I tend to rate it first by number of deer harvested, and since the current number as we soon begin the month of December is zero, it rates as a suck hunting season. Yes, I almost got a nice buck with my very first shot, one Friday evening back in October… but you know how the saying goes, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, grenades, and atomic bombs.” Of course there was “Threeper” the 3-point “buckling” who stepped within about 12 yards of me and waited for me to harvest him, but we know how that story goes and Threeper is alive today to tell the tale. And there were those two close encounters with bucks, as a direct result of not shooting the buckling, which then urged me to adventure further from my comfort zone in search of deer; but they basically fit in the “almost” category, which we’ve already determined might make a good story but doesn’t provide food for the incoming year.

In my efforts to harvest at least one deer, preferably three, I have logged in (I literally write down in a log book every time I hunt and the hours I hunted) about 100 hours. Perhaps this is more like a deer hunting season and last year’s harvest at only 40 hours of hunt time was a fluke… but it’s all I have to compare to. Every opportunity I have to go out is taken, to include showering in my office shower and heading out in my scent-free garments straight from work. I have hunted in the rain, a futile effort in my opinion, and deprived myself of sleep in order to maximize my time in the woods and blind on a five-day weekend. Today kind of “takes the cake” though in my self-imposed hunting insanity.

When I left this morning around 1000, it was barely drizzling and the forecast showed a reprieve from rain. My Hunting Predictor app (for my smart phone) indicated it was a fairly good day for deer, so off I went. I dressed extra warm today as we’ve been having below-freezing temperatures and icy roads. I wore five shirts, the outer being my BDU blouse, and a coat, two pair of leggings under my slacks, two pair of socks – with a Hot Hands in between the socks to keep my feet warm, my full face mask, and my winter gloves – also stuffed with Hot Hands. If you can imagine a camouflaged Oompa Loompa than you’ll have an idea of what I looked like. I dutifully let my truck warm up, scraped the ice from the windows and gingerly drove down the road, headed to the Fort Riley woods beside my regular hunting area on my friend’s property. About 500 yards from my apartment, while endeavoring to slow to a stop at the intersection, my “Danger Ranger” began to slide… across the lane and toward the guard rail.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how commandingly or loudly you state, “No! No! NO!” you can’t control a vehicle in an ice slide?! Sure enough, my truck hit the guard rail and then bounced off, and as I didn’t break the rail and go plummeting down the embankment I figured I’d continue toward my hunting destination. I concluded the time to have made a change in plans was before I pulled my truck out of the parking space, and since I hadn’t made that choice, and the truck was still operational, I might as well continue with my hunt – hopefully making it all worthwhile.

Hoping to have better luck on the Fort Riley side of the woods, I parked on the side of the road and hiked in. It took me over 30 minutes to get to where I decided to stop; not because I went that far, but because I walked that slowly and purposefully, trying not to sound like an approaching army of one on the ice and frozen tall grass. I stayed in that spot, a small clearing in the woods, for over an hour waiting for deer to decide it was an excellent time to come out for a nosh. As the rain increased in intensity I decided maybe I should go deeper in the woods where the deer might be hiding. I walked through a thicket of tall grass and bush branches (there were no leaves) which reminded me of a booby trap to ward off invaders. There was nowhere that didn’t create noise, or try to trip me. Finally I reached a cluster of evergreen trees that looked like they might lead further into the woods. I had to duck to walk under the branches of the evergreens, although there was a clearing of a couple of feet. The ground was covered in ice, and as I walked through the passageway I was reminded of crossing a magical threshold into a new world (maybe of faeries and wisps). On the wooded side I saw rich colors of autumn leaves on the forest floor, red berries growing on green bushes, and twisted tree trunks. There were deer tracks in the ice so I knew that this route was a pathway from the deep woods to the clearing. I sat on my stool beside a tree and listened. That’s when the rain became even heavier and colder. After about 30 minutes I realized I would perish before I saw a deer; as my gloves were soaked, my coat and face mask were soaked, my glasses foggy and stained with water droplets trying to become ice, and my crossbow was drenched in water and covered with forming ice. Reluctantly, I went home.

Despite yet one more failed attempt to harvest a deer, I appreciated the beauty surrounding me. Forcing my phone camera to operate while wet and cold I took photos of the area. You could say I was bound and determined to shoot something, even if just photos! One of the hardest things for me to curtail when I hunt is my photographic world-view. Having been a photographer in the Army, and throughout my adult life since, I see life as a photograph, and every hunt presents many missed photo opportunities; as snapping away with my camera would surely keep the deer at bay. Not that they’ve been very forthcoming anyway.

Now home, dry, warm, and comfortable, I have my soaking wet hunting clothes washed and in the dryer to be scent-free and ready for next weekend. Next weekend is rifle season though, and I had a very poor rifle season last year, so am cautiously optimistic. It would be fabulous if this rifle season was opposite last year’s and I finally score a deer. If not, it will be just one more reason to remember this as the suckiest hunting season ever; but one in which I’ve had more fun and more adventure than my first.

Stay tuned….

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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….

Finally, My First Turkey….

This season in Kansas is a particularly exciting time for hunting. This part of autumn is archery season for deer, turkey season, assorted water fowl season, and this weekend is pre-rut antlerless rifle season for deer. I have not yet ventured forth with duck hunting and the like; however have been hitting the blind every chance I get for deer, and have been endeavoring to fill my autumn turkey tag as well.

What this means to an avid, obsessed newbie hunter such as myself is that I carry multiple hunting accoutrements into the blind with me. For deer and turkey I have been lugging my Parker Challenger crossbow and my Mossberg shotgun with me each and every time I go out. And as luck would have it (Murphy’s Law – luck is either bad or none) I have seen neither deer nor turkeys each time I’m in the blind with my crossbow and shotgun.

With this weekend being pre-rut rifle for antlerless only; I swapped my shotgun for my Browning 270 bolt action rifle and lugged it with my crossbow into the blind. I was not about to be sitting at the ready with only my rifle when a buck walked across my path; so I’ve been prepared with a weapon for either sex; crossbow for buck, rifle for doe.

As clear as the name Murphy is Irish, I was in the blind first thing this morning when a flock of turkey hens approached. Upon hearing the crackling of the woodland floor initially, I anticipated seeing a deer. Much to my surprise it was the turkey girls stepping out for their morning stroll. My mind immediately raced as I looked about the blind for my crossbow, believing a 270 round would be a bit much for a turkey. But by the time I managed to make coherent thoughts, pick up my crossbow, and set it on my bipod, the hens moseyed off.

I was left feeling quite frustrated as they had not shown up when I had my shotgun, and I was ill-prepared in my mind to switch gears from deer to turkey. But when I went back into the blind this afternoon, I had more of an action plan thought up and my crossbow placed strategically where it was easily accessible (although my plan was to reach it for a buck). Sure enough; barely 10 minutes in the blind and the hens came back – headed home to roost I guess. The flock had about 10 hens, and as they milled around scratching for food I lifted up my crossbow, placed in on my bipod to steady my aim, and set my sights on a hen facing me. I took a breath and slowly squeezed the trigger, reveling in the “thwack” the string made as it was released. I was so intent on bagging a turkey that I didn’t even remember to turn on either of the Midland video cameras I’d set up for hunting; one attached to the bow, and one beside me on a tripod. My aim was true and the arrow flew directly into the hen’s breast.

The rest of the flock fled as my turkey stumbled a few feet and then surrendered her last breath. I practically leapt out of the blind with excitement! This is my third turkey season, but the first time I’ve bagged a turkey. Last autumn I gave a half-arsed attempt to hunt, but having never studied it, had no clue what I was doing and therefore saw no turkeys. In spring this year, I successfully called in Jakes and hens during my unarmed dress rehearsal but then never had another opportunity to bag a turkey once armed, as spring in Kansas is bearded-bird only and no Jakes or Toms presented again. This autumn season I had my one tag (either sex) but wanted to get a turkey so much I could feel my desire in my bones. Four turkey tags later, I finally bagged my first turkey.

I’ve heard of hunters getting “buck fever,” and freezing when a deer presented itself. This was quite the opposite. It was almost blood lust. After two prior seasons with no turkey, and after about 30 hours of hunting so far this autumn, with no deer sightings or turkey opportunities, I was fervent in my desire to successfully bag something. And given I am devoted to ethical hunting, I had only two choices in the blind this afternoon; ignore the turkeys again because I didn’t have my shotgun, or use my crossbow as my weapon. My choice was made. Although I did not capture the swift shot on my camera, I did videograph field dressing the turkey. And I did quite enjoy fresh turkey liver and heart as hors devours this evening, simmered in a pan with butter and seasoning.

Tomorrow I will go back out in the blind first thing before sun-up, rifle in one hand and crossbow in the other. There are no distractions in my mind now; I have my turkey at long last. I can now focus strictly on bagging my deer. If only I can keep Murphy away while I hunt.

A nice sized hen I bagged this afternoon using my Parker Challenger crossbow with a G5 Montec broadhead.

A nice sized hen I bagged this afternoon using my Parker Challenger crossbow with a G5 Montec broadhead.

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.

Reflections on My First Deer Hunting Season

It seems like it’s been a long while since I first got the itch to hunt; so long that I don’t remember when. I imagine it was while living in Florida, and likely after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite having been enlisted in the Army during the Cold War, having earned the High Firers trophy in basic training with the M16A1 (1983), and having been raised to target shoot by my father (a Marine) as a child (and by my mother as a teen), I spent a solid 15 or so years left of center in a California state of mind. The attacks changed me at my core; or perhaps more accurately, brought me back to who I truly was at my core… but that’s a story for a different venue.

Needless to say; for over 10 years I was, what some would label, a “poser.” I wore hunting t-shirts, joined Women In The Outdoors (WITO) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). By the time I was stationed in Kansas in 2011 (as an Army Civilian), I had already been a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club for several years (as well as the North American Fishing Club) and subscribed to almost 10 hunting magazines! I had gone so far as to research hunting opportunities through WITO and NRA, and even earned my Hunter Education certificate while living in Florida. Yet, I didn’t hunt.

Several factors played into my lack of action. I believe first and foremost was my disability. Knees and back aside; having survived cancer by having my shoulder bone and surrounding muscle removed left me feeling vulnerable. It’s one thing to act like I’m not disabled in a work environment where I can conveniently keep my left hand in my front pocket to avoid movement; it’s another thing entirely to face nature with weaponry I wasn’t sure I could handle.

It was my disability which scared me into not taking my son camping when he was little… for fear I would not be able to defend him. Living in California, in the San Francisco-Bay Area, with a 70% disability in my left shoulder created a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. But I digress.

The other main reason I hadn’t begun to hunt was my lack of knowledge. Where would I hunt? Would I be safe? What do I do once I’ve killed the animal? How do I get it home? Unlike here in Kansas, where I have been blessed to be friends with a land owner (whose friendship I value in many ways beyond hunting) who mentored my hunting “coming out,” I didn’t know anyone who hunted before. I imagine most hunters learned to hunt beginning in childhood, taught by a respected adult. Many women learn via brothers or husbands. Most women do not, that I know of, jump into hunting in the middle of their lives just because they want to. Thankfully, I was eventually able to do just that.

The extended season for deer hunting has only been over in my unit for five days, but already I’ve reflected back over the past hunting season, and begun looking forward to the next. In all, I spent over 80 hours hunting between September and January. It took just over 40 hours in bow season to bag my first deer. I spent another 40 during rifle season with no prize to show for my efforts; but having learned much, and having succeeded at challenging myself in ways I never suspected I would. I visited with my chiropractor this afternoon, an avid hunter, and we discussed my rifle season exploits. He gave me kudos for sitting in a blind in sub-zero temperatures in an attempt to get another deer; and he stated that he wouldn’t even do that! I laughed and replied I probably won’t ever again either.

To take my experience and add knowledge to it, I started watching a DVD I purchased: SHE’s Beyond the Lodge; a compilation of episodes from season one of the series sponsored by SHE apparel for women (www.shesafari.com and www.basspro.com), and reading hunting tips online. One piece of information I garnered is that bow hunting takes a lot of effort, and many people hunt for seasons before bagging their first deer. I do understand that compound bow and crossbow are not equal in the eyes of bow hunters. Compound bow takes an enormous amount of skill, given that the hunter doesn’t draw the string back until the prey is in sight, and then aims and releases the arrow. Shooting a compound bow, from the perspective of loading the weapon, is more like my bolt-action rifle; my string is already drawn back with the arrow in place before any prey are sighted. None the less, the skill of successfully hitting the prey remains similar. An arrow just doesn’t fly like a bullet.

This led me to ponder how truly blessed I am, and how amazing it actually is for my very first deer kill to be with my crossbow after only 40 hours of hunting – at age 52 with a disability. And even more amazing still, that I caught it on video!

Yet, I realize I have much I still need to learn about hunting. Some things I will read in periodicals and online, some information I will get from hunting videos, but most of it will come from trial and error; being out in the woods and experiencing the hunt… hours of sitting, watching and listening, waiting for a target to appear. In the book Outliers, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes proficient at their skill. That’s no small amount of effort and experience.

As a hunter, I have only 9,920 hours to go….