Deer Season 2017: Part 2

So very long overdue; here is part two of my 2017 deer hunting story.

After my primitive camping and hunting experience at Glen Elder State Park in November, and my trophy broken nose, I continued to hunt the private property belonging to my friend, John, to no avail. Except for a hind-end and my son’s doe; the only deer I saw were on my Moultrie game camera. But jumping in to save the day, like Marines do, the great veterans at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures planned a guided hunt for me out in Republic County.

My hunt host, and lodging host, Josh presented me with many great opportunities on my hunt weekend. Josh, a Marine Corps vet, took me around Belleville for a tour, showed me the Rocky Pond Christmas Lights Display which was initiated in 2010 as a community event, and introduced me to his father and some other folks who helped out on my quest to harvest a deer. Josh’s daughter was also sweet in volunteering to stay with family so I could bunk down, literally, in her bunk bed. When I arrived Friday night, I met up with Josh and his dad at Bel-Villa Family restaurant, a friendly diner where the wait staff know customers by name. After dinner, Josh and I sat up until midnight talking about hunting and military service, and then grabbed some shut-eye before arising in the dark of morning to get started on our hunt quest.

The first location, where we watched the sunrise, was on private land, with permission, where Josh’s father had shot a buck just a few days earlier. We didn’t see any deer, but spied a gorgeous, chunky coyote at 200 yards or so, just sitting around watching the sun rise also. Later we headed to a different location, also private property (that’s pretty much all there is to hunt in Republic County; so, it pays to know someone who knows someone…), and Josh and I set up near a tree line, facing a field, where the intended deer was supposed to exit from a bedding area to our right, once nudged by Josh’s dad. Sure enough; the most gorgeous 10-point buck I have ever seen before me (possibly the only 10-point buck I’ve ever seen before me) came trotting out before us at about 180 yards. He stopped a moment but then took up again and I endeavored to make a moving shot.

This is where the bard-worthy adventure story comes in. You see, rather than hunting with my trusted Browning .270 bolt action rifle that I’ve used every deer season since I began hunting, I decided to use my new camo Savage Arms 30.06 that I received for my life membership in Whitetails Unlimited. I’d zeroed the gun on the range before, so I thought, and figured it would be fun to use my engraved, kick-ass rifle. What I didn’t consider was the extra weight, the possibility of making a moving shot (which Josh had educated me on doing properly), or the unknown factor of a loose scope. I also hadn’t considered the kick the larger rifle had, and the impact on my habit of choking up on the scope.

So, there I was; in a lawn chair instead of a hunt stool, trying to twist my body to follow the very handsome buck, while aiming my rifle balanced on my Bog Pod, with my face up against the scope to eliminate the dark ring around the outside of my vision area in the scope, taking my first-ever 180-yard shot. Bam! The round flew just over the buck’s haunch, who – believe it or not – dropped his hind quarter to avoid the round, and the scope slammed into my face, at the bridge of my nose, drawing blood from my forehead and my nose and leaving me punch drunk. You’re never too old to be punch drunk for the first time.

Josh knew the rifle scope made contact with my already-ethnically-large nose but wasn’t aware that my nose had been broken or that I was minorly concussed with loss of balance and coordination, and headache. He excitedly hurried me through a thicket of dead feral cannabis (ditch weed), which I also became trapped in, in order to set me up on the other side of the tree line where the 10-point buck was going to exit as part of his escape route. I endeavored to set up and steady the rifle on my Bog Pod, still not realizing the scope was loose on it’s base and therefore not truly zeroed, and I aimed at the buck, this time 300 yards away. I’d never shot 300 yards, as I’d only just shot 180 yards, but I took aim for the front of the deer, just forward of his shoulder in case my shooting was a tad off, and… Bam! My round went just over the buck again, sending him scurrying on his way; and slamming the scope back into my broken nose. Josh did a marvelous job of supporting my efforts, and we agreed that I should have made both shots. That’s when he inspected my rifle and realized it came from the factory with the scope improperly mounted. That’s also when we both realized my nose was truly broken, after not having fully healed from the first break in November (when my Doc had said, in no uncertain terms, “Don’t hit your nose again.”).

Off we went to a friend’s place, a fellow hunter, whom Josh and his father knew fairly well. There, Josh fixed my scope, re-zeroed my rifle, and off we went to hunt some more; this time with the friend and some of her family. It was the first time I’d ever gone on a group spot & stalk; however it didn’t work quite as I was expecting, and didn’t lead me to a harvest. By late afternoon, Josh and I decided to go it alone and we headed back to the first property we’d hunted at sunrise. Unfortunately, or fortunately, some friends of the land owner had taken over the place Josh was going to guide me to, so instead we walked along the ridge of the small canyon, on the East side. As we moved inland, some mature does ran off, but we didn’t let that dissuade us. As we paused to take a break and assess our next move, we spied a doe off in the distance, about 200 yards or so. “She” also spied us and moved into the brush to assess for danger. I set up the rifle on the tripod and waited. Finally, the antlerless deer headed back to the area where it been grazing on some corn (corn on the cob). Josh and I spoke about whether or not I wanted to harvest this antlerless deer, and I decided I truly did. A deer harvest provides meat, whether or not it’s a trophy buck. I sighted in on the antlerless deer….

Bam! This time I hit my target; and Josh was very excited for me, exclaiming, “Yes, that’s how it’s done!” What a difference a steady scope makes although… as I continued to unknowingly choke up on my scope, I again hit myself in the face. Keep in mind; at this point we still don’t realize how it is I keep hitting my face with the scope, though I was three for three so far that day. The deer went down, but then in an odd turn of events, started rolling on it’s back, flailing its legs in the air. Then the deer got up and moved into the tree line in front of us. There was visible blood all over the ground so Josh and I had no doubt I hit the deer, but to make sure it didn’t get away injured we packed up and headed around the other side of the tree line to cut the deer off from any escape. That’s when I came across it, lying under a tree with no energy to move, but not at all dead.

As we approached, we both realized that deflecting off my nose, jarred my shot to the right, and instead of hitting the deer in the kill zone, where I was aiming, I shot it in the neck. As I took aim with my rifle at close range to dispatch the young antlerless, Josh filmed me; which is how we learned that my face had been consistently too close to the scope and, and as I fired one last time, the scope came back slamming into my face, making me rock on my heels. Upon getting up to the deer, Josh and I realized that it was a button buck, with knobs protruding barely a quarter of an inch from the deer’s skull.

We finished field dressing Buttons, as I named him, and began dragging him out as huntset came. Josh wanted to take me back out Sunday morning to try again, still searching for a trophy buck (keep in mind, a trophy buck to me is anything with actual antlers); and we went out for a couple hours until the hunt was stopped dead by a flat tire on Josh’s truck. And apparently, GM/Chevy went out of their way to make dropping the spare as agonizing and time consuming as possible. By the time the tire was changed, I requested that we end all hunt activities and, instead, return to Josh’s place where Buttons was hanging around in the shed so Josh could show me how to fully dress down a deer. It was a great learning experience; and I was able to take home meat the way I wanted to, instead of ending up with over 50% of my harvest as ground meat, as when the processing plant does it. I even got to bring home venison ribs, which the meat locker refused in the past to give me, “because there isn’t enough meat on them,” and have since quite enjoyed tasty Buttons ribs!

Driving the two hours home, with coolers full of venison, I mused that G-d saw fit to answer my prayers in the most unexpected way. I had prayed to finally harvest a buck this year, and though my mind’s eye saw a 6-point or better, I did manage to harvest my first ever buck in the form of a button buck, which counts as an antlerless deer. None the less, upon field dressing Buttons, Josh and I did have to remove his tiny testicles; thus, demonstrating that prayers are answered, but not always in the same way the prayerful is intending. When Josh was showing me how to butcher the deer, he mused that I should keep the skull and do a European mount, to hang beside my future bucks as proof of my first-ever buck. I realized that if I didn’t, I’d come to regret it; so, Button’s skull remains frozen in my meat freezer waiting for the day I have my own yard and can bury the skull for a natural cleaning.

My 2017 deer hunting season provided many firsts and many adventures for sharing. Though not the first-ever time my nose has been broken (that’s an honor belonging to a husky-chow mix I had many years ago), it certainly was the first-ever time I’d broken my nose twice in a one-month period, and the first time I’d ever hit myself in the face with a scope while hunting – four times in one day! It was my first-ever buck, albeit a button buck, and my first-ever time being punch drunk. Stay tuned for 2018 deer season… where I will stick with my Browning .270 bolt action rifle, when not hunting using my Parker Bows Challenger crossbow.

And as if to prove that the tale I’ve shared is true; my nose starting aching mid-way through the writing of this adventure….

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Kansas Monster Buck Classic 2017

On Saturday, January 28th, I went to my third Kansas Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, at the Kansas ExpoCentre. It was not my intention to make the Monster Buck Classic an annual event; however it does appear that I have attended each year since I started hunting. Unlike the two previous years, I was really looking forward to this year’s event; given that I would be afforded the opportunity to see the great guys at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures at their booth, and visit with Phil Taunton of FishingsFuture and What’s In Outdoors (Phil’s broadcast on KVOE radio).

This year I took advantage of the seminars also, which are next door to the ExpoCentre at the Capital Plaza Hotel. As I got a late start Saturday morning, still recovering from a bout of bronchitis or such, my first seminar was Game Calling Adventures at 12:30 PM facilitated by Melissa Bachman, host of Winchester Deadly Passion on Sportsman Channel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never attended a hunting seminar of this type, and having no familiarity with Melissa Bachman. It didn’t take long before I had the notes application on my phone up so I could write stuff down! The seminar was very educational, and Melissa Bachman was very down to Earth and entertaining as well. When I sought her out later at her exhibition booth, I was able to take a photo with her (albeit poor quality on my little not-so-smart phone) and acquire an autographed promo picture (I figured maybe some luck and hunting prowess would rub off on me).

Later in the afternoon, while perusing the myriad vendors at the Classic, Phil Taunton spied me and urged me to come along with him to observe Ms. Bachman’s second seminar, Getting Kids Involved Outdoors. Mr. Taunton was inspired to hear the seminar as his life is about getting children involved in outdoor activities. My interest was slightly more personal; hoping to gain valuable information to store in my brain until such time as my son and new daughter-in-law (my son just got married earlier this month) bless me with grandchildren!

While visiting with Mr. Taunton at his booth earlier in the day; I learned that the National Youth CPR Fishing Contest will be coming up again June 1 through August 6, 2017. CPR stands for “catch, photo, release,” and is sponsored by Fishings Future. Fishings Future is a great 501c3 organization, with the mission of “changing the recreational habits of millions of kids and families across America” by encouraging and teaching fishing. The National Youth CPR Fishing Contest is a way to get youth involved in fishing and spending time outdoors.

Phil Taunton also shared his excitement about a student organization, WILD; whose focus is on activities that promote the environment, conservation, and outdoor activities. The mission of WILD is, “To make a positive difference in the lives of students and the land in which they live by developing leadership, personal growth, and connections to their environment.” Given Mr. Taunton’s passion for the outdoors, introducing youth to fishing, and his motto, “Outside for a better inside” (which I’m often hashtagging), I’ve no doubt he will find great ways to help empower the WILD program in Kansas.

I spent some quality time at the Vets4Vets booth; meeting the other members of the Board who work alongside Jesse Mudd, the founder of Vets4Vets, and host of my buck hunt in November. They are just such a great group of guys, all veterans, who spend as much of their free time as possible advancing the mission of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. The organization appears to be expanding its reach outside of Kansas as well! As Jesse Mudd said to a guest at the booth, he spends all his time, when he’s not working, advancing the Vets4Vets mission and is blessed when, on rare occasions, he gets to have a half day off to relax with his wife and children. You can take the guy out of the Marine Corps, but you can’t take the Marine Corps out of the guy!!! (Vets4Vets is a great organization to donate to!)

Throughout the day I also managed to peruse the myriad vendors at the Monster Buck Classic. There were plenty of organizations to join, and of course a lot to buy. I was introduced to Tyler Kirby, a regional director of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Kansas seems to have a lot going on with the NWTF. I donated money in exchange for a 2017 NWTF calendar and a chance to win a sweet 12 gauge shotgun. I also bought a youth sized turkey mouth call from vendor Jeff Fredrick and his company Champions Choice. In the past I have failed miserably at using mouth calls that I’ve purchased on sale, primarily because I didn’t even know to seat it at the roof of my mouth, or which side is up. Jeff Fredrick was kind enough to explain the process to me, and even demonstrate the concept using his fingers in place of a tongue, so I could observe the interaction between the tongue and the mouth call. Although I’ve failed to hunt autumn turkey this season, spring turkey will be here licitly split and I’d be thrilled to have the skill to use the mouth call in order to keep my hands free. Lastly, I bought a scope mount for my mobile phone from a vendor called Bow-Mount, which can also be adapted for a Go Pro or such, in hopes that I can start successfully videographing my hunts.

All in all I thought this year’s Monster Buck Classic was a big success; at least it was for me. I had so much fun that my estimated two hour stay turned in to a five hour adventure! My service dog reminded me we really had to leave when she looked at me with her sad, very hungry, eyes and I realized I hadn’t brought her any food. It was just as well; the Monster Buck Classic is not an event to attend for very long when one’s wallet is faint of heart. It takes a lot of will power to walk passed all the latest gadgets and camo patterns, and I was forever repeating to myself, “You don’t need that. You don’t need that!”

Now I need only wait a tad over two months for spring turkey season; and until then, rabbits and squirrels beware.

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Ending 2016 with a hunt and a prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buck Fever: It’s Real

The morning was cool, but not so chilly that two long-sleeved hunting shirts and a hoody weren’t enough. I was up at 4:30 AM in order to scent-free shower and get dressed before heading to the continental breakfast provided by the Beloit Super 8 Motel, where I was staying courtesy of Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures. Continental breakfast food is not normally on my menu plan, but I figured I would get hungry sitting in the blind, and didn’t want to experience my tummy grumbling like buck burps (as has happened previously). So I made half a waffle to accompany my cheese-filled egg, my 1/5 of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and my steaming hot cup of coffee.

By 6:00 AM I was riding toward my hunting location with Vets4Vets President/Founder, Jesse Mudd. To his credit, Jesse had showed me the location of the ground blind at least four different times on his mobile phone, with actual images of the terrain and landmarks. None the less, I managed to get lost out in the fields of hay and grass while walking to my location in the dark of morning, pre-sunrise. I knew I had strayed off course when I walked directly into a barbed wire fence before reaching my destination. Apparently I had turned East at the windmill, instead of West, and couldn’t see other landmarks well because I was using my Army angle-head flashlight with the red filter on the lens, for stealth mode. It was then I texted Jesse, reporting that I was returning to the windmill to try again. He promptly texted back to head West from the windmill; leading me to suffer a blonde/aged moment panicking because I didn’t know where West was in the field. Fortunately the caffeine from my coffee activated my brain and I remembered the sun rises in the East, meaning I just had to go in the opposite direction. Jesse also suggested I stop using my stealth flashlight and use my real flashlight so I could see. That did the trick and I was able to locate the ground blind, but not before traipsing all over the grove of Juniper trees with my bright white LED light.

Jesse’s rule from the night before had been “no shooting does.” He stated firmly that they are live bait to bring the bucks in, so are off limits until after the rut, during rifle season. After my 11 minute adventure in the fields I wondered if any would bother to even show up; but at 7:30 AM a healthy-looking, mature doe arrived at the feeder to nosh for a while. At one point a buck spied her, but he kept his distance 112 yards away and then scurried off as if spooked. After the first doe left, two more showed up at 8:30; one being young and still square-shaped and the other being slightly older, and acting maternally toward the smaller one. They left by 8:45 and the rest of the morning was uneventful; though I stayed out until 11:00 AM just in case.

After lunch in town, Jesse brought me back out to the blind and I was set up and ready for action by 2:45 PM. But at 3:00 I saw trucks driving up the trail toward my hunting spot, and found myself somewhat surrounded. Most of the men who had gotten out of the pick-up trucks remained by them, but one older gentleman approached the blind after someone told him there was a hunter sitting in it. Lowering my crossbow, I stepped forward and put my head to the blind window introducing myself. Long story short; the older gentleman was the property owner who had not been tracking that he agreed to allow Vets4Vets to use the land for disabled veterans to hunt, and his hunting buddies had shown up wanting to hunt. The landowner graciously left, with his men, and agreed that the location was mine for the weekend. They drove out of sight, but by 3:30 I heard gunfire which continued for almost 30 minutes at well-spaced intervals; at least 40 rounds. I wondered if it might be possible for any deer to show up that afternoon, given the trucks, the talking, the human odor, and the on-going gunfire.

Lo and behold, sometime around 6:15 a buck walked in. He was a beautiful buck and I immediately set my sights on him. He stopped to check the area out and I had a perfect shot of his left side; but having recently read an article on overcoming buck fever I decided I should breathe and not take a shot immediately. I’m pretty sure when the author of the article discussed taking time and acting slowly and deliberately he was contemplating more than 45 seconds or so; but that’s about what I gave the buck from that initial sighting. He walked to the feeder, and though he gave no indication that his dinner would be short or on the fly, I suddenly felt the need to take aim and shoot before he could get away. Unfortunately, the game camera was strategically placed between the buck’s kill zone and my crossbow, so in my haste to shoot I had to aim around the camera. It made for a lousy shot, although I didn’t realize that at the time, hitting the buck below his organs near his “arm pit” just above the white of his belly. The arrow didn’t set in far, and the buck ran off.

Night was beginning to fall as I searched for him, finding no blood trail and no indication of where he went. Later that night, Jesse and a couple of his friends joined us in searching the fields for the any sign of the buck; to no avail. But let me return to “night was beginning to fall….” I grabbed my phone to text Jesse that I shot a buck and needed help, but my phone battery had died. The only plans Jesse and I had made for my pick up was for transportation after dark. Alone in a field, at night, with no telephone or mode of communication, “after dark” could have been hours later. I left my hunting gear in the ground blind and, with my LED flashlight, headed down to the road in case Jesse pulled up. I had already heard many coyote calls, but that’s when my flashlight landed directly on the face of a yote staring at me from the other side of the barbed wire fence. I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Back home I’d have my sidearm on while hunting (as well as any time I’m in public), but on this evening my .9mm was back home on my nightstand and my .380 was nestled safely in my truck at the motel. I did an about-face and returned to the blind, where I figured I at least had my skinning and field dressing knives for self-protection. About an hour later, a truck arrived to pick me up, being driven by a fellow Marine friend of my host, Jesse. Later that night a group of us returned to the fields to search for my buck, and emboldened by the presence of three hunters and two hunting dogs, I took off in the late night in search of my lost prize. Jesse and I returned after lunch on Sunday also, to find no trace of an injured buck, but rather to see a similar looking buck hanging out with a doe napping (until we buzzed by in a four-wheeler).

So ended my buck hunt weekend. Although I ultimately left Mitchell County empty handed, I was taking home a lasting impression of the great folks associated with Vets4Vets, as well as memories of an awesome hunting experience, and gained knowledge about hunting and deer habitat. I also was gifted with first-hand familiarity of buck fever and how it genuinely corrupts the pivotal moment of any hunt – taking the shot for the harvest. Yet rather than feeling defeated; I returned home with increased passion and obsession for getting my deer, and built a home-made feeder which I placed out on my normal hunting property in hopes of turning Veterans Day 2016 into this veteran’s victory day in the blind.

Stay tuned….

Healing Through Hunting: Vets4Vets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Imagining Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Hunt Season: Gaining Knowledge & Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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….