Heaven on earth in the deer woods

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock

 

Recently I had the delight of speaking with a dear friend from Florida. Larry, has been a spiritual friend for many years, and though we don’t communicate with each other often, and didn’t see each other much even when we lived in the same city (except during a period when I was “self-employed” and seeing Larry regularly for Polarity Therapy sessions); we honor each other’s holistic journey and call each other “God Friend.”

We spoke of many things on our recent phone call, catching up and giving support; but when I shared my journey in nature here in Kansas, and my faith in G-d’s mission of service here at Fort Riley, Larry shared his feeling of awe at my story. He excitedly exclaimed that he felt inspired by my story to widen his experience in the natural world, and to get outside more often. After we completed our telephonic catch-up, I sent a video to Larry via Messenger of three bucks hanging out in the woods taken by my Moultrie game camera, as a visual aid of the joy I feel in the woods. Larry likened it to my own, private piece of Heaven on earth, stating, “You are my new standard for expanding the size of the circle of my life here in Southwest Florida.”

My friend summed up my experience in the woods perfectly; it is indeed a personal piece of Heaven on earth. Out in nature, especially in the “deer woods” at dawn and dusk, I am centered, calm and at peace. Whether I’m hunting, or just Being, I am filled with a sense of oneness with All That Is. It is this core connection to the spirit of the wild (hope Ted Nugent doesn’t mind my borrowing his phrase) that allows me to sit in wonder like a child, quite literally giddy at the sight of a deer, and to focus as a hunter within the circle of life.

In Kansas, on private property, we are allowed to bait; placing food that temps wildlife to hang out for a nosh. Although there is always the hope that the right creatures will decide to nosh at just the right time, affording a shot at a harvest, I like to provide for the wildlife for other reasons as well. I feel good providing sustenance to deer, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and the like. I imagine foraging is a difficult task at times, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate to grow the yummy greens and berries that are favored; but then it is said that G-d provides for all creatures great and small. So, what’s to say that my choice to lie food out isn’t part of that greater plan…? I also enjoy the videos and still photos my Moultrie game cameras provide when the wildlife partakes of the food I set out. I am fascinated by watching animal behavior, especially deer, when they’re just being themselves. Lastly, I consider it a form of offering; a tasty message of gratitude to Life for existing and letting me be part of it. Though we are all alive, how many of us truly live? And of those, how many experience Life outside of the world created by Man; in the natural world created by G-d…?

With those three reasons in mind, I decided to make a small food plot on my friend John’s property. I’ve been laying deer corn out, initially to tempt the squirrels (Do you ever notice that if you leave food for deer, squirrels and raccoons eat it; but if you leave food for critters, deer eat it?) for some critter hunting, but I saw that three of the buck boys, who came in a bachelor herd of 12 when it snowed this past winter, have been perusing the corn. Normally I buy two 40 lb bags of corn; at about $7 a bag, every 1-2 weeks… that can get expensive, and painful for a somewhat physically challenged almost-56-year-old. And as tasty as apple flavored corn is, and filling, it’s not the most nutritional choice of snack food. So, I ordered some clover seeds from Home Depot, and when they arrived at the store and I went to pick them up, I also purchased a hoe and a cultivator. The area I wanted to plant also has a nasty batch of poison sumac, so I bought a garden sprayer to mix up a vinegar water blend to spray on the sumac. My research indicated that vinegar water kills poison sumac.

On Saturday, June 16th, I went out with my sprayer and dosed the sumac. According to the YouTube video I watched, death should come to the plant in about 2-3 days. I went back last night, June 22nd, to pull up the “dead” sumac, and it was very much alive, save for the browning tips of some leaves. None-the-less; armed with long rubber dish washing gloves (the glamorous kind with cheetah spots), wearing surgical gloves underneath them, I liberated the entire area of poison sumac. Having developed an urushiol oil rash on my buttocks my first year of hunting, not knowing what it was, what it looked like, or that I was sitting on it, I’ve come to truly despise poison sumac and its urushiol oil. Yet I found myself somewhat impressed with its survivability as I attempted to pull one plant after another by the root, only to have the root unearthed and multiple feet long, connecting plants from one area to plants in another area. I can only guess that over time the poison sumac plant has adapted and learned how to thrive in an environment where some among the wildlife (humans particularly) want it dead.

Last night I filled a 30-gallon garbage bag with poison sumac and assorted weeds, cleared most of the fallen limbs and twigs out of the area and prepared it for my farming this morning. Mid-morning, after a hearty breakfast, I tasked my hoe and cultivator to get rid of the rest of the weeds, more of the sumac root, and to level out the small area I planned to plant. Then, with John’s antique push tiller, I tilled the area twice. Finally, after over an hour of sweating, I laid down the seeds. Having watched The Bucks of Tecomate, I naturally had purchased Tecomate seeds; King Ladino White Clover for summer and Brassica Banquet seed mix for autumn. Other than knowing one must work their tush off to prepare the soil, I don’t know the first thing about food plots (I glean just enough from Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel to think I can do it) but knew I wasn’t going to go through all of this again seasonally; so, put the autumn seeds down first, and the summer seeds on top of them. Then I covered the seeds with dirt in the hopes it really does rain tomorrow and Monday. My thought, accuracy unknown, is that the white clover will grow first while the autumn clover germinates, and then it’ll pop up as the summer clover dies down. Honestly, I have no idea if that’s how it goes… but any way it works out, as long as clover grows, and flourishes through September and maybe October, it will have been a successful adventure. And if the deer genuinely hang out because there’s thick, healthy clover to munch on, then my mission to provide healthy sustenance to the deer, to watch them eating from my game camera, and to possibly have a target during hunting season will not have been in vain… albeit after hours of “farming” it has been in pain.

As I side note; I’d hoped to battle the poison sumac unscathed, yet the insidious sumac found some way to dose me with urushiol oil. I’ve yet to figure out how; but I ended up with a rash on the inside of my right leg, almost to the ankle, which I noticed as a small spot this morning before I left for the woods, and quarter-sized rash by the time I returned home. It seems I also may have a spot on my left leg, on the outside down toward the ankle. Of course, everywhere I itch now, makes me paranoid. The baffling thing to me is that I was wearing my tall rubber hunting boots, from Field and Stream (I got some last year like Melissa Bachman touts), with my BDU pant legs tucked into the boots. Between the boot, the pant-leg and the sock – I have no idea how urushiol oil would have gotten on my lower leg! With courage I entered battle against my mighty foe poison sumac, and though I believe I won, I proved not impervious to harm.

As if to bless my efforts at producing a food plot for my deer friends; I spied two bucks and a doe last night while leaving the area, and then after completion today around noon, I observed a doe running toward the woods beside the highway. I’m not kidding when I say deer sightings make me giddy! Two nights ago, I felt my spidey senses tingle and looked across the apartment complex parking lot to the woods up against the post air field. There I saw two does feeding. I quickly grabbed my Nikon D3200 and started taking photos. It was the strangest thing; but after one doe left, the other doe seemed to develop her own spidey senses and she stopped grazing to look up in my direction before running off. Keep in mind, there was easily 400 yards between us, I was on my third-floor balcony, and the parking lot between us had cars driving past, car doors slamming, and people out milling around – yet she appeared to know I was there “shooting” her with a camera. Amazing!

Since relocating to Kansas over six years ago, and since starting to hunt almost four years ago, I have been blessed with an incredible journey of the soul; one that has taken me into nature to where I discovered my core self and come to experience Heaven on earth and within. And poison sumac aside (and be damned), I feel so blessed to be able to work the land to the benefit of my whitetail friends, and so fortunate that my friend John allows me to care for his property as if it were mine.

Deer Plot 01Deer Plot 02Deer Plot 03Deer Plot 04Deer Plot 05Deer Plot 06

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Spring Turkey Part 2b: Filling Tag #2

Flush with confidence from my special hunt (that I’d gone and done it, not that I saw and conquered) I headed out Saturday morning to my friend’s property where just the Saturday before I had faced a long-beard with my crossbow and been deemed the victor. Because my labbie-girl was still on her vacation at Paws Inn I was able to prepare and eat a hearty breakfast before heading out, although I somehow still managed to run a bit behind schedule; indicating it is me, and not my labbie-girl, who causes my tardiness in the morning.

The weather report called for thunderstorms and scattered rain, but I did not let that deter me. Of course, by the time I got parked and began to get my gear out of my truck, the rain started. By the time I got my decoys up and sat myself down beside a tree, behind my Turkey Fan, the thunder and lightning showed up. Fortunately I had my son’s multicam rain jacket he’d left with me, when he and his wife left my place on their globe-trotting honeymoon (www.globalcrusades.net), and I dutifully put it on to avoid getting soaked.

By 6:30 I had started calling, again using my Turkey Thugs raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) with inclusion of my Illusion wooden box call. The morning sky was colored hues of grey, indigo, blush and salmon, and streaked periodically with bolts of white light. I wasn’t sure if the gobblers would welcome my clucks, cackles and kee-kees given the storm, but by 7:00 a.m. I was rewarded for my efforts with the first response gobble. With my confidence boosted by the turkey repartee I continued to call out, using both forms of calling to entice the long-beards to investigate.

The rain came intermittently, causing just enough of a nuisance that I had to fuss over my Contour video camera, which was beside me on a tripod, and my mobile phone, which was attached to the bottom of my shotgun barrel with my Bow Mount mobile phone mount. But during those still moments, when the rain paused to give the clouds a rest, I reveled in the serenity of the morning. The atmosphere in my hunting spot was changed by the colors and energy of the storm, and it donned a magical appearance.

At about 7:15 a.m. I spied movement to my right and a hen had come in to find out who was making all the noise. I had hopes she would bridge the 10 yard gap between her and my decoys and make some noise of her own, to help draw any Toms in, but she opted to walk away unimpressed. Closer to 7:30 a.m. the gobbles got louder in response to my calls, and when I looked to my left toward the pond I saw three gobblers walking the sandy bank of the pond headed my way. They quickly approached my Primos Jake decoy, but only one Tom puffed out his chest and fluffed up his fan. As the other two walked just past my decoy, Mr. Tom pounced on it, knocking my Jake decoy partially out of the ground and scaring the other two long-beards. Mr. Tom seemed somewhat taken aback as well, perhaps hoping for more of a fight. He walked past my decoy and then turned back to look at the Jake, helplessly beaten down with one pounce. That’s when I aimed the front bead of my Mossberg 505 20 gauge shotgun at the back of Mr. Tom’s head and squeezed the trigger.

Now I know any regular shotgunners out there are probably beside themselves because I aimed my shotgun. In my defense, I’m primarily a rifle and handgun gal, and my use of a shotgun is minimal. So when I argued with myself over whether I should point with both eyes open and risk missing, or close one eye, aim the shotgun and hit my target… I naturally opted to hit my target. It was the first time I’d ever had the chance to harvest with my shotgun. In the past, turkeys have never shown up when I have my shotgun at the ready, and only when I have my Parker Challenger crossbow; which is why my lifetime record of turkey harvests up to that point (one hen and two long-beards) had been with my crossbow. My shotgun had finally been able to do its job. If it could smile, I know it would have.

This was also the first time, since I started hunting three years ago, that I filled my tags. Two tags, two turkeys. Albeit a very short hunt on Saturday, just one hour, it took hours upon hours of preparation; seven hours in Clay County the day before, and before that episode after episode of hunting shows, and much practice with my mouth calls to get any sound to come out, let alone a respectable turkey call. And as any hunter will tell you; it was well worth it!

As I went to inspect my harvest, hail started falling, followed by more rain. Taking photos with my prize was a bit of a challenge, but I managed a couple decent selfies, and then brought him up to my truck where I field dressed him to the bone. Most folks who hunt turkey say that only the breast meat on wild turkey is worth eating. I disagree. In my quest to achieve ethical hunting and pay homage to the bird who gave his life up for me, I take every bit of meat I can; breasts, legs, thighs, bits & pieces stuck to the bones, the liver and the heart. The breast meat I portion out and vacuum seal at home to create tender turkey breast steaks. The rest gets cleaned, trimmed and vacuum sealed for turkey stew in the crockpot. Once slow cooked, a dark tough leg is moist and very palatable. And turkey stew (stoup, as I call it; thicker than soup but thinner than stew) is a marvelous high protein meal on cold winter days.

That, my friends, is my spring turkey hunting story. From my crossbow harvest on Saturday April 8th to my shotgun harvest Saturday April 15th anticipation had been high, and I have come to truly appreciate the art of turkey hunting. In fact, I still have much to learn, and hope that, in the years to come, I’ll be able to make more out of a special hunt than I did yesterday. But for now; I am happy, I feel satisfied, and my freezer is well stocked with wild turkey. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t hunt; it is so much a part of who I am, and I feel my hunting birthright deep down in my soul.

Stay tuned for my adventures with predator hunting, coming soon. And check out my YouTube channel Gal HunterMidlife as I post my hunts and improve my videography along with my hunting skills… and please subscribe.

Living the Kansas Lifestyle

You likely wouldn’t be able to tell it now; but I was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area for a significant portion of my life. I even moved back in my late 20’s after having given birth to my son (now a 25 y/o Army veteran on his globe-trotting honeymoon: www.globalcrusades.net). When I was a child I absolutely loved going into the city, and reckoned I’d move into the heart of San Francisco one day. At the same time; I spent much of my youth in a suburb of San Francisco; a coastal town in San Mateo County aptly named Pacifica. What I loved about Pacifica back then was that one edge of town was sandy beaches and rock cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the opposite edge of town was forested hills and mountains. Farms dotted the area and I loved seeing the lush green pastures winding their way into the hills, with horses frolicking amidst the sea breezes.

It was there, in that country-ocean oasis on the outskirts of San Francisco, that I developed my dream to one day own a ranch or farm. Some place where I could live off the land surrounded by an assortment of critters. Having grown up with a myriad collection of domesticated animals (dogs, rabbits, ducks, and a tortoise) I couldn’t imagine a life without them. But Life happens and sometimes reality gets in the way of our dreams, and in the blink of an eye I was 30-something, with a young son, a cat, and a mobile home in the East Bay, toiling away at graduate school with a mindset far from my youthful dream of Eagle Mountain Ranch (EMR is what I named my ranch, and all my Breyers model horses were given the EMR brand).

Fast forward to 2011; when I was notified that I was being offered a position in the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Riley, Kansas. I had applied for a position at one of the three installations in Georgia, having fallen in love with the South when I served in the Army, and I wanted to remain within close proximity to my son who, at 19, would be living on his own in Florida. But G-d had a different plan for me, and in October 2011 I relocated to the heartland.

Although I didn’t know it back in 2011; moving to Kansas was, in a sense, going home. My first abode was a room for let on a horse farm, which reconnected me to my childhood love of horses and my childhood desire to own one. I stayed on the horse farm for only five months, but before I moved closer to post, I bought one of the horses I’d fallen in love with. In 2012 I bought my first-ever fishing license and reconnected to my childhood joy. I have fond memories of sitting atop my father’s shoulders at the Sports & Boat Show, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and fishing for trout in the “kiddie pond,” and sipping hot coffee with my dad while we fished from a canoe on some pond. Easily 30 years passed between my youthful fishing adventures and my return to fishing with my step-father, who took me out trolling for trout on his boat when we did a family RV trip to Eagle Valley, Nevada. It was that later experience that got me hooked again, yet two years passed before I started fishing regularly in Kansas.

For a year, prior to getting my service dog, I fished as often as possible; being outside, at water’s edge, was my stress relief and re-creation. During trout season (October through April), I could be found fishing on post before work, grabbing 30 minutes of trout time, and after work, sitting for hours, and of course on weekends, weather permitting. I seldom found myself alone, however, as there were almost always other fishermen out, even at 7:00 a.m. before work.

In late summer of 2014 I met my friend, John, who has been my hunting benefactor ever since. As we sat in a Starbucks one afternoon, sipping coffee (there’s definitely a coffee theme….), I shared with John my desire to hunt, while discussing being an avid gun lover. John welcomed me to hunt his property, took me out and showed me around, and remained close by if I needed assistance (his home is on property). When I harvested my first whitetail doe in autumn 2014, John came running to help me track the blood trail and taught me how to field dress a deer… and then helped me drag the 150 pound (somewhat less without guts) creature up to his truck. One of his neighbors came out to help as well, and then John volunteered to drive me with my prize doe to the meat locker 45 minutes away. When I harvested my first autumn turkey in 2015, John showed me how to field dress it. For almost every step of my adventure into hunting, John has been there, often with another neighbor friend, Dave, ready to assist.

So it really came as no surprise when John recently asked me to “farm” with him. He had purchased an antique blue tractor, tilled a plot of land on his 15 acres, and began purchasing veggies. All I’d have to do is buy something I want to plant, help plant the seedlings and seeds, and weed every weekend. With frequent thoughts of Eagle Mountain Ranch in mind, especially over the past two years, I jumped at the chance to participate. After harvesting my spring long-beard on Saturday, I started the task of digging holes and planting. It felt good to have my fingers in the fresh Kansas soil, and by the time I got home to shower I was sporting an official Kansas red neck.

As a side note: The term “Redneck” is considered a derogatory slang term for poor rural southerners who are viewed as politically conservative, racist and religious fundamentalists. In Kansas, the term reverts to its more accepted original meaning, as a reference for agricultural workers with a red neck from being burned by the sun while working outside in the fields (per American Heritage Dictionary online).

As I admired my red neck and dirty hands I realized that, in my own small way, I am living a Kansas lifestyle. With rare exception, my weekends (and sometimes evenings after work) are spent outdoors; fishing, hunting, and now tending to my crops. It’s a lifestyle that agrees with me, and something I far more enjoy than sitting in a hospital all day. Kansas has reconnected me with myself; with who I am at my foundation. Even taking a brisk walk with my service dog through the woods on post, after work, creates a sense of peace and wellness. The woods have become my true home and it often feels like there’s no place I’d rather be (except I don’t like my neighbors there; the Mosquito family and the Tick family).

One day I hope to own my own piece of Heaven on Earth that I can cultivate, hunt and fish; but until then, I feel extremely blessed by G-d to have been given a home in Kansas where I can grow spiritually and personally, like a vibrant, maturing snap pea. I may not always live in Kansas, but I am sure that Kansas will always live in me… and I will continue to enjoy embodying my Kansas Lifestyle.