Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.kswildlife.org

http://outsideforabetterinside.org/

http://www.outdoorwritersofkansas.com/

http://www.woundedwarriorsunited.com/

www.hodgeman.ksu.edu

https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures

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

First-ever Squirrel Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Harvest of the Season: Finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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….

Trick or Treat Hunting on Halloween

Today is Halloween, and like every day out in the blind it started out and ended hopefully. You know; until the sun went down and I couldn’t see, and still no deer had presented. Yet, I was blessed to watch a beautiful unfolding of morning in my upper blind, and a delightful closing of the day in my lower blind.

Before hunting this afternoon, I made a cardboard sign that read, “Forget the trick. I want the treat (with a hand-drawn deer head).” It was a nice thought, but I was given the trick instead. After about 30 minutes in the blind I looked in the direction of some scratching noise, hoping for a deer that perhaps I had not seen due to the sun shining directly in my eyes. Instead it was the flock of turkey gals scratching around for food. I watched them for quite some time, fascinated; especially when one turkey reprimanded another by taking her down and pinning her head and neck. At first I wasn’t sure if the dominant turkey was scolding the other or killing her, but they eventually moved on and I watched the scolded turkey running for her life along the bank of the pond while the dominant turkey chased her the whole way!

I carry a small pocket notebook in my cargo pocket to track my hours and times hunting, and anything particularly interesting. At almost 1800 (6:00 PM) I wrote, “It smells wonderful out here as the sun begins to set and the air cools; like Kansas sweet grass occasionally punctuated by wafts of doe estrus which I have strategically placed around the clearing. It almost reminds me of the earthen smell in Magalia (California), when I would visit Grandma Pearl as a child.”

My second trick came as I was preparing to end the hunt. It was almost so dark I could no longer see through my crossbow scope, but I heard something walking toward me and I jumped in anticipation of a deer; hoping to be able to strain my eyes enough to sight in on the target and harvest a deer. Alas, two raccoons tottered on by the front of my blind, as if playing follow-the-leader in the almost-dark.

In Kansas we are able to officially begin the hunt 30 minutes prior to sunrise and 30 minutes past sunset. It seems last year I stayed those 30 extra minutes in the evenings. This year I’m lucky if I actually reach the official time for sunset before having to pack it in because of the onset of darkness. I suppose there could be a strange aura about this year, with darkness falling prematurely (like the hastening collapse of freedom in this country – but that’s for another essay) yet I suspect it’s due to my vision. Last year my eyes received a clean bill of health. This summer my eye doctor stated she found the early stages of cataracts in my eyes, which she seemed to believe were unusually speedy. I was told I will likely need cataract surgery next year, whereas most folks can go 10 years or so (according to my doc) before requiring corrective surgery. I’m not sure how I “lucked out” with some expeditious-type of cataract, especially with dark brown eyes and a penchant for sunglasses, but it seems to me that my eyesight is already being affected. I’ve heard the sun and light colored eyes make a winning combination for developing cataracts. Perhaps my 100% increase in outdoor activities since moving to Kansas four years ago is to blame.

In Florida I stayed in-doors most of the summer, and really much of the year because of my distaste for heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. In Nevada I stayed inside much of the time because of my distaste for excessive dry heat. Once I moved to Kansas, however, I rediscovered fishing, and then was blessed last year to finally begin hunting. Although deer season just began in September and it is not quite November yet (Central time); I have already hunted 56.5 hours in search of just my first deer…. As I plan on beginning the Paleo Diet in January, I have great aspirations of bagging three deer this hunting season. Of course, I’ve yet to harvest one….

Be that as it may; I will return to the hunt next weekend with the hope of finally getting my first deer. My first-ever deer, last year, was harvested on November 08, which happens to be the birthday of a veteran friend of mine in Las Vegas. He has assured me that I need wait only eight more days to get my first deer of the season. We shall see… at least as long as the sun is up!

Forget the trick. I want the treat! Deer hunting on Halloween 2015.

Forget the trick. I want the treat! Deer hunting on Halloween 2015.

A Look at The Paleo Diet (Glad I’m a Hunter)

It’s been less than one week since I began perusing the book, The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. Initially I was reading it starting with the introduction, but after perusing the website (thepaleodiet.com) I started reading from the index instead of front to back. Between the book and the website, which is chalk full of interesting articles, I have come to realize everything I thought I knew… was wrong. My life’s been a lie! Okay, so not really a lie; that was an over dramatization of how I feel since being redirected in my thinking.

Let me backtrack a tad here, to first share how I even came across the paleo diet and the book of the same name. As an avid second amendment supporter I read Hands Off My Gun, by Dana Loesch, a pro-2A pundit on Fox News and the Blaze. I actually happened upon her by accident (or by G-d’s design) which led me to her book (a very good read – read my Goodreads review) and, in this modern era of tech and electronic networking, to her Instagram account. While following Loesch on Instagram I happened to “like” one of the photos she posted of herself in a dress showing off her toned legs, and in the description she mentioned the paleo diet. So off I trotted to online retailers to get the best price on a copy of the book, The Paleo Diet, so I can learn more. And the rest, they say, is history….

As a two-time cancer survivor with a permanent disability to remind me of the blessing of life, and as a mid-life woman (so hard to contemplate that) with arthritis and other sundry maladies, I am always endeavoring to seek improved health through dietary lifestyle changes (except for when I ate the breakfast sampler yesterday morning at Cracker Barrel – sucking down grits, hash-browns, biscuits & gravy, eggs, sausage, ham, and bacon – but not all of it!). I have been awakening in the middle of the night with hands so stiff and painful I cannot bend my fingers at all! The doctors assure me there is no current evidence of arthritis in my hands, per x-ray, however based on my level of discomfort I am likely pre-arthritic. I am loathe to take medications if not absolutely necessary, so seek to find holistic ways to repair myself, and vaguely recall reading, years ago, about the macro diet and how dairy is joint-degenerative. With that in mind, I intended to seek a dietary change, and then voila – The Paleo Diet manifested itself into my life! (It’s the Law of Attraction, I tell you!)

What I’ve come to learn thus far, is that much of what I’ve done to seek better health may have, in the long run, created some of the problems I now have. Years ago I took on the mantle of a low-carb lifestyle (except for occasional cheats) which supported weight loss and increased energy. I cut out rice (except for sushi), potatoes, candy, breads (except Ezekial) etc. Well, according to Dr. Cordain; legumes, such as soy (and peanuts, which I’ve learned are not a nut), grains, dairy, refined sugars, and salty-processed foods (like bacon!) produce chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies. This means that the soy milk I enjoy in lieu of cow’s milk, the protein powder I have used for close to a decade to reset my carb cravings and which is my staple for breakfast (which is soy and milk-based), the complex carb bread I have learned to enjoy for years, the cheese I love, and even the tofu I make my awesome pumpkin pie with are all aggravating various physiological mechanisms in my body and maintaining on-going inflammation. I won’t even go into my love of bacon (all salt and nitrate full).

The premise of the paleo diet is that our bodies, by design, work best eating as the hunter-gatherers did (Paleolithic man – hence the name). It donned on me that this is a great dietary lifestyle for me, since I am now a hunter! There is nothing quite as yummy as a lean (by design) venison steak, straight from a free-range deer. On the other hand; I have built a dietary lifestyle apparently full of “toxins” and it will take some serious effort to change. My goal is to make the switch in January 2016, because I will be spending Christmas with my parents and their every meal defies the paleo diet. But now that I know what little that I know about the foods I’ve been eating, I feel almost self-destructive continuing in the same manner. For instance; I bought a one pound bag of white beans to cook in the crockpot into white chili with my wild turkey legs and now I have legume guilt, knowing that what I initially thought was going to be a wholesome and delicious cold-weather meal may actually make my hands hurt worse.

Although I am excited to begin the paleo diet and watch myself return to vitality, I have experienced a pre-release of burdens and some added burdens at the same time. For example; I used to endeavor to follow the blood-type diet. According to that author, my type A blood is meant to be vegetarian. I have had that thought in the back of my mind even as I enjoy my fresh game. Yet according to Cordain, the blood-type diet, although somewhat sound in cutting out wheat and limiting dairy, is faulty scientifically and historically in assessing the blood types; type A is actually the oldest type and meant to be a hunter-gatherer, not a vegetarian (agrarian). So I am delighted to release that guilt niggling at the back of my mind. As much as I love hunting, enjoy wild game, and pulverize bones for marrow it was pretty hard to contemplate being a vegetarian (although I was for several years right after my cancer). A burden I have added, however, is learning that some of the nutritional supplementation I have been using, from a highly respected and beloved nutrition company, is actually a “toxin” based on the paleo diet research, and now something I feel I must choose to eliminate from my diet. Making this dietary change is sort of like learning to walk again after having been unable to for years….

Ever since my cancer, over 20 years ago, I have sought ways to attain and maintain health; to decrease foods problematic to my system, and to choose holistic alternatives. My choice to become a vegetarian after my cancer was to avoid the toxic meat supply ladened with hormones, pesticides, and anti-biotics. Now that I hunt, I am eating free-range wild animals with no hormones or anti-biotics, and minimal pesticides (depending on the farming practices near where the animals graze). There is no marbling on the deer meat, because there is next to zero fat on creatures that roam miles per day. The Paleo Diet only insures my continued hunting, and increases my desire to bag enough game to keep me fed for one year, until next hunting season comes along.

Over time I will continue to read the book, The Paleo Diet, follow it up with online research, and slowly purge my kitchen of those things that no longer fit the lifestyle I’m headed toward. And as I begin the process now, with two months of preparation, I will look forward to a new year with greater health, more energy, and less over-all inflammation throughout this only body that I have….

So glad I’m a hunter!

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.

Preparing for the hunt; the mock scrape

As a Leo (zodiac, not law enforcement), I’m not known for my patience; though I work on it daily and hunting has certainly tested and grown by ability to enhance my calm. Having said that; it has taken every ounce of self-control I have to wait until this morning to create mock scrapes in my hunting area. It seems that I sometimes forget the object of the mock scrape is to entice bucks to present themselves to me while I’m actually hunting, not just to get them to show up on my Moultrie game cameras looking handsome.

Previously I shared that I’ve never created a mock scrape before. This is only my second-ever deer season. But I am excited to take more ownership of the hunting experience and try tools, new to me, for improving my odds of really getting what I want this year. My new tools of choice this year; my game cameras (both Moultrie), my ground blinds (by Ameristep), feeder tubes (by DevourBaits), and mock scrape paraphernalia.

My mock scrape journey started with the Hunting Scent Book, a handbook by Wildlife Research Center, and a video produced on the mock scrape. That led me to purchasing the Magnum Scrape Dripper (three) and four bottles of Active Scrape (from Wildlife Research Center), two bottles of Golden Scrape and multiple bottles of Golden Estrus (also from Wildlife Research Center), as well as two drippers and two bottles of Power Scrape (from Tink’s). To say I have spent quite a tidy sum of money on Odocoileus virginianus urine would be an understatement. One could argue that I’ve actually pissed my money away.

Whether or not the mock scrapes will bring forth well-endowed bucks during my hunt has yet to be seen; as opening day here in Kansas is September 14th (and you-betcha I took that day off work). It was kind of fun to create them though, more adventuresome really. If the scrapes work, it will be interesting to compare which worked better to my satisfaction; the Wildlife Research Center products or the Tink’s.

I placed the Magnum Drippers in the upper area I hunt, where I also hunted turkeys in spring. That was where my first game camera was set up and where I set up my first feeder back in April 2015. My Tink’s system was hung up in the lower hunting area, where I hunted deer last year (and bagged my first deer, a beautiful doe I still pray thanks for). There is a game camera and a feeder in the lower area as well, and both areas have my ground blinds set up.

When I check the game cameras next weekend I will have an idea if the bucks have shifted from their nocturnal habits to more diurnal activity. Whatever the outcome, however, I have enjoyed the opportunities to get out into the woods and field to tend to the process. That includes adding food to the feeders weekly and following the progress of some of the deer, specifically the doe with her fawn. It has been incredible watching the doe through her pregnancy in May and June, and her trips with her fawn since July. Yesterday I was quite blessed to see the doe and her fawn quenching their thirst from the pond in the lower area as I was headed down to replenish the feeder. As soon as I saw the doe I stopped, and stood very still. She didn’t see me, and neither did the fawn, but when the wind shifted she caught a whiff of possible danger and went back up into the lower woods.

I was also surprisingly blessed to see a group of gobbler bachelors yesterday. They ran away when they saw me approach, but I could see they were all large, plump, and ripe for the bagging when autumn turkey season starts. And since they’ve been hanging out in my lower hunting area, I have a better shot (pun intended) of bagging a bird for Thanksgiving this year (although Thanksgiving will be far more somber with my son deployed instead of making his yearly pilgrimage to my home for love, laughter, and food).

In nine days I will be out in the blind for the first day of deer season, with my crossbow sighted and my hunting clothes scent-free and matching. I can hardly wait; only 207 hours left to go!

Top two photos are my upper area mock scrapes (WRC); two lower photos are my lower area mock scrapes (Tink's).

Top two photos are my upper area mock scrapes (WRC); two lower photos are my lower area mock scrapes (Tink’s).