Deer Season 2017: Part 1

In my effort to get as much time in hunting as possible, while I prepared for my Christmas travels, I neglected my writing. Which is why I find myself now, 1200 miles from home, writing on my laptop in front of a pit-fire at my parents’ home.

This year’s deer season has been unusual, challenging, exciting, and surprising. As a bow hunter, crossbow due to my disabilities, and a rifle hunter; I embrace the opening of deer season-archery in early September, fairly confident that between September and the end of December I should be able to harvest at least one deer. My concern this year was that I could have a repeat of last year; which had me out hunting every possible day off, in every weather climate, with no harvest at all. (Thankfully the great patriots at Veterans 4 Veterans Outdoor Adventures donated venison to me last year). It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying.

So this year I went out the first week of archery, when the mosquitoes were still thirsting for blood, primarily mine, and I began my three month quest. When the opportunity arose to pass it on, as they say, and involve my adult son in deer hunting, I jumped in head first. With his agreement, I signed him up for hunter safety education, bought him a Barnett Crossbow, got him his hunting permit and deer tag, and took him afield. It was still September; Dare (my son) and I went out for three hours on the 14th in the afternoon with no sightings of deer. The following morning, I roused my son in the dark of pre-dawn and set us up in the same location as the night before. I knew deer perused the area, especially the deer known as Floppy, as my Moultrie game camera showed the evidence. We’d been sitting in the chill of the morning for about three hours when three does silently walked into the clearing before us. Floppy, the alpha female and largest of the three, led from behind, and as they all stopped and looked our way, Floppy assessed the danger and turned around, walking back into the woods. Floppy did no favor to her little herd, however, disappearing into the woods without making a single warning bleat. The other two smaller does, unaware that Floppy high tailed it out of there, continued to stand before us giving my son ample time to sight his crossbow on the larger of those two and successfully harvest his first-ever deer.

As a mom, I was extremely excited for my son, who had officially become hooked on deer hunting (my goal, in hopes that we could now hunt together at times). As a hunter, in all honesty, I was a little taken aback…. My first year deer hunting (at age 52; I’m now 55) it took me 40 hours of persistence to finally harvest a doe (100 hours my second year). My son had spent all of six hours. It was truly a blessing, and perhaps even a Whitetail miracle; as I didn’t see a deer the rest of September, all of October, or all of November and didn’t finally harvest a deer until December 2nd, with my rifle.

Actually I did see quite a lot of does in early November when I was blessed to go on a KDWPT Special Hunt at Glen Elder State Park; however I was hunting with my crossbow and all of the deer stayed about 90 yards or more away from me, so I never got a shot. Compound bows may have a farther range, but my crossbow shoots to 50 yards… and I only shoot to 40 comfortably. The Special Hunt was a week-long; unfortunately KDWPT didn’t give me much notice that I’d won the lottery, and I was only able to beg for two days off of work to accompany the weekend. In the Army hospital where I work, leave requests must be made six weeks in advance, and I wasn’t given that much time. Surely if I’d have been able to utilize the full week, I’d have eventually harvested a deer. It took a couple of days to pattern them. The hunt was a great experience though; one which I embraced as a primitive camper. My goal has been to challenge myself as a hunter, to gain experience outside of my comfort zone, and I’ve never primitive camped alone. In fact, except for RVing with my folks, I haven’t camped at all since my son was a Webelo in Cub Scouts; he’s 25 now and a soldier.

My primitive experience had me out camping Thursday evening through Sunday morning, and my hunt began Friday morning. I left my campsite every morning in the dark and cold, and returned after huntset every evening – in the dark and cold. The truly awesome thing about my campsite is that it was within my hunt area; so deer were walking all around me. That Thursday evening, after setting up camp, but while sitting shivering in my truck, for lack of a fire, two young does walked passed my truck and tent, within 10 yards, to go drink at the lake beach I’d set up next to. The Special Hunt at Glen Elder State Park was indeed special, albeit not producing a harvest. I learned a lot, had fun, challenged myself… and broke my nose.

It was Sunday morning, the day I was ending my hunt, and I wanted to go out one last time hoping that I’d get a deer within 50 yards. The night prior, I’d seen deer and they came to within 50 yards but not until huntset was over, so I hoped for a re-do. Of course; Sunday morning was windy as Kansas, and the deer opted not to come out at the same time they had been. In my attempt to hurry myself to the location I planned to hunt, I chose not to use my flashlight in the dark, and I tripped over one of the ropes acting as a tent anchor. But that is now just one of those adventure stories I can tell. And a testament to my motto, “You’re never too old….” For the first 40 years of my life I suffered zero broken bones. At the age of 55, I’d broken my nose twice in a one month period. You’re never too old to break your nose. But more importantly; you’re never too old to start truly living and enjoying life, whether that means hunting (as in my case) or beginning something else you’ve put off your whole life.

To read more about my deer harvest and my second broken nose; stay tuned for part two of this blog.

 

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Spring Turkey Part 2a: Special Hunt

Having never won a special hunt before, I didn’t know what to expect; but visions of wild turkeys flocked my thoughts as I imagined a veritable buffet of gobbler choices in my special hunting area. To prepare, I made sure my aim was true with my shotgun, had cameras charged and ready to go, packed my Field & Stream backpack with extra knives and food storage bags, and tucked away my son’s multicam raincoat just in case. I took my service dog to Paws Inn, the kennel/doggie resort in town on Thursday evening so I’d be unencumbered on the day of my hunt; and took Friday off of work in order to utilize the first special hunt day.

The weekend prior, my labbie-girl and I had driven out to the location in Clay County, an hour away, to make sure I’d know where it is; which I was thankful for given the dirt roads and such I’d have to traverse in the semi-darkness of pre-dawn. By 4:20 a.m. Friday morning I was out of bed and getting dressed for turkey war. I opted to eat a hearty breakfast first, as I was unsure of how long I’d be out in the field, and even made a ham sandwich on a bolillo roll that I packed with an ice pack in with my gear.

By 6:30 a.m. I was parked and making tracks onto the property I was hunting, heading past the tree line that I supposed provided turkey perches and across the first field I came to. A deer walked across the field ahead of me, seemingly not alerted to my presence. Once I reached the location I thought would be best, I set up; decoys out, game camera set up at turkey level, Turkey Fan in front of my tree stand cushion I was using for seating, Contour camera on tripod set up and aimed at me, bipod adjusted to height, and shotgun loaded and ready to go.

As the morning awakened before me, I called out using my Turkey Thug raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) and my Illusion box call. I recorded myself on my Contour video camera, speaking normally in hopes of being heard on camera, as my previous recordings of my hunts have been at a whisper and inaudible (and I have since learned that even a conversational tone outside is not well captured by the Contour microphone). Sometime around 9:00 a.m. I decided to move locations as I had no reciprocal clucks or gobbles in that position. Packing everything back up (four decoys, my game camera on a metal ground stand, and the rest of my whole shebang) I traipsed through a thicket of woods, heavily riddled with deer tracks, across another field to a spent corn field alongside some woods and the winding creek on property. I set back up and, calling all the while, waited.

The location was beautiful and I imagined that turkeys would be spilling out of the woods into the corn field looking for bugs and responding to my calls. Instead, two coyotes came a ’calling; the first ran off quickly, but the second, a slightly smaller and mangier looking yote, stood about 30-40 yards in front of me listening and watching. He (could be she, I didn’t check) spied my decoys and took interest, but seemed to notice they didn’t smell like live turkeys and therefore weren’t actually prey. I called quickly, just to see what he would do, as I was fascinated by the encounter, and of course recording the whole thing. At one point, the yote began to approach closer, but a noise in the woods (likely a deer) startled him and then caused him to look at me. In response I stared back, bared my teeth and growled, which prompted him to hightail it out of there.

It was an exciting diversion, and the only wildlife encounter I had all day. The wood line looked beautiful, and part of it was fenced belonging to the neighboring property, so I took a small hike along the edge of the woods and corn field until I reached the creek. Deer tracks were abundant, and had I been hunting during deer season I’d have been plenty hopeful. Yet I didn’t see a single turkey track, turkey scat, or feather. Looking over the creek, however, I saw another part of the property edged by the neighboring land and a lush green field. Perhaps if I were young and spry (although I don’t ever really recall being spry) I would have tackled crossing the banks of the creek; but at almost 55 years young I decided to drag all my stuff back to the truck, drive the block to the other side of the creek, and hike back in. It was about 11:00 a.m., and I’d already eaten half my sandwich. The wind had been blowing like Kansas (I was going to say “like crazy” but anyone who knows Kansas knows the wind blows here far more than crazy), with rain drizzling the whole time I was in that second location. So I was cold, damp, and ready to sit in my truck for a spell.

It was no easy feat, but I made it back to my truck. My backpack had loosened and was falling off my shoulders, pulling on my neck and back, and I was carrying a burlap bag stuffed full like Santa packed it, with my four decoys. Once I reached my truck, I drove down the road to the other side of the creek and rested for about 15 minutes as I endeavored to get my strength back; then I grabbed it all again and hiked to the far side of the property, up against the neighboring green field, through a low lying spent corn field covered in muddy water and accented with violet wild flowers. And enough deer tracks to make a deer hunter climax. I found an area slightly raised above the water, where some green grass was growing and set up, with my two Primos decoys and two random decoys in a dry area of the corn field. And there I called, and called, and ate the other half of my sandwich, and called some more; but I neither saw nor heard any turkeys. At 1:00 p.m. I decided I’d stay until 1:30, and at 1:30 I packed it all back up and walked back to the truck.

By the time I got home from my special hunt I was in pain, tired, and feeling somewhat dejected. I decided for certain that Saturday I would just return to my friend’s property to hunt, where I knew turkeys lived (and sometimes died….).

As with any hunt though, it’s not just about the harvest – it’s about the journey. This was the first time I had ever hunted unfamiliar land. It was my first ever special hunt, and I felt blessed to be a lottery winner out of almost 1,300 applications (169 special hunts were awarded). My special hunt marked a significant increase in my confidence as a hunter, a willingness to get out of my comfort zone, and an opportunity to hike around an area in search of my prey. The hunt brought me outside for a better inside, as my friend Phil says (and I hashtag often #outsideforabetterinside), and thrilled me with a coyote encounter.

Let me sum up my special hunt with the following three very apropos quotes:

“One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted… If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it; the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting.

“If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well.” – Jonathan Safran Foer.

“If you consider an unsuccessful hunt to be a waste of time, then the true meaning of the chase eludes you all together.” – Fred Bear.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Spring Turkey Hunting Part 2 (which would be categorized 2b, I guess….)

My Kansas Lifestyle….

Recently, a new co-worker and I were discussing the benefits of a Kansas lifestyle and what makes the state feel like home to me. Hunting and fishing both came up, of course, as I lauded the virtues of the Flint Hills wooded habitats. To my surprise, my co-worker sat back in her chair, shaking her head. “You hunt? (pause) Really?” I affirmed that I do indeed, and shared my excitement that spring turkey season is about to start. “I took you for an animal rights activist,” my co-worker stated. I inquired if she meant like a PETA member (the radical animal rights group – not people for eating tasty animals). “Yes! Like a PETA member!”

Although I’ve never been a supporter of PETA (and never will), I did have that period in my life when I supported similar organizations; such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. What can I say? I was born in the San Francisco – Bay Area during the hippy era. Ecology was a real thing, and Sugar Bear, the breakfast cereal icon, was leading the way with the Sugar Bear Ecology Club.

My idea of animal rights now entails conservation and ethical hunting. These days I favor organizations like National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. And when it comes to water creatures, I support organizations like Fishing’s Future, Trout Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited.

So in February, when I had the opportunity to take a fishing instructor course, presented by Fishing’s Future and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) I jumped at the chance. The course presented a great opportunity to learn more about Kansas, and to gain some angler knowledge that I hope to one day pass on to youth. As my friend Phil Taunton, an avid outdoorsmen with a passion for connecting folks with nature expounds, there is much healing that comes from getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” At this juncture, I am still awaiting my notification from KDWPT that I’m cleared to begin volunteering as a fishing instructor.

One of the great folks I met at the Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, Fred Masters, is a board member with the Flint Hills Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and a Prostaffer for Wounded Warriors United. He arranged an invitation for me to attend the 15th annual Flint Hills Gobblers Spring Turkey Hunting Clinic on March 26 at the Dry Creek Sporting Clays compound in Emporia, Kansas. The event, hosted to bring the joy and skills of turkey hunting to youth, attracted hundreds of young people who were given lessons in clay shooting with a shotgun, how to use a compound bow, how and when to call turkeys, the benefits of hunting in a blind, how to track turkeys, and  the significance of practicing safe hunting. Youth were also given a membership to the NWTF’s Jakes program.

Although I did not participate in some of the activities, I did learn quite a bit about turkeys and tracking, and had the opportunity to shoot at clays; successfully hitting two of the five clays. Due to my disability I tend not to make public displays of my shotgun shooting, but wanted to challenge myself while the occasion was before me. The experience motivated me to find a clay range where I can practice using a shotgun despite my left shoulder. I’ve shot my 20 gauge effectively at a standing paper target… a turkey is a slightly more complex target. For now; I’m delighted to hunt with my crossbow, and am counting the days until I can go out in the blind (six and a wake up) with my Parker Challenger crossbow and harvest my first Jake or Tom. I made sure to take my crossbow to the indoor range this week to re-zero the scope. I’m feeling ready!

Though my long hair may hark back to my holistic California days, and my transpersonal manner as a therapist may suggest I’m a conduit for white light and uplifting energy; once out of the office, this Gal_Vet is a camo wearing, gun toting, arrow shooting huntress (normally I avoid the sexist differentiation between male and female tasks, but here it just seemed to fit). And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) held a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop on Saturday, February 20th at the Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, Kansas. In conjunction with fishing’s future, participants were given basic skill sets and knowledge for introducing children and their families to the sport of fishing.

Instructor certification was held through the KDWPT Angler Education program, and participants successfully completing the three hour course and passing a background check will be able to volunteer to teach fishing and aquatic education.

The workshop, instructed by Kansas Master Instructors and the KDWPT aquatic education coordinator, David Breth, explored fishing basics; types of reels and fishing poles, how to adjust a reel’s drag system, knot tying, safety, and appropriate handling of fish, as well as exploring how to create a curriculum for teaching fishing to youth. Breth educated participants on the condition of fishing in Kansas, reporting Kansas is currently showing a downward trend in number of Kansans fishing, at 12%. The goal of the KDWPT angler education program is to increase awareness and appreciation of Kansas’ angling opportunities and to increase respect for Kansas’ natural heritage.

Present at the workshop was fishing’s future founder, Shane Wilson, who discussed the value of the organization in assisting the KDWPT with meeting its goal. The mission of fishing’s future is to reconnect children to nature, improve child-family bonds, teach environmental stewardship, and increase participation in recreational angling. According to Wilson; the fishing’s future logo, two letter “f’s” that create a fish, represent the belief in “family forever.” According to Breth, with the support of fishing’s future, the KDWPT has been able to grow its workforce from only 17 biologists statewide to 250 certified volunteers who contributed 3,600 volunteer hours in 2014 at 170 different events.

Over 60 participants from around Kansas attended the instructor workshop. Many organizations had representatives at the event, including Friends of the Kaw,  Flint Hills Bass Club of Topeka, Kansas Wildscape, Newton Parks and Recreation, Kansas Wildlife Federation, the state coordinator of fishing’s future Chapters of Kansas, and three organizations representing disabled veterans; Heroes on the Water, Wounded Warriors United, and Patriot Outdoor Adventures.

To learn more about fishing opportunities in the state of Kansas, visit the KDWPT website: http://ksoutdoors.com/Fishing.