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….)

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Earth Day 2016: My Kansas Tribute

There was a time, many moons ago, when I used to genuinely celebrate Earth Day as a holiday (of sorts). Living in California, and being in graduate school studying holistic and transpersonal psychology, it was almost mandatory to buy-in. Each year I would take my young son, toddler through kindergarten, to the Concord Pavilion where the Earth Day celebration would be held and we’d peruse the displays about evil chicken farmers, admire furniture made of reclaimed wood, and engage in face painting. That was our Northern California urban tradition.

These days (these years) I barely even remember that April 22 is Earth Day; because as a hunter and fisher, I daily pay homage to the Earth and the myriad blessings G-d has bestowed upon us. My fishing and hunting licenses, annoying though they may be at times, and my deer & turkey tags, and trout stamp, do more for conservation on a regular basis than a decade of Earth Day celebrations will ever do.

I tend not to be a religious person, albeit quite spiritual, and therefore am not well versed in the Bible; however I turn to the Old and New Testaments when I seek guidance, or a verse that punctuates my point. One such verse that I take to heart is: Genesis 9:3 – “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” And with that in mind, I joyously fish and hunt to provide sustenance for myself, my family and my friends.

Today, Earth Day 2016, was no exception. Having already filled my first spring turkey tag last weekend (with my gorgeous first-ever Tom) I decided to spend at least part of this weekend fishing, before trout season ends when the Kansas weather turns sizzling and the trout cannot survive. So with today off from work, I headed out to my favorite trout pond on post, Cameron Springs, to engage in some trout fishing. As it was midday, and not a particularly good time for trout fishing, however, I also used a second fishing pole with a soft bait treble hook filled with stink bait to try my hand at catfish.

It didn’t take long before I had my first channel cat on the line; a decent sized 10-12 inch fish. I gave it the obligatory kiss on the lips for luck, placed it on my stringer, and cast out again, meanwhile continuing to tend to my trout line. My second channel cat was a fair bit larger, at about 18 inches, and I felt quite pleased at this second catfish. I continued to have minimal action with my trout line, not because they didn’t like my bait (this year, salmon eggs are all the rage with pond trout!) but because it was early afternoon and the weather had begun to warm up. So out went my catfish bait again. I genuinely enjoy channel cat, finding it an awesome accompaniment to farm fresh eggs in the morning. Another hit on my catfish line… and I reeled in the largest channel cat I have ever caught; two feet long and easily five pounds!

I moved from pleased to ecstatic when I saw the size of this fish! His head was so big that he didn’t fit on my metal stringer and I had to tether him to my rope stringer all by himself. By this time, about two hours had passed since my labbie-girl and I got to Cameron Springs and set up, so I tried one more time for a trout. I tend to be like a Retriever when I’m fishing; the slightest nibble will get me fixated and I can’t turn away. Finally, as we approached 3:30 PM, I managed to hook a trout, almost three hours after I started fishing. The trout was small, enough for one meal, but ultimately I was thankful to have gotten one at all. My yellow lab and I headed home with quite a generous bounty.

This essay will spare you the pain, primarily physical, of gutting and cleaning the catch of the day – specifically the largest catfish, whom I decided would be best without his skin. Normally I leave the skin on when I prepare my catfish, mainly because I have never learned the proper way to gut them. But this fishy was quite dirty, and being so large (all things considered) I determined his skin would hinder, rather than help, the palatability of this catch. Needless to say; it took over an hour to clean the catfish, and half of that was spent just on my “big guy.”

As far as Earth Days go, it was a fabulous day. It started out in the woods this morning, setting up a new Ameristep ground blind in a new location on my friend, John’s, property, as well as putting up a Moultrie game camera to catch the whitetailed foot traffic in the area. I spent three hours fishing; which was both productive and relaxing. And it ended with a dinner of wild turkey breast (from my Tom).

I have always known that being out in nature is a spiritual experience for me, one that calms and empowers my well-being. It was only recently, however, that I learned of a new friend’s philosophy, which makes a great hashtag; outside for a better inside. On this Earth Day, unlike those of years’ past, I didn’t just observe the commercial definition of being a good steward of the Earth; I practiced it, I lived it, I embraced it… and I ate it.

As a hunter and a fisher; I recognize that Earth Day is every day. I care for the environment in which I live, because it cares for me. And I can think of no place I’ve ever lived that more exemplifies the principles of Earth Day than Kansas; a state whose very existence is a tribute to the blessings of this Earth.

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.