Buck Fever: It’s Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned….

Harvesting Patience, but Dreaming of Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.