Heaven on earth in the deer woods

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

Imagining Autumn

Autumn is my favorite season; so when I saw the reported temperature this morning on my weather app, and felt the coolness taking my labbie-girl outside for her morning relief, I shut off the air conditioner and opened up the windows and sliding glass door. Allergies not withstanding (they are worse each year about this time) I even took my service dog for a walk along the Junction City wetlands.

We did those kind of things that one does on a Saturday; errands, truck washing, laundry, studying my online business management course, ending the afternoon with a nice steak dinner and a Redbox movie (Mother’s Day). Yet, as the sun began to set and the temperature cooled down further, I felt the calling to go out; to be outside where the pre-autumn breeze would gently caress my skin.

Needing an excuse to drive, I texted my hunting buddy, John, and asked if he was home, to which he replied affirmatively. Unbeknownst to him, I was about to deliver his birthday beer to him, which had been chilling in my refrigerator since I was unable to connect with John on his birthday last weekend.

Daisy, my ever-faithful service dog, and I trotted down the stairs and out to the truck where I rolled the windows down and cranked the music up (I have recently discovered the Christian rock group Skillet, and made a CD of their music via Amazon.com’s a la carte music feature). Just as I imagined it would, the cool breeze blew over my arms and across my face, almost like a panacea. It was a taste of heaven.

Aside from the diversity of colors during autumn, there is something spiritual to me about the season; the early morning frosts, the nippy temperatures that beckon the use of hoodies and flannel shirts, the decreased humidity that adds a crisp punctuation to the atmosphere, and of course, now that I’m a hunter, the deer.

Driving the few short miles to John’s place tonight I had the sense of all of that. Turning on to the dirt road that winds itself past the Army air field and the old race track along the woods to John’s house I turned my music down, so as not to scare any deer that may be around, and I drove slowly, as much to minimize the dust on my freshly washed truck as to attempt to see some wildlife. And there to my left, up on the berm that separates the military installation from private property was a buck. He just stood there, majestically, watching as I drove by, as if to herald in the season. I get goose bumps just remembering….

The only other wild things I saw this evening at my friend’s place were fire flies, or as some refer to them – lightening bugs. Yet I knew, in the shadows of the woods, white-tailed deer abound. Of course I know there is still another month before the autumnal equinox, and plenty of opportunities for temperatures to sore back into the summer range… and still 23 days before the start of archery season for deer.

Yet every autumn moment I experience, albeit in summer, is a welcome reminder that the autumn season is closing in, and with it comes the ineffable joy of deer hunting.

On Becoming a Kansan

It’s a beautiful, albeit humid, summer Saturday in Kansas. This morning my labbie-girl, Daisy, and I headed out fairly early for Milford Lake in order to do some fishing before the temperature got too hot. Personally, I don’t like hot summers but will stay outside if I’m having fun despite my discomfort. Daisy, however, has a thick coat of yellow Labrador fur which keeps her heated up even when the temperature hasn’t reached uncomfortable for sweating bipeds.

While it seemed the fish opted to ignore my bait all morning, I still enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings. The lake was fuller than when I last visited (just last weekend, I think), so the water lapped against the rocks as boats passed by, creating a hypnotic, relaxing sound. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dappled with puffy white clouds here and there. On the shore across the inlet from me I could hear a heron screeching for fish, and at one point a fisherman aboard a small watercraft yelling for all to hear that he had “big Bertha” on the line.

Although I believe the personal is political (a modicum of sense from my days as a Liberal), I endeavor not to mix politics with my outdoor adventure writing. They are connected to me, but separate to most.  But recently I have been thoughtful about living in Kansas since reading Flyover Nation last weekend (written by Dana Loesch). The book is a perusal of what makes the Heartland, a.k.a. Flyover Nation, special from the coasts. It focuses primarily on the politics of Flyover Nation as opposed to the East and West coasts, yet I suspect Ms. Loesch recognizes the personal as political as well. Whereas folks in the Heartland may be Democrat or Republican, they tend to share similar values with regard to religion and faith, caring for and living from the land, and embracing the spirit of the second amendment.

I have known for quite some time that I enjoy living in Kansas, being a transplant to the area for my job working with soldiers who have substance abuse issues. My roots are Californian (San Francisco-Bay Area), and much of my adult life has been lived in Florida (Orlando), so I’ve got legitimate Coastie energy, but I have also lived down South (the real south, not the Florida version)  and spent time in Ohio. All in all, I think I’m an acceptable blend of environments and ideologies. Reading Flyover Nation clarified for me, however, how much I have become a Kansan, and how I have grown into myself, found myself, since moving here in 2011.

Kansas re-introduced me to fishing; something my father and I did when I was a child, but that I walked away from for decades. It is in Kansas where I finally fulfilled my desire to hunt; having now spent two, almost three, years filling my autumn mornings and evenings with deer hunting and turkey hunting, and turkey hunting again in spring. I’ve grown from a wimpy disabled chick, to a crossbow wielding, rifle toting hunter; from a designated hiking trail gal to a woman excited to spend hours in the woods pretending to be a bush or tree; from a environmentalist attending Earth Day festivals to a conservationist having real-life encounters with deer, coyotes, turkeys, and myriad other woodland creatures (including ticks). And I’ve gone from a suburban grocery store shopper to a rural harvester of much of my animal protein, be it an assortment of Kansas fish (which I gut and prepare myself), or Kansas game which I harvest, field dress, and cook myself. Very important as well; my spiritual encounters with animals aren’t just in meditations anymore – they’re up close and personal. I’ve written previously that my connection to G-d has grown in my time outdoors; and though I’m spiritual and not religious (perhaps part of my coastal upbringing), my faith has been nurtured by my presence in G-d’s natural creation. Being in nature lets me re-create myself. After-all, isn’t that what recreation is all about…?

Though my position as an Army civilian affords me some fluidity in my career, I have come to realize that Kansas is now my home. I am a Heartlander; an American by birth, and a Kansan by the grace of G-d. I don’t think I could ever return to the concrete jungle. There is no art in a museum more beautiful than a Kansas sunset, or more breathtaking than being hidden five feet away from an 8-point buck or seven feet away from wild coyotes who want to walk on the berm I’m sitting atop while hunting.

My labbie-girl and I went fishing yesterday and today and walked away without a single fish. But the experience of being connected to the water and the land far exceeds the momentary thrill of having a fish on the line (yet having that struggle while reeling in is an awesome experience). Weekends were made for fishing, and I will continue to pursue aquatic game… until September 12th, when archery deer season begins!

Fishing for Independence

By the time you read this, it will likely be Independence Day – tomorrow is the 4th of July. The Independence Day weekend this year is a four-day weekend, at least for those of us blessed to be Army civilians. And I’ve spent two of the four days out at the lake fishing.

In my four-plus years in Kansas, I’ve gone out fishing at Milford Lake only a handful of times; most of my fishing has been done on post, because I almost always catch fish on post and seldom catch anything out at Milford Lake. Even last weekend when my son was visiting, post-deployment, and we rented a boat for four hours; I didn’t catch a thing (although my son did catch a 15” goldeneye shad). Great memories were created though, so I decided to venture out to the lake this weekend to soak up some of the ambience.

Yesterday I spent a beautiful three hours in solitude, with just my labbie-girl and two fishing poles. My bait consisted of worms and chicken liver, and I used the set up my son and I had fished last from the boat; a worm hook and a weighted bobber. It’s ironic that my son, Dare, and I used lures galore on our boating adventure and the only thing he caught his fish with was a live worm, with a bobber. I suppose if one is fishing for something specific, than using a specific lure and fishing style is best. But nothing works like the old tried and true worm; and out at the lake, I rather enjoy the surprise of not knowing what I will harvest.

Initially I caught a sunfish, which I released and then a bluegill, which I kept. My fishing ended with a goldeneye shad about as big as my son’s. It was so peaceful and relaxing in the secluded spot I found that I decided to return again today. It was a gloriously overcast day (both days were) with light rain sprinkles on occasion, and cool breezes. I came to realize today that the air temperature was considerably cooler than the water temperature, after I waded out into the water to rescue my bobbers and hooks, which had gotten caught on the rocky lake bottom. Thank goodness for fishing slacks; the kind that unzip at the knees and become shorts, and dry very quickly.

Upon arrival, I had videographed myself with my tablet camera, and posted on Facebook how I enjoyed being alone, and felt the need to have some more quiet alone time in nature. While walking (sliding on the slippery rocks, really) back to shore from my waist level wade on my bobber rescue mission, I saw three people walking down the hill toward my spot, and heard the woman up front call out, “Is that you, Sara?”

What are the chances that someone I know would choose the very same spot to fish at the very same time I’m there…? It doesn’t seem to me that I really know all that many people here in Kansas; but I guess that’s part of the charm of living in Podunk. Given that Milford Lake covers 24.71 square miles, I can only acknowledge the inclusion of someone I know into my nature space as an intervention of a spiritual nature. Perhaps I was being a bit too “emo” even for G-d.

My first hour of fishing today had brought a sense of calm, but no fish. In no time at all, Tara (my acquaintance) and her bestie, also named Sara (maybe with a letter H), had reeled in a catfish. Tara seems to enjoy fishing; but does not enjoy eating fish, so they offered me the channel cat in lieu of releasing it. I subscribe to the Ted Nugent form of fishing; catch and eat, so I planted a big kiss on the catfish’s lips for luck, and placed it on my stringer. Luck be a lady, which Tara’s fish had been (she had a sack of eggs I found out later when I gutted her); not 30 minutes later I too caught a catfish! Both were 17” as I discovered once home.

The remainder of my time out fishing was more like a charity dinner; feeding the fish who grabbed my worms but not my hook, seasoned with intermittent conversation with my fellow fishermen… fisherpeople… fisherwomen. I’ve never been big on the sexist labeling of men and women. I just consider myself a hunter and a fisherman. When the worms were gone, my labbie-girl and I called it a day and headed home, two channel cat richer for the effort.

In the U. States we celebrate Independence Day to remember our sovereignty, hard won during the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. But I like to recognize my individual independence in the act of harvesting my own food; fish from the lakes and ponds, and mammals from the woods. To me, nothing says freedom like self-reliance sculpted with the tools of harvesting; fishing poles, crossbows and firearms.

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.

Preparing for Spring Turkey Season

As I write this, I am so sleepy. But it’s that good kind of tired that comes from staying up late preparing for the next day’s “hunt,” and then arising at 0500 to be in the blind by 0600. I suppose you could say that it’s the kind of tired depicted in modern art of a relaxed hunter asleep under a tree.

This is my first Spring turkey season. I bought a tag during Autumn but didn’t have the first clue how to hunt for turkey, so I’d bring my Illusions box call out with me sometimes while hunting deer, and when no deer showed up, I’d fiddle with the box call a couple of times. Hence, my Thanksgiving turkey was store bought.

I set out to do turkey hunting correctly this season; so I bought a video on turkey hunting from Walmart –Primos Truth 25 Spring Turkey Hunting. First I bought a hen decoy, a Primos Gobbstopper Hen, and then after watching an hour or so of the video, I bought the Gobbstopper Jake as well. Added to my arsenal was a Primos Crow Call. Much to the chagrin of my neighbors, I’m sure, I practiced with my box call and crow call at night while watching the hunting video.

As I’ve never called turkey before, I wanted to experience a dry run, to build confidence. I was on the road to my friend’s property by 0545, bringing my Nikon CoolPix L110 camera to shoot turkey in a non-lethal way. This was also my first use of the Ameristep blind I purchased. My goal was to situate myself in the blind, learn what my mobility and visibility would be, and make sure that I could duplicate the results I watched on the Primos hunting video.

Sunrise isn’t official until almost 0800, but I noted that the Primos hunting team were calling turkey as early as 0700. I also had hopes of spying some deer coming out to feed first thing, as they seem to cross my Moultrie trail cam between 0600 and 0630. It was still quite dark in the woods this morning as I walked to the blind. I had my flashlight on so I wouldn’t trip over any fallen branches, and I’d never been to this part of the woods in the dark. Ironically, even though I took the path I always take, I still got momentarily lost. The woods can be disorienting, and I kept looking ahead for the blind, using that as my focal point. Alas, the blind had collapsed in recent Kansas winds, so I had difficulty locating it. Once I did, I set my gear down to reposition the blind until standing, at which time my camo phone case fell off my BDU pants and onto the blind. That was frustrating in the dark, as the camo cover got “lost” on the camo collapsed blind, laying on the leaves and twigs.

Once inside the blind I set up my tripod and camera, and retrieved my box call and crow call from my bag. Apparently I made just enough noise, or shone just enough light, that the deer vetoed breakfast. I could hear short bleats from both sides of the woods, and foot fall in the brush, but the deer never showed.

At about 0650 I started calling for turkey. At 0720 a heard a response and saw a hen walking toward my decoys. I was thrilled to capture her curiosity for five minutes as a MP4 movie on my camera. If that would have been the end of the pre-hunting trip, I would have been happy. But I had the opportunity to play with the wild turkey for another two hours almost!

Once the hen left, I continued calling for about 30 minutes, to no avail, so I grabbed my Mossberg Plinkster and decided to set my sights on squirrel. I had seen some in the trees while I’d been in the blind working my box call, but once I had rifle in hand there wasn’t a squirrel to be seen. Then I heard hens… so I popped back into the blind and picked up calling again. At one point, there was a flock of hens with a couple of jakes in the woods and brush to my right. I’d call, they’d respond. I was on the edge of my seat – literally – just waiting for them to emerge from the woods into the clearing. My camera was poised for action. Instead they taunted me for at least five minutes, giving me only a glance of brownish body feathers passing by in the bushes. Without so much as a goodbye, they were gone.

After a bit more calling, and waiting, I decided I’d exit the blind and tie one side off to a tree as an anchor; to decrease any chance of another collapse. Just as I stepped one foot outside the blind, I heard turkeys in the woods near my location. Back in the blind I went, bringing my camera and tripod to the back of the blind, where the turkeys were, and naturally facing that way. I waited, with my camera ready to capture the moment, but they didn’t show up. Instead, the two jakes walked to the side of the blind entering at the front, near my decoys. I twisted my body to see them, causing me to fall partially off my camo seat, while at the same time grabbing my mobile phone and turning the video function on. I repositioned myself to the front of the blind, holding my mobile phone as a camera with one hand and holding up my actual camera with the other, trying not to surrender to the severe lean of my cloth stool. By the time I managed to get my Nikon and tripod to the front of the blind, and operational, the jakes had walked off. Thankfully I captured them with my phone!

It’s a wonder they stayed by the decoys at all, what with my leaning, and falling, and twisting (and I’m sure there had to be a grunt or two). It was at that point I decided it truly was time to call it a day and pack up my toys. My mission was accomplished, albeit with some damaged grace; I called turkeys and they came! I saw a hen and two jakes, videographed them, and learned some turkey communication skills.

I also had the opportunity to feel the temperature change subtly in the woods as the morning drew longer, to hear the myriad bird songs that greeted this new day, and to watch as the woods change in appearance and hue with the shifting light. As I sat in my little blind, in my little (borrowed) corner of the Flint Hills, I sat relaxed and at ease; without the noise of politics, civilians, or home-grown terrorists (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/04/10/kansas-man-accused-plotting-to-detonate-bomb-at-fort-riley-military-base/). It was just me, a gazillion singing birds, a few flying insects, wild turkey, and G-d.

Only five more days before I do it again; but with my Mossberg shotgun instead of my camera. My senses tingle in anticipation… or that could be my body’s way of telling me to take a nap….????????????????????????????????

Peace Through Hunting

One of the benefits of being part of the Army family, even as a civilian, is having access to the many tools the Army provides for soldiers, families, and Army civilians. One such tool is the GAT 2.0, part of the Army Fit program. The Army is big on resilience, and endeavors to empower with guidance and education. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I took the GAT 2.0 last April. The test measures emotional, social, family, spiritual and physical health through a series of questions. Last year when I took it, my actual age was 51.6 years, but based on my answers my “RealAge” was 49.3; a whole 2.3 years younger than my chronological age. That’s a fine outcome, I think!

To assess how I’m doing one year later, I took the GAT 2.0 again yesterday. All areas showed “improvement”. My actual age is 52.6; but now, my “RealAge” is 48.9 – a whopping 3.7 years younger than my chronological age!

I contemplated what might have made the difference over the past year, and then I realized… hunting! Over the past two years I’ve done a significant amount of fishing; more since relocating to Kansas than the rest of my life combined. But even with my calming experiences with pole in hand, I spend most of my time fishing on post where I am still in contact with other people, inappropriately discarded garbage, vehicles, noise, etc. Hunting, however, takes me into the woods; into solitude.

One of the questions on the GAT 2.0 measured my sense of calm and peace. Becoming intimate with the woods in this part of Kansas has brought me serenity; a chance to commune with nature, to see/hear/smell G-d’s presence in the wild.

Even though I am currently not hunting, as spring turkey season has not yet started here in the Flint Hills, I have become so focused on it that my weekends include trips out to the woods; to set up a blind, replenish the feeder, check on the trail cam. When I stand amongst the trees and tall grass I feel whole. Hunting has given me the opportunity to develop some detection skills as well, and seeing fresh deer tracks, and deer droppings as I did today, energize me with anticipation!

Having spent my life as an avid outdoor enthusiast and animal lover, I have always been excited to see wild animals in their natural habitat. But now I find myself almost just as excited see the tell-tale signs of their presence. My respect for deer has increased since I began hunting, and I seek to understand them in a new way. There is a rhythm to nature that most people don’t experience. For me, it is a cadence that I long to be in-step with; and when I can participate and observe it, even if only briefly, it heals my mind-spirit.

Simply looking at the woods as I drive past, whether on post or on the interstate, brings me a feeling of peace… because I know the woods now. This shift in perspective has made all the difference in how I feel about Kansas, and how I feel about being here. It is this sense of intimacy with nature here that has empowered my ability to let go of those things I cannot control, has aided in my development of patience, and has provided me a closer connection to G-d.

According to the results of my GAT 2.0, hunting has made me younger by bringing me peace. What a great gift and a true blessing.Woods20150328b