Preparing for Deer Season

Less than two months until deer season opens for archery in the great state of Kansas. This summer has provided strange weather systems with a week here and there of unseasonably cool temps with thunderstorms and flooding, and typical hot and humid days that make me long for winter. Today is the end of the weekend, with rain showers and clouds this morning and a combination of heat and humidity this afternoon that make it feel six degrees hotter than it really is. And thanks to the extra rain this season, which we really needed, the mosquitoes have propagated like the wild fire in California.

Between the heat, humidity and mosquitoes I prefer to remain home-bound, where my air conditioner keeps me relatively comfortable. Staying indoors works out well, theoretically, because I have an online course to complete in PTSD, plus myriad books I’ve started, and hunting magazines piling up. Yet… I have not touched my PTSD course this weekend, already obsessed with hunting season. In my defense, my work as a clinical supervisor and substance abuse counselor for soldiers is quite anxiety producing, as is my son’s upcoming deployment, and the hastening destruction of this Country that I love. Makes a gal just want to shut down for a while.

Preparing for the upcoming hunt season, however, has not escaped me. Friday, my service dog and I drove two hours to Cabelas in Kansas City, Kansas in order to do some shopping. A friend and co-worker in the ASAP (Army Substance Abuse Program) gave me an event invitation to Cabelas for this weekend to shop with employee discount savings. My SD and I managed to spend three hours in the store, including a lovely lunch of smoked elk sandwich, in order to make the four-hour roundtrip drive worth it. My chiropractor, a hunter, had suggested I get a Thermacell mosquito repellant for the warmer autumn days at the beginning of the season. I also bought some vanity items, like a Cabelas t-shirt in tan and burnt orange with a buck on the back, and a burnt orange Cabelas ball cap to match.

One of my super finds at Cabelas, in the bargain shop, was a booklet published by Wildlife Research Center. The Hunting Scent Book is really a meaty advertisement for the various scenting products that WRC sells; but I have found it most informative, as I’ve used scenting products without an actual understanding of when, why, and where. So far, I have found the section on mock scrapes the most informative because of the potential value of the mock scrape as a tool. Prior to this weekend, I’d never even heard the term.

My desire to utilize the mock scrape led me to Walmart first thing this morning to shop for a scraping device (as shown on one of several You Tube videos I watched in bed last night) and scents. Apparently it’s too early in summer yet for Walmart to have anything besides clothes in the hunting department; although a new pallet of deer corn had been placed out… so I bought two large bags. Off I went to Orscheln’s farm store to see if they had scents out yet. Their products had not yet been unpacked, but I did still manage to buy a few items that may be handy at some point (that’s why I converted a wooden Army ammo box into a storage container for hunting accessories). Once home, I went online to Bass Pro Shops and ordered scent products, which I’ll pick up in-store on my upcoming trip to Florida for my son’s deployment ceremony.

The calendar in my mobile phone has already been set to notify me as opening day for deer-archery approaches, as well as to remind me of the weekend of pre-rut antlerless rifle hunting, and when autumn turkey season begins. I’m not really sure how the hunters of yesteryear managed without the myriad aids and tools that I seem to be accumulating. And then there’s the hunting attire, which used to be slacks and a blazer or coveralls and work boots. While endeavoring to purchase on a budget, I have acquired SHE apparel hunting pants, scent control long sleeve t-shirt and button-up long sleeve shirt, my camo winter coat purchased last year at Walmart, various camo shirts, and moisture wicking long johns for cold weather hunting, plus various face masks, hunting caps, and three different types of face paint. I’m not sure what type of tree I’m aspiring to be, but it’s all more kosher to the Flint Hills environ than my BDU pants are (although I managed to bag my doe last year while wearing my BDU Army pants). My bathroom cupboard has three packages of different types of scent eliminating dryer sheets, two jugs of scent eliminating laundry detergent, bar soap, liquid body soap/shampoo, and deodorant and foot powder. I’ve spent more money on personal hygiene products and “make-up” for hunting than on average for dressing professionally and attractively at work. I hope the deer appreciate my efforts… by ignoring me and allowing me a shot or two.

Since the end of March, I have also been providing feed and minerals to the deer near my blind so my Motrie game camera can pick up the action. Recently I started my journal of days and times that the deer come to feed in order to begin tracking their movement. I’ve had my “upland” blind out since April (for my unsuccessful turkey hunting) and have another Ameristep blind to place in my hunting spot near the pond, where I bagged my deer in November. Soon I will set up another game camera, down by the pond, and do my mock scrapes in the area of each blind. I sincerely wish to bag a buck this year with my crossbow, and get my doe with my Browning 270 during the antlerless-pre-rut hunt in October. My one and only deer during the 2014 hunt lasted half a year, so I’d like to get two deer this year to keep my freezer stocked.

Until the deer season opens, I will have to be content to catch a glimpse of deer here and there. Most recently I saw a small doe and a young buck munching on breakfast at the edge of the woods next to my apartment complex. I’ve also had enjoyable sightings of skunks (a cute pair frolicking), rabbits, and since turkey season ended – turkeys. I’ve been meaning to sit in the blind early one Saturday to squirrel hunt, but have either slept through the dawn or chosen to pass because of weather.

All in all I find myself day dreaming for autumn and the next hunt challenge; excited by my second deer season, and curious to learn if my studying and new tools will improve my odds. I’m also thrilled to engage in another year of hunting, to legitimize my desire and new-found passion. I turn 53 later this month with the goal of embodying my belief that you’re never too old to learn to hunt.

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Reflections on My First Deer Hunting Season

It seems like it’s been a long while since I first got the itch to hunt; so long that I don’t remember when. I imagine it was while living in Florida, and likely after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite having been enlisted in the Army during the Cold War, having earned the High Firers trophy in basic training with the M16A1 (1983), and having been raised to target shoot by my father (a Marine) as a child (and by my mother as a teen), I spent a solid 15 or so years left of center in a California state of mind. The attacks changed me at my core; or perhaps more accurately, brought me back to who I truly was at my core… but that’s a story for a different venue.

Needless to say; for over 10 years I was, what some would label, a “poser.” I wore hunting t-shirts, joined Women In The Outdoors (WITO) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). By the time I was stationed in Kansas in 2011 (as an Army Civilian), I had already been a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club for several years (as well as the North American Fishing Club) and subscribed to almost 10 hunting magazines! I had gone so far as to research hunting opportunities through WITO and NRA, and even earned my Hunter Education certificate while living in Florida. Yet, I didn’t hunt.

Several factors played into my lack of action. I believe first and foremost was my disability. Knees and back aside; having survived cancer by having my shoulder bone and surrounding muscle removed left me feeling vulnerable. It’s one thing to act like I’m not disabled in a work environment where I can conveniently keep my left hand in my front pocket to avoid movement; it’s another thing entirely to face nature with weaponry I wasn’t sure I could handle.

It was my disability which scared me into not taking my son camping when he was little… for fear I would not be able to defend him. Living in California, in the San Francisco-Bay Area, with a 70% disability in my left shoulder created a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. But I digress.

The other main reason I hadn’t begun to hunt was my lack of knowledge. Where would I hunt? Would I be safe? What do I do once I’ve killed the animal? How do I get it home? Unlike here in Kansas, where I have been blessed to be friends with a land owner (whose friendship I value in many ways beyond hunting) who mentored my hunting “coming out,” I didn’t know anyone who hunted before. I imagine most hunters learned to hunt beginning in childhood, taught by a respected adult. Many women learn via brothers or husbands. Most women do not, that I know of, jump into hunting in the middle of their lives just because they want to. Thankfully, I was eventually able to do just that.

The extended season for deer hunting has only been over in my unit for five days, but already I’ve reflected back over the past hunting season, and begun looking forward to the next. In all, I spent over 80 hours hunting between September and January. It took just over 40 hours in bow season to bag my first deer. I spent another 40 during rifle season with no prize to show for my efforts; but having learned much, and having succeeded at challenging myself in ways I never suspected I would. I visited with my chiropractor this afternoon, an avid hunter, and we discussed my rifle season exploits. He gave me kudos for sitting in a blind in sub-zero temperatures in an attempt to get another deer; and he stated that he wouldn’t even do that! I laughed and replied I probably won’t ever again either.

To take my experience and add knowledge to it, I started watching a DVD I purchased: SHE’s Beyond the Lodge; a compilation of episodes from season one of the series sponsored by SHE apparel for women (www.shesafari.com and www.basspro.com), and reading hunting tips online. One piece of information I garnered is that bow hunting takes a lot of effort, and many people hunt for seasons before bagging their first deer. I do understand that compound bow and crossbow are not equal in the eyes of bow hunters. Compound bow takes an enormous amount of skill, given that the hunter doesn’t draw the string back until the prey is in sight, and then aims and releases the arrow. Shooting a compound bow, from the perspective of loading the weapon, is more like my bolt-action rifle; my string is already drawn back with the arrow in place before any prey are sighted. None the less, the skill of successfully hitting the prey remains similar. An arrow just doesn’t fly like a bullet.

This led me to ponder how truly blessed I am, and how amazing it actually is for my very first deer kill to be with my crossbow after only 40 hours of hunting – at age 52 with a disability. And even more amazing still, that I caught it on video!

Yet, I realize I have much I still need to learn about hunting. Some things I will read in periodicals and online, some information I will get from hunting videos, but most of it will come from trial and error; being out in the woods and experiencing the hunt… hours of sitting, watching and listening, waiting for a target to appear. In the book Outliers, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes proficient at their skill. That’s no small amount of effort and experience.

As a hunter, I have only 9,920 hours to go….

Just One More Day….

This is the last weekend in my unit for extended deer hunting. As incredible as bagging my first deer was during bow season, I had anticipated rifle season for the opportunity to use my Browning Medallion 270 bolt action rifle. My step-father sold it to me for a buck (pun intended), but it was really a gift. The rifle had been hunting when he gave it to me; I had not. I’ve been jonesing for the feel and sound of the crisp, single shot aimed squarely at the deer who would complete my organic protein source for the year, and give me the opportunity to have some meat packed up and shipped to my son.

Almost the end of extended hunting season; 20 degrees with a wind-chill that makes it feel like 5 degrees. You're never too old; and you're never too cold!

Almost the end of extended hunting season; 20 degrees with a wind-chill that makes it feel like 5 degrees. You’re never too old; and you’re never too cold!

So I’ve been going out to the blind each day I’m off work in hopes that it would be the successful hunt-day I’ve been waiting for. And with the exception of three beautiful deer I saw last Friday, that I was unable to target because of crappy placement (I guessed incorrectly when I chose the tree to the right as cover), I haven’t seen any deer. My supervisor at work kindly approved my request to take this afternoon off so I could return to the blind (the tree to the left); and I even bought extra under-garments to stave off the cold from the arctic weather we’ve been experiencing here in the Flint Hills. The temperature at 1500 was 20 degrees, with winds at 10-15 MPH creating a wind-chill that made it feel like 5 degrees. But I went anyway; wearing two pair of “thermals” under my SHE hunting pants, four shirts under my winter hunting jacket, and two pair of wool socks in my boots. I had my balaclava on my face, two pair of gloves on each hand, Hot Hands stuffed in each glove and in my pants pockets.

While the sun was up, I was reasonably comfortable. Once the sun set, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, and I found myself shaking like the Cowardly Lion when he faced the Wizard for the first time. Except I was cold, not scared. By the time I got home I could barely move my feet. It felt like the blood in my toes had frozen solid, and when I undressed my extremities, my feet were red, with a little purpling at the tips.

All the people I know who hunt quit when the weather chilled. Not me. This is my first year hunting and I want to experience it with gusto! Had I bagged a deer today, folks would be calling me hardcore, a diehard hunter, a rock star…. As I didn’t even see a deer, most folks who know I went out hunting probably just call me crazy. I’d like to attribute it to something apropos like Buck Fever; but Buck Fever is nervous excitement felt by the novice hunter at the first sign of game. I don’t have that. I have an obsession; a compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea… the idea that I’m going to bag a second deer my first year hunting, using my rifle to complete the task.

Tomorrow is my last hope; my last opportunity to triumph. Technically Sunday is the last hunt day until bow season starts again in September, but I have to have a down day. Sun or not, I need that last weekend day to get my “sun daze” on, or do laundry. And as I have never seen a deer while hunting in the morning, I will only hunt tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately we’re expecting a heat wave and it will be a high of 36 degrees, with a low of 20.

Whatever happens, it will be nice to have the obsession squashed, albeit by state hunting regulations. I think I remember doing things on the weekends, before I started hunting; and I do want to go see American Sniper at the movie theatre. On the other hand; I truly love my time in the blind, especially in the meadow where I started hunting last weekend. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and the tall grass smells so sweet. Come Spring, however, I’ll be taking some field trips out to the meadow and woods looking for antlers, taking photographs, and possibly getting a feel for where the deer hang out – for next season.

To bastardize an online quote; “God has added one more day in your life, not because you need it… but because it’s still hunting season.”