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.

Deer Plot 01Deer Plot 02Deer Plot 03Deer Plot 04Deer Plot 05Deer Plot 06

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Changing Perspectives Through Hunting

Since I began hunting almost three years ago, I’ve come to recognize something special, different, about myself; not so much about me as a person, but a shift in my perspective and the way I view the environs surrounding me. Take this evening for instance; as the Flint Hills of Kansas comes off several days with a heat index over 100 (heat category 4), the evening sky is blanketed in grey storm clouds. The temperature has dipped to 80 degrees as thunderstorms move in. The wind whips the tree-tops like intoxicated dancers at a nightclub. I took my labbie-girl for a walk just a bit ago in order to take care of business, and as we strolled along the chain-link fence dividing the apartment complex from the woods beside Fort Riley I found my gaze staring off deep into the timbers, hoping to spy a whitetail deer. For just a moment I could feel autumn beckoning, inching ever closer, even if only in my mind; but I swear my body responded ever so slightly to the thought of autumn asserting itself in summer’s place.

To passersby I may appear to be walking in a daze, or with my head in the clouds, staring off instead of focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. Yet other hunters, obsessed as I am with the opportunity to be nestled in the bosom of Mother Nature, likely understand and behave the same way. Harvesting an animal during a hunt is the sweetest frosting on the cake; but just experiencing G-d’s creatures in their natural habitat is the thrill.

On several occasions now I’ve gone predator hunting; most specifically for coyotes. I recently paid off and picked up a Savage Arms 22-250 that I placed on layaway at Bud’s Guns and Ammo for just such a purpose. In keeping with my desire to be an ethical hunter, and a decent shot, I took my new rifle to an outdoor range (Sportsman’s Acres – part of Geary County Fish & Game) to zero it at 100 yards. Then I hightailed it out to my friend’s property where I have had multiple coyote encounters over the past several years, and listened to the chorus of coyote song. I just had to get out to hunt in between spring turkey and autumn deer season.

The first time I went out, it was still early spring and the temperatures weren’t too bad. I had never called in a coyote but had watched some shows on Outdoor TV on the topic, so armed with my deer call, I set out to call in a yote with a fawn-in-distress call. By the end of the first day it was I who was in distress, as my calling hadn’t even impressed the crows. That was June 8th. I went again on June 30th while my son was visiting with his wife. I had watched even more hunting shows to prepare; purchased coyote urine, and multiple calls (coyote and jack rabbit) in order to up my game. The crows seemed quite impressed with my son’s rabbit-in-distress call, but the coyotes were nowhere to be found. We did experience the thrill of nature, however, when we moved locations and a big whitetail (likely a buck without a full rack yet) fussed at us and sounded the alarm. Later we saw a beautiful reddish-colored doe with big floppy ears high-tailing it away from us as we walked back to my truck. My friend John, on whose property we were hunting, said the doe, whom he named Floppy, has been perusing our vegetable garden and will come within 5 feet of John.

On July 8th, after my son and daughter-in-law had begun the second leg of their honeymoon – road-tripping to Alaska, I went out in the evening predator hunting, with the hope that I’d fare better later than I had at sun-up. But alas still no coyotes; but my hunt was redeemed with another sighting of “Floppy.” (Check out my son & daughter-in-laws travel blog: http://www.globalcrusades.net)

Even my appreciation for the common pigeon has been increased since I joined the ranks of American hunters. Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved animals. There was a time I even contemplated becoming a veterinarian, until I realized math and science were an integral part of medicine. Yet now that I sit for hours and watch birds, bugs (though I’m still not a fan of bugs), and other assorted creatures in their natural habitat, I have developed a greater respect for nature. So when I found a pigeon nest on my balcony a few months ago I provided a domicile for the pigeon to lay eggs, raise her squabs, and then enhanced my patience as I waited for the squabs to grow up and take flight, and move on. Of course, as with all creatures’ big and small, pigeons will do what pigeons will do… and the female squab-grown up, content that my balcony was her home, made her own nest, laid eggs, and now has two squabs of her own. I can’t help but be in wonder of their little “feed me” chirps, and the mama pigeon’s fulfillment of her squabs’ desires for food. This is the stuff found mostly on Nat Geo, not within inches of one’s view; yet I have now watched the ritual of pigeon parenting twice. *I absolutely do plan on reclaiming my balcony after this go-round though; I have wood-working projects to complete… once I scrape the bird crap off my pallet.

There isn’t a field I drive past or a wooded area within my view that doesn’t beckon me to search longingly for a deer or other critter. While “normal” people drive on by, oblivious to the world around them, I spy does feeding on leaves with their fawns, wild turkeys strutting, and assorted woodland creatures in action such as rabbits and squirrels. Non-hunters might consider my perseveration on wildlife a sign that I thirst with blood-lust and care not for our natural world… but au contraire;  I am more educated, more concerned, and more active in conservation now than I ever was as a youthful armchair member of Greenpeace, reading about the exploits of the Rainbow Warrior. Though my mind may imagine a successful hunt, it is the appreciation of the beauty, the wildness of the whitetail deer and such that I observe, and the wonder I feel in the gift of being a part of the habitat that nurtures their very existence. When I can walk the path a deer walked, and read the wildlife news of the day through tracks, scat, and scrapes; then I feel as close as I possibly can to being One with nature.

But had I not sought the way of challenge, of hunting, of following my arrow (straight to its target)… I would not have the perspective on nature that I have today. Had I not found my courage, and my friend John, I would still be a sideline conservationist; admiring the life spirit of nature from my sofa, instead of from my hunting stool in the woods.

Shooting Savage

Resting my Savage Arms 22-250 on my new Bog Pod at Sportsman’s Acres shooting range.

Squabs Deux

Pigeon squabs waiting for mama pigeon.

Yote Hunting

Predator hunting with my son (Savage Arms 22-250 and Browning 270)