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.

 

Two Days & a Wake-up: Archery Deer Season Starts

Sitting here at my home office desk with the intention of working on my business management coursework, yet I can’t help but think about Monday. Today is Friday, and in just 59 hours I will be out in my newest blind for opening day of archery – deer season. Just thinking about it gets my body tingly with anticipation.

My clothes have been washed in scent-free detergent and placed in an air tight bag for a couple of weeks already, and last weekend I separated out Monday’s clothes from my other camo “outfits” so I won’t have to poke around looking for what I want at 4:30 AM. Under normal circumstances I’m not a name brand kind of gal; buying whatever scent-free detergent (or whatever) has the best price. But I’m endeavoring to hashtag myself into recognition, so when I can, I want to give a shout-out to whatever brand of clothing/detergent/game cameras/hunting blinds, etc., that I use. In this case; my most recent hunting clothes were washed in Scent Killer Gold, by Wildlife Research Center. My body soap and scent-free spray, however, are made in the U. States by Dead Down Wind. I just received a combo pack of Dead Down Wind products that I purchased from Midland USA, which included a nifty DDW skull cap, which I will definitely wear hunting at some point.

In all honesty I’m kind of uncomfortable being a brand name dropper, but from what I’ve observed in the realm of social media, it’s how one gets noticed. That brings me to the very next thought I had tonight when I thought about how excited I am for Monday. Once Monday is over; I’m stuck with Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong; I am delighted to work, to have a good job serving soldiers as a civilian member of the Army; but I don’t feel passionate about it anymore (hence the online courses in business management) and I’d rather remain in the woods hunting. At 54 it may be a bit too late to ponder what I want to do when I grow up, but if I could choose to just magically change careers, I’d want to be a hunter, seeking out adventures and game throughout the country (and beyond) and then writing about it.

It is in that vein that I endeavor to film my hunts. My Midland video cameras have provided me an affordable opportunity to capture my harvesting moments, but with limited quality. Recently my son, an avid outdoorsman with canoes, fishing poles, and now his motorcycle, recommended I get a Contour video camera. He stated they do better in low light situations and have good quality for the price. So, this past weekend I purchased a Contour Roam3 online and currently have it connected to my laptop charging. I also purchased an accessory set that came with a shoulder harness, so when I go out hunting Monday I will have the Contour perched upon my left shoulder. Hopefully I will have a wonderful experience for the Contour to record….

I’m planning on tackling Monday’s hunt differently than I usually do, as well. Because I have a service dog, I generally go out first thing in the morning, return home by mid to late morning to let my canine partner out and then don’t go back out to the blind until late afternoon. My Moultrie game cameras often reveal that the critters I’m hunting wait until I’m gone to parade around my hunting spot, well out of sight by the time I return. With success in mind, I’m taking my labbie-girl to doggie daycare at Wildcat Pet Resort Sunday evening, where she will enjoy (hopefully) a respite from working until I pick her up after work Tuesday evening. That way I can remain devoted to my hunt for as long as it takes Monday. I will still use at least one of my Midland video cameras mounted to my Parker Challenger crossbow for a slightly different angle. The difficulty in attempting to capture the hunt with multiple cameras as a one-woman operation is knowing when to turn the cameras on, without making noise and movement, and without spooking the deer or missing the shot. Last autumn, when I harvested my first-ever turkey, I became so fixated on the bird and my arrow that I forgot to turn the camera on all together, even though it was mounted right at the front of my crossbow.

However it plays out; Monday will prove to be an adventure. This will be the first time I’ve hunted all day, if necessary, which will mean a potentially long day with minimal food and no water. Personal as it is to share; I’ve got a nervous bladder, so if I drink while hunting (or before) I will spend too much time having to accommodate it. And unlike my friend on whose property I hunt, I cannot remain seated and just tinkle into a bottle. It’s a major affair to have to set down my weapon, move about the blind or get out of the blind, drop my clothes, and take care of business before mosquitoes snack on my bum cheeks.

Monday will also lend itself to excitement should I succeed in harvesting my first deer of the season, as I’m usually hunting when my buddy, John, is home and can assist me in dragging the deer out of the woods. As it’s a regular workday, which I happened to have taken leave for, any deer I harvest will need to be dragged out and placed on the bed of my truck by me… and me alone. For just such a purpose, I have a drag harness, although I’ve never had to use it so don’t know how easy or difficult it is to harness pull a deer.

Until Monday morning arrives, bringing along opening day of archery for deer season, I have a blessed weekend to enjoy. I will play a little, study a little, and do more fussing over my accoutrements for hunting. Then hopefully, maybe, wishing upon a star, and with the cooperation of my white-tailed friends, I will have something fabulous to share on September 12th….

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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.

New Year’s Hunting

Today is the first day of 2016. I had hoped to kiss the old year goodbye by harvesting a deer yesterday, but no such luck (I don’t normally ascribe to the concept of “luck” but when it comes to deer hunting, I believe there’s some luck involved – good or bad ). I then shifted to what a great omen it would be for the New Year if I harvested a deer today.

My expectation was that it would be quiet, with most hunters sleeping-in to compensate for a night of frivolity and alcohol. For the most part that seemed true, except for someone to my north who was either unloading at birds or chose 0800 to target practice (or shoot at coyotes)… and those soldiers on Fort Riley, off in the distance on a field training exercise (FTX).

I arrived at 0645. The morning was still and quiet, save for my footfall as I made my way to my hunting spot atop snow, ice, and frozen tallgrass. But once seated; there was nothing but silence. No wind. Even the chill was calm (there’s a brief period of time in the early morning when 17 degrees doesn’t feel cold, as the morning seems completely motionless). As sunrise approached, one and then a symphony of birds began singing, as if on cue. The scent of the prairie changed, and then the wind picked up (albeit minimally), and the temperature dropped – feeling every bit 17 degrees. It was barely 0800 when I heard the gunfire in the distance, and the sound of artillery.

Before I move forward in my story; I want to first explore the smells of Kansas. Perhaps it’s a change of wind direction, or a temperature shift, but throughout my hunts, especially in the morning, I notice distinct shifts in the scents around me. I always hope that an earthier smell is an indication that deer are approaching, but honestly I have not figured out what the changes mean or why they happen. It’s a phenomenon, however, that I don’t recall experiencing anywhere else; which may be due to not hunting prior to 2014. To feel the subtle shifts in temperature and discern the changes in scent, I think one needs to be stationary out in nature for a significant period of time; something most people just don’t do. For me, experiencing the shifts is part of my developing intimacy with Kansas.

Now as for this morning’s hunt; I heard gentle steps around 0815 or so, and looked to my right. Approaching me along the berm, coming from the woods, were two coyotes. The lead coyote was within about 10-12 yards of me. We made eye contact, and I swung my rifle over and held it aimed at the coyote in case s/he demonstrated ill intent. I doubt he knew what the rifle was, but he did understand I had claimed my spot and wasn’t moving from it. After a short time, but what seemed like minutes, the coyote seemed to realize he couldn’t ease on past me and would have to find a different path. Both coyotes turned around and headed back into the woods. I didn’t sense any aggression in either of them, at that moment, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

My thought afterward was that I likely would not see any deer, as the coyotes had probably scared them off. But about 0830 my Spidey sense tingled and I looked behind me in the field and saw a beautiful buck walking toward me. Although he was easily 70 or more yards away, he saw me. I’ve read somewhere that it’s a misconception that deer are color-blind (just as it is with dogs) and that they do see some color and shades, to include orange. In any event; he was not spooked by me, but paused to contemplate, and then decided to change course and walk across the field headed east. A minute later, a lovely doe followed him. What a blessing to see such beautiful creatures this morning, and I felt good knowing the buck had survived this hunting season and would be in-play next deer season.

My hope was that the deer’s presence was an indicator that movement was happening and I might be graced with some does to choose from this morning. Well, as luck would have it; a herd of about four does showed up, however not in front of me coming from the funnel, but up on the berm. The lead doe walked toward me, pausing from time to time. My mind raced as I remembered last extended rifle season when I was unable to get a shot off; I had placed myself precariously in some branches and scrub, and when I saw three does walking out of the woods to my right, I was unable to readjust to take a shot. With the herd walking straight toward me, on the same path the coyotes had been earlier, I knew I was doomed to be an observer, because any attempt I made to move caused the lead doe to stop and watch me. She got within 15 yards, give or take, and eventually I moved in such a way that she and her herd ran back into the woods, with the lead doe screaming her warning!

I suppose the benefit to a tree stand is the ability to shift positions for deer coming from any direction. As a ground hunter, and not in a blind, I have to choose a direction to hunt and hope the deer are compliant with my plans; such as the herd I encountered on December 5th when I harvested my first doe of the season. I waited until 1000 before calling it quits for the morning. The temperature with the wind-chill was bitter cold and penetrated my boots and two pair of socks. My toes hurt like crazy and I was concerned that any further exposure might do irreparable harm to my phalanges, toes and fingers, as I’d dropped my right glove somewhere and had only a left glove and a fingerless glove on each hand. Temperature-wise, I was ready to leave by 0900, but forced myself to stay until 1000 on the off-chance the herd doubled back and decided to take the lower path where I was aiming. In my head I heard Eva Shockey telling the Fox News interviewer that sometimes you really want to stop hunting in the moment but have to make yourself stay. And that’s what I did, as long as I could, but I was also cognizant that I was being impacted by the cold, and I didn’t want to be the next new story about being injured (or worse) on a hunt. Its times like this, though, when I question how I ever thought I could live in Alaska, where a Kansas winter looks warm in comparison!

Prior to my deer encounters this morning I had been praying, really fervently, asking for some deer. I’m pretty sure I specified wanting a doe to harvest, but perhaps I was weak in that portion of my prayer. I was certainly blessed with multiple deer and multiple sightings; just none I could do anything about ethically. Part of me wants to return this afternoon; but I realize that it’s not ideal to hunt the same spot all the time, and since the herd of does ran off screaming, they will not likely return today.

Yesterday I picked up my processed deer and placed the meat in my freezer. There was at least 45 pounds, probably 50, but a second harvest would insure that I have enough free-range, healthy meat for my new Paleo lifestyle. However, I also recognize that I am blessed to have gotten even one deer; and if the best I can say for the New Year is that I had deer and coyote encounters, that’s still pretty sweet.

Fortunately, there are still two more days left for my unit’s extended rifle season… and tomorrow is a new day.

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First Harvest of the Season: Finally

It’s 05 December 2015 and we’re half way through the two week rifle season for deer here in Kansas. And this morning I harvested my first deer of the year. It only took me about 105 hours of hunting to do it….

It was about time, I have to say, because my lack of a deer harvest had begun to cause me anxiety! And I had become obsessed; which anyone who hunts would agree is a natural state. In all seriousness, I have been waking from sleep to thoughts of hunting, dreaming of hunting, and I awoke in the middle of the night last night to a dream that a doe was running toward me. I scrambled to find my hunting gear only to awaken from the dream realizing I couldn’t find it because I was dreaming, yet upon awakening my heart was beating out of my chest! Given the dream, it came as no surprise to me that I harvested a doe this morning.

Although the doe was not running toward me, and in fact was clueless to my presence 25 yards from her, I did end up scrambling to sight in on her. You see, as with so many times before, I was looking down at my phone. Rather than being on Instagram, however, I was texting my massage therapist for an appointment. When I am not intently reconnoitering the area with my eyes, the deer show up. Recently I watched a television show or movie in which someone told the main character that if she really wants to find something, she has to stop looking for it, and it will show up. The “message” came after a day of hunting and I took it to heart. What I found is that the message rings true. When I stare my eyes out of my head searching for a deer, none show up. Once I relax and stop trying so hard, I have deer encounters. Such as with Threeper the buckling, back in November.

The doe I harvested this morning at 0900 wasn’t the first deer I saw today. At about 0800, while facing toward a field the deer are purported to enter the berm from, I happened to look over my right shoulder to see a buck on the other side of the berm, running away. I couldn’t spin around fast enough, given his quickened gait, but it gave me the impetus to seek out a different placement upon the berm; one in which I could still see the field and corridor atop the berm that the deer use, but also gave me a direct shot into the other side of the berm, where the deer travel and live.

I remember praying and asking for a blessing this morning; as the wind was blowing 15-25 MPH creating a wind-chill that was cutting through my body like a knife. I really wanted to retreat, but knew that I had to stick it out, sensing I would get a deer finally, and knowing if I left the hunt this morning, I’d feel the need to return this afternoon. There I was about to text my massage therapist about an appointment when I had the sense to look up. I call it my “Spidey sense.” I saw the doe…. My rifle was already resting on my bi-pod with the safety off. I let my phone drop to the tall-grass, and I set my scope cross-hairs at the doe’s kill zone. Oddly she was in a herd of does, but at the time I didn’t see any of them but her. I had tunnel vision. I aimed and I squeezed the trigger. It was my first deer with my Browning Medallion rifle, a beautiful bolt-action .270 that my step-father had gifted me years ago in hopes that I would hunt with it.

In an instant, I heard the crack of the rifle firing the round. The shot rang in my right ear for about 10 seconds. The doe bolted into the woods and up a hill covered in trees and brambles, running with the other does in her herd. That was the first time I realized there were other deer; about four others. I grabbed my backpack, with my knives, camera, and baggies for the heart & liver and headed for the blood trail. My shot was a kill shot, hitting the top of her heart, but her adrenaline must have been pumping in overdrive, because she made it to the top of the wooded hill, just before the Kansas River, leaving one heck of a blood trail on trees, limbs, and leaves as she ran.

My friend, John, on whose property I hunt, was also on the berm, in his blind, about 25 yards to my left. He knew his hunt was officially over at the sound of my rifle and together we followed the blood trail to the top of the hill. As he returned to his blind for his chest saw and such, I field dressed the doe. I had done much of the field dressing last year, on my first-ever deer, but this year I did the whole messy thing myself. I was, and am, very proud of myself for doing a thorough job, and keeping the stomach and bladder intact while removing the guts. I harvested the liver, and the heart which had only been hit at the top, and when I am finished with this essay shortly will make my dinner of fresh venison liver and eggs. My stomach says I had better hurry. The thing about hunting for me, is that I don’t eat or drink. I had one egg at 0600 this morning and nothing since but a latte from Starbucks. It’s almost 13 hours later….

My goal is to harvest two more deer, and I bought a second antlerless tag this afternoon at Walmart. Of course, I know all too well that deer follow their own schedule and do not care about mine. But as the morning in this particular hunt location appears to be productive, I will return tomorrow morning in hopes of making it two deer in two days. I also have next weekend available to me before the rifle season ends until the extended season starts in January.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as having said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” That was my motto when I began hunting last year, and remains true for me today. Although it has taken over 100 hours of actual hunting time to finally harvest my first deer this year, it has been 100 hours of exciting deer encounters, squawking turkeys, adorable prairie quail, and sundry other critter meetings. Hunting has become far more than something I do; it has become an integral part of who I am… and who I hope to remain for the rest of my life.

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Defining a Hunt Season

Although this is only my second-ever deer hunting season; this is the worst hunting season ever! I suppose, really, it depends on how one measures a hunting season. Being a newbie, I tend to rate it first by number of deer harvested, and since the current number as we soon begin the month of December is zero, it rates as a suck hunting season. Yes, I almost got a nice buck with my very first shot, one Friday evening back in October… but you know how the saying goes, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, grenades, and atomic bombs.” Of course there was “Threeper” the 3-point “buckling” who stepped within about 12 yards of me and waited for me to harvest him, but we know how that story goes and Threeper is alive today to tell the tale. And there were those two close encounters with bucks, as a direct result of not shooting the buckling, which then urged me to adventure further from my comfort zone in search of deer; but they basically fit in the “almost” category, which we’ve already determined might make a good story but doesn’t provide food for the incoming year.

In my efforts to harvest at least one deer, preferably three, I have logged in (I literally write down in a log book every time I hunt and the hours I hunted) about 100 hours. Perhaps this is more like a deer hunting season and last year’s harvest at only 40 hours of hunt time was a fluke… but it’s all I have to compare to. Every opportunity I have to go out is taken, to include showering in my office shower and heading out in my scent-free garments straight from work. I have hunted in the rain, a futile effort in my opinion, and deprived myself of sleep in order to maximize my time in the woods and blind on a five-day weekend. Today kind of “takes the cake” though in my self-imposed hunting insanity.

When I left this morning around 1000, it was barely drizzling and the forecast showed a reprieve from rain. My Hunting Predictor app (for my smart phone) indicated it was a fairly good day for deer, so off I went. I dressed extra warm today as we’ve been having below-freezing temperatures and icy roads. I wore five shirts, the outer being my BDU blouse, and a coat, two pair of leggings under my slacks, two pair of socks – with a Hot Hands in between the socks to keep my feet warm, my full face mask, and my winter gloves – also stuffed with Hot Hands. If you can imagine a camouflaged Oompa Loompa than you’ll have an idea of what I looked like. I dutifully let my truck warm up, scraped the ice from the windows and gingerly drove down the road, headed to the Fort Riley woods beside my regular hunting area on my friend’s property. About 500 yards from my apartment, while endeavoring to slow to a stop at the intersection, my “Danger Ranger” began to slide… across the lane and toward the guard rail.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how commandingly or loudly you state, “No! No! NO!” you can’t control a vehicle in an ice slide?! Sure enough, my truck hit the guard rail and then bounced off, and as I didn’t break the rail and go plummeting down the embankment I figured I’d continue toward my hunting destination. I concluded the time to have made a change in plans was before I pulled my truck out of the parking space, and since I hadn’t made that choice, and the truck was still operational, I might as well continue with my hunt – hopefully making it all worthwhile.

Hoping to have better luck on the Fort Riley side of the woods, I parked on the side of the road and hiked in. It took me over 30 minutes to get to where I decided to stop; not because I went that far, but because I walked that slowly and purposefully, trying not to sound like an approaching army of one on the ice and frozen tall grass. I stayed in that spot, a small clearing in the woods, for over an hour waiting for deer to decide it was an excellent time to come out for a nosh. As the rain increased in intensity I decided maybe I should go deeper in the woods where the deer might be hiding. I walked through a thicket of tall grass and bush branches (there were no leaves) which reminded me of a booby trap to ward off invaders. There was nowhere that didn’t create noise, or try to trip me. Finally I reached a cluster of evergreen trees that looked like they might lead further into the woods. I had to duck to walk under the branches of the evergreens, although there was a clearing of a couple of feet. The ground was covered in ice, and as I walked through the passageway I was reminded of crossing a magical threshold into a new world (maybe of faeries and wisps). On the wooded side I saw rich colors of autumn leaves on the forest floor, red berries growing on green bushes, and twisted tree trunks. There were deer tracks in the ice so I knew that this route was a pathway from the deep woods to the clearing. I sat on my stool beside a tree and listened. That’s when the rain became even heavier and colder. After about 30 minutes I realized I would perish before I saw a deer; as my gloves were soaked, my coat and face mask were soaked, my glasses foggy and stained with water droplets trying to become ice, and my crossbow was drenched in water and covered with forming ice. Reluctantly, I went home.

Despite yet one more failed attempt to harvest a deer, I appreciated the beauty surrounding me. Forcing my phone camera to operate while wet and cold I took photos of the area. You could say I was bound and determined to shoot something, even if just photos! One of the hardest things for me to curtail when I hunt is my photographic world-view. Having been a photographer in the Army, and throughout my adult life since, I see life as a photograph, and every hunt presents many missed photo opportunities; as snapping away with my camera would surely keep the deer at bay. Not that they’ve been very forthcoming anyway.

Now home, dry, warm, and comfortable, I have my soaking wet hunting clothes washed and in the dryer to be scent-free and ready for next weekend. Next weekend is rifle season though, and I had a very poor rifle season last year, so am cautiously optimistic. It would be fabulous if this rifle season was opposite last year’s and I finally score a deer. If not, it will be just one more reason to remember this as the suckiest hunting season ever; but one in which I’ve had more fun and more adventure than my first.

Stay tuned….

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Preparation & Anticipation: 2015 Autumn Deer Hunting Season

As much as I’ve been looking forward to the new autumn deer season, I was endeavoring to pretend that I wasn’t, because it would mean my son had already deployed; but now that he has, and the anxiety around seeing him go is subdued, I am in full preparation and anticipation mode.

This year I’m going to be exploring tools for stacking the odds in my favor for a buck… I’m going to make mock scrapes. I’ve never done them before, this is only my second deer season, and quite honestly was not even familiar with them until I started actually reading some of the wonderful hunting magazines I subscribe to (it’s amazing how much can be learned by actually opening the magazine up and reading the articles). I’ve been busy buying scrape drippers, scrape scents, masking scents, and watching videos on the process. Recently I purchased, and read, a brochure on mock scrapes published by Wildlife Research Center, so I’m going to be using their products mainly, such as Golden Scrape, Golden Estrus and Red Fox Urine.

My arsenal also includes a second Ameristep blind, and a second Moultrie game camera. My first blind and camera have been on the upper portion of my friend’s land, where I hunted turkey this spring. Several weeks ago my friend, John, and I raised the second blind on the lower portion of his property, near the pond, in the exact location I hunted last year. Only this year I won’t be sitting on a stool by a tree watching deer watch me like I’m some Chernobyl tree. Today I placed my second game camera out at that location to keep track of the deer using the pond as their drinking hole. Next weekend is when I will likely put up my mock scrapes, to provide enough time for the bucks to re-pattern their nocturnal movements to daytime (hopefully).

I’ve already practiced at the range with my Browning 270 Medallion, the beautiful bolt action I used last rifle season, to no avail as I couldn’t get the shot the only time I saw deer. My plan is to begin hunting with my Parker Challenger crossbow the first week archery season starts, and use my rifle the weekend of pre-rut antlerless hunting. I would truly likely to bypass hunting during rifle season because there are so many hunters on Fort Riley, many hunting with rifles in archery only areas scaring the deer away; and it was really freaking cold. If I can avoid hunting in below zero temperatures I’ll be content, but I have to get my two deer first; an archery buck, and a rifle pre-rut doe. To use a John Steinbeck sentiment: The best laid plans of mice and men….

I’m really excited about truly challenging myself, and reaching beyond my disabilities and physical limitations; so today I drove with my dutiful, beautiful service dog two hours to Cabelas in Kansas City and purchased a compound bow. I shot one several times, years ago, and really enjoyed it, and that was the initial reason I bought my Knight and Hale Steady Ready stick. Now that I have a bipod support for my crossbow and rifle, I can use the Steady Ready to support my left arm when I use my Diamond Infinite Edge by Bowtech. My plan is to practice with it, and build my strength up, so that next year I can hunt with my compound bow. It won’t be as attractive as when abled folks use a bow, but if I can hit the target than I don’t really care how perty I look doing it.

The compound bow is a challenge I feel I must take, to demonstrate to myself and the world that 53 (I’ve recently had a birthday) isn’t old and physical disabilities are surmountable. In that same vein; I am scheduled for a motorcycle rider’s course the weekend before deer season starts, as I’ve wanted to ride a motorcycle for most of my life (having fallen in love with the concept while sitting behind my father on his motor scooter as a child). The motorcycle may prove more challenging than I can handle, but I’ll never know if I don’t try… and since moving to Kansas and finally taking on hunting, I am loathe to allow fear to dictate to me what I can and cannot do anymore.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Preparing for mock scrapes....

Preparing for mock scrapes….

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.”