Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Becoming a Hunter

As you all know as one of my many various physical pursuits, hunting takes up a big portion of my life. What started as a vital skill for survival has become the largest outdoor sport known to man. Everyone always talks about their trophies, their hunts, what they see, what they do, what they kill, but no one ever elaborates on the “in-between” stuff. I'm talking the whole process of developing yourself into a skilled hunter, and if perhaps your skills still fail you, then an educated hunter.

Becoming a hunter, is essentially the part no one ever talks about.

Hunting, like any other hobby or sport, I don't care who you are, how you grew up or what your daddy did, no one starts out as the perfect hunter, in fact you will never be a perfect hunter. The point of hunting is to learn Mother Nature's ways and how to humanely harvest what she has to offer. You will make mistakes, you will screw up and you will definitely get some good laughs out of it.

I remember when I was about 8 or 9 I got my first BB gun, yes I'm talking the little pump one with a terrible fake wood plastic stock. My step dad at the time brought it home to me along with a giant milk carton of Daisy Bbs. Previously I spent my days sharpening my own spears with my pocked knife. I even had my own home-made long bow. (I never killed a thing with either, never even came close.)My lord though, that was my first gun and I was in love with it. He set me up cans and all sorts of targets. Mama made me wear safety classes because she was afraid if I shot a tree, the bbs would ricochet back into my eyes and “put my eye out”. (I wore those glasses once, the first day, lost em after that.)

Anyways, eventually I graduated into being allowed to run around and shoot my own targets without any supervision. I would sit up in my treehouse like queen of the forest (I liked in about a 10 acre thickly wooded lot) and guard my treecastle. “My little brother was my slave. Go set up cans, go pin balloons to the trees, now go pick it all up.” You could say I was a bit of an anarchist.

Then I found that riding on the three-wheeler or in my best friend's mule down the street together with our BB guns was even more badass. We patrolled the fields like bandits, hoping to shoot snakes. Never seen a one, never shot a one. But it didn't stop there, I finally realized that I was god sent to be the next Annie Oakley. I tied baling twine to my gun and made myself a sling that would give me rope burn for many summers to come. I rode my horse bareback, galloping through the fields and woods, with my gun strapped to my back. Oh yes, I was that crazy heathen child. My horse I'm sure was so tired of my wild, mountain-woman like shenanigans. I'd pull her to a stop and nail me a squirrel, and watch it fall dead out of the tree. My horse would always, pinch up her nose, and lay her ears half cocked and give out a long drawn out snorty sigh, her way of rolling her eyes. Then bam, I'd kick her sides, and we were off again.

As I got older, that BB gun didn't seem so fun anymore. My step dad left every winter to go hunting. I was always told, “you're not old enough.” Bologna! It was just that I was a girl, no one thought I could tough it out. I became crazed, I bought books on tracking animals and identifying wildlife. I was determined to show I was ready. We would be going down the road and I was pretending that birds were ducks, cats were turkey and dogs were deer. “Bang!” “Bang!”, every few seconds on the short fifteen minute trip to town, I drove my mother nuts pretending to be the best hunter you ever saw. My step dad took me out and let me shoot his rifle once but that was it, him and my mother separated and divorced the summer before the winter he had promised to take me hunting.

In the middle of everything, I lost my BB gun, I had nothing. I spent a few years in an apartment. Sometimes, I would pick up my bird books or other wildlife books and read for hours. I watched out the window from inside the city limits as nature seemed to be calling my name. I reveled in every single functioning part of Mother Nature. When the wind blew, I would breathe in the deep smells of leaves and rain she brought to me. When the sun shone, I would search the horizon for any wildlife that might run across the cotton field across the street. When it stormed, I studied how birds bedded down and read about coyotes huddling in their dens.

Even though my time as a hunter didn't really start until I was around 15, I still began the journey at an early age. While I had a desire to kill every living thing, I also was taught to have a great respect for life. If I kill it, I eat it. My mother didn't really even become a big hunter until I did. We both love animals, but we both love the thrill of the hunt.

When I was 15, my mother met and married a backwoods redneck man, whom I happily call my step dad today. He's a wildcard let me tell ya! I wasn't too keen on him at first, but after he had us over for dinner the first couple of times, I warmed up to him real quick.

The first visit to his little place in rural Arkansas, he brought out a muzzle loader. I didn't even ask to shoot it, but he offered and I jumped at the opportunity! While the loud BANG left my ears ringing, and his lack of cleaning that gun, blew black soot back in my face, I was hooked again, I had HUNT FEVER, BAD!!!

The second visit, he let me shoot his crossbow. Every time I came over, he let me shoot something new, or taught me something new about shooting. My mom started going deer hunting with him quite often and developing herself as a hunter. She went and got her hunter's education license and just a few months after, I surprised everyone and got mine.

With my brand new hunter's ed card and my also brand new driver's license (just turned 16) in hand, I walked proudly up to the outdoors counter in Walmart and bought my first hunting license. My goodness. I can still feel how I felt then.

My first hunt involved me using my step brother's 20 gauge shotgun. We went rabbit hunting with my step dads beagle. We all walked through the woods and brush pushing out rabbits, I have a picture of me that day, after I shot my first rabbit, you can tell I was so proud. It was about mid February at the time, I had on a blue/white vest full of shotgun shells, a brown long sleeve, bluejeans and black gloves. The smile I wore was undeniable, I was becoming a hunter. Soon after, I joined a local trap team for a little bit. Later I was given permission to use our .22 and shoot squirrels in the yard. Around 2010 we had moved into a nice little house outside of city limits into the country, with timber and a bayou out back. ( My mom and step dad still live there with one of my little brothers.)
I rabbit and squirrel hunted as much as I could until the season was out. Then my step brother introduced a new kind of hunting to me: Dove hunting. My grandfather was a big bird hunter, so I was open to it. Dove hunting would later follow as my second favorite kind of hunting behind duck and goose hunting. (I love my fowl hunting!) He took me out dove hunting the September before I turned 17 I loved it! Absolutely loved it! I sucked though, I couldn't hit anything, went through a box of shells and not a dead dove one.... But it didn't stop me, I wasn't discouraged, I just kept trying.

At the near end of the close of the season we figured out the gun I was using, was too short for me and I wasn't able to really aim with a lead properly. We swapped guns and I dropped my first dove instantly! The season ended in the first week of October, right when deer season began, I wasn't really interested though in being all quiet and still waiting for some deer to come walking through the woods. Despite my mother describing her experiences of killing her own first few deer, I craved more adrenaline in my hunt, bird hunting was fast paced, and its what I wanted to do. In mid-November duck season opened up, I didn't kill anything my first duck hunt either. Those ducks are waaay faster than dove! I was not prepared for it! Standing in thin waders, chest deep in icy slushy water is not for the faint of heart. But it didn't stop me.

Dove season came back in that December during duck season, at the time, I wasn't too keen on duck season either, I hadn't grown to appreciate it. So I just became a dove hunter. I hunted until the season went out in January. I was honestly, damn good by time the season was out and I had killed my fair share of my limit every single weekend. I'd jump on the four-wheeler with my gun and brother in tow and sit out till dark dove hunting in the fields behind the house.

After that dove season ended I went right back into rabbit and squirrel hunting. Then that season ended, and I dealt with hunting withdrawals the entire summer. But of course I had my horse to keep me busy and clay pigeons.

Finally dove season came back in and I was getting my limit faster each time. It was a blast! Some memories are just too good to ever lose! I've got plenty of pictures from those days too! This was also the year I really developed an appreciation for duck hunting. When I learned that its more than just sitting in a field in a guile suit waiting for dove to fly by. You have to speak the language, just like deer (don't worry I'm getting there). You have to learn how ducks are going to cup up and land naturally into a water hole and set your decoys and mojos accordingly. But an even greater talent is duck calling. Learning how to literally speak their language, pull them in, or even make them turn around mid-flight, its absolutely thrilling.

That was also the year I bought my first gun. I turned 18 and went and bought me a Benelli Super Nova 12 Gauge in Max 4 HD duck grass camo. I named it Jayce, from Duck Dynasty. I later added barrel stickers that said “If It Flies, It Dies.”
Over the past few years, duck hunting has become my main hunting sport. It's not been without its mishaps though. When I finally killed my first duck, that was the same day I lost about 15 of my expensive 3 ½ inch high brass steel shots. I had forgotten my top pocket on my waders was magnetic (not very strong obviously) and bent over to reset a decoy, what followed were a few fast “plops” as my shells went into the water. I was not happy, but I killed my first duck, my first greenhead and that made it worth my while.

During my developing duck hunting years, I also did some deer hunting, I wanted to get into it, and my ex husband who was into it, really screwed up my idea of deer hunting. He always made us bail out because he was too cold and hungry, but I always wanted to stay, I didn't ever really see anything deer hunting. Arkansas is not the nation's capital for deer hunting. You have to drive a couple hours in either direction from where I was raised to get into some good whitetail. So nonetheless, I lost interest in deer hunting and developed a hate for it really.

Eventually though when I moved up to Illinois in August of 2015, I met this Yankee, a deer hunting crazed lunatic (LOL). Well I wasn't too keen on it, and I told him about my experiences and how you barely even see them out during sunset and sunrise much less in the deer stand. He insisted the deer hunting is good here. I didn't believe him then but I do now.

Anyways, I ended up dragging him to Arkansas for a dove hunt. We ended up getting jaded by a baited field across the way but I knew I was in love with this Yankee hunter. He told me he wasn't much of a bird hunter, he was honest.... that's for dang sure. But he picked up real quick. I knew he was a self grown hunter just like me, someone that heard the call of the wild at a young age.

I didn't really do anymore dove hunting last year, not near as much as I wanted to. But funds were tight and I didn't really know anyone that dove hunted in Illinois. What I did learn though, there is a bountiful deer population here, and man are there some big ones.

This Yankee, Brandon per say.... (LOL y'all knew who I was talking about) would take me out many evenings cruising. I've seen more deer here in the last 10 months than I have in my entire life. Hundreds... at least. The largest herd I've seen was of about 23 during a hunt in Carlinville.

When hunting season opened up in October of last year, Brandon took me with him on his first hunt of the year. We were rushing to get back from Arkansas, and made it just in time to gear up and scent down. He had his bow and I had a charged phone for recording purposes. I'd only ever scene the back end of a doe in a deer stand, so I was ready to see some action.

As fate would have it though, I was pregnant at the time (briefly, unfortunately). I peed before we left and didn't take anything to drink with me. About the time a decent size buck starts making his way down the treeline on the outside edge of the field we are hunting. I have to pee so fricken bad at this point, I'm about in tears. I told Brandon, “You're just going to have to be mad at me, I can't hold it anymore.” He rolled his eyes at me and told me to be quiet. I quietly squatted right beside him in front of our chairs on the ground in our little brush blind and peed a river. I mean, to the point he looked over at me two minutes later and asked me if I was done yet. All the while, this buck is still making his way up. He eventually closes in on us within 20 yards but it was too dark for Brandon to take an accurate shot, so we waited till dark and left. Lesson learned: Take a jar to pee in. Ball mason jars are perfect!

He still continued to take me hunting, thankfully. A couple of weeks down the road, he takes me hunting during the rut. During this time he took of an entire week of work and was sitting in the stand all day. I don't remember what all he brought home during this time but I know this last year he put at least 6 deer in the freezer. ( I didn't have to buy ground beef until May of this year.) Either way I saw lots, it was awesome!

We ended up getting busted on one of our hunts though several times, because SOMEBODY, (yes me), thought it was okay to chew Big Red gum. I figured it was in my mouth, I knew better than to have food out in the open. Yeah, no, don't chew gum. He was pretty irritated at me for that. But he still took me hunting with him the rest of the season.

While I didn't have a chance to shoot my own deer this last deer season, I definitely caught Buck Fever. I've spent many months pondering the upcoming deer season. And my crazed deer hunting Yankee, being the best ever, knew I was going to buy the worst possible bow ever just so I'd have something to hunt with, stopped me and went out and bought a nice, beautiful Hoyt Ignite.

Quite honestly since I've had that bow, I've been damn near stir crazy, I shoot and practice several times every week. At the moment, I'm just killing time, but this winter, I'm going to kill a lot more.

I learned and earned respect for the deer season this last year. Its a language all its own, it requires you to be stealthy, skillful and patient. I just hope I have enough patience left by time this year's deer season comes in....


Marking the days on my calendar, I'm still becoming a hunter.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts. http://elitehuntsman.com

    ReplyDelete