And the Turkey Hunt Continues…

Y’all may recall my post last year when we went on our first turkey hunt ever, down on the ranch my family has in South Texas. We’ve never had turkeys on our place in the past, but in the last few years they’ve arrived and multiplied. I credit the brush, which has gotten so much thicker in the last 10 years, and the fact our corn feeders have been kept full on a regular basis. It’s kind of fun to have these birds around because the are really goofy. They are gangly and loud, and make a lot of funny clucks and squawks, and we see them nearly every time we’re out on a ride so it’s like a guaranteed wildlife spotting.

Last year, on our inaugural turkey hunt, we had them come within about 30 yards of us. It was exciting and my friend Kristin bagged a bird!

That night we ate turkey piccata (recipe here) and it was delish!

Brandon and I had been hoping this past season one of us would get one. We had a special guest with us this time–baby Kyle in the womb. #babysfirsthunt

Last year, we all hunted together. This year we split up, girls in one direction, and boys in another. But even though we split up, the birds managed to skirt around us each time. We figured they sent out a scouting hen to determine our location and she gave us up.

As haphazard as turkeys are–loud, the opposite of stealthy, and seemingly oblivious to predators–they are good at remaining hidden from you if they want to.

But we kept at it. Finally, on our last morning hunting, Kristin and I heard a “BOOM!” come from the direction of the boys. Pretty soon our phones were buzzing, “Turkey down!”

Adam was successful and got a beautiful bird.

Go Adam!

This makes for only two turkeys ever harvested at our ranch…no wonder the birds love living here.

Brandon and I were a little bummed we didn’t get one ourselves, but now we are even more determined. This story is not over yet!

Fortunately, our spirits were lifted when we remembered we had cinnamon rolls back at the house waiting for us.

At least we eat well on our hunts! (Also consumed on this hunt: a deep fried turkey. Yum.)

I hope I have a success story to report to y’all next year. Stay tuned!

A Wild Doe Chase

This is a story for all my hunters and wildlife enthusiasts! Last week, I wrote about the youth hunt I went on in Central Texas, and today I wanted to share with you the story of what we saw one evening while hunting. It was incredible and will probably go down as one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen while hunting.

I want to preface this story with a little bit about normal deer behavior for those of you who aren’t as familiar. In the peak of the rut (usually around December), bucks tend to forget about silence and stealth, and tear off across the countryside in search of does. When usually they would be scared by the click of my camera, they become so one-track-minded that I could take a phone call right next to them and they wouldn’t even notice. I’ve never seen more than two bucks after the same doe at one time, and I’ve rarely seen more than two or three nice eight points in the field at the same time. And even though I’ve spent many evenings hunting beside ponds, I have never seen a buck swim.

On this particular evening, we parked the car on a dirt road about half a mile from the deer blind in the late afternoon. We began walking down the road and Kathleen, the 10-year-old huntress I was guiding, proclaimed with great confidence, “Well, I just DON’T think we are going to see ANY wildlife tonight!” She was convinced and there would be no changing her mind.

As we walked down the path, the brush opened up to a view of the deer blind. It was perched about 20 feet off the ground.

To the left, there was a large meadow surrounded by forest. Off to our right, there was a patch of brush, a large pond and another expansive meadow. Kathleen continued telling us, loudly, how convinced she was that we would not see any wildlife. If she keeps making so much racket, then we for sure won’t see any wildlife! I thought.

We continued walking, but stopped dead in our tracks when a huge crash in the brush to our right startled us. Kathleen was cut off mid-sentence. We waited for another sound. Silence hung in the air, and we were about to keep walking when the thrashing in the brush started again, and got louder. Seconds later, just ten yards in front of us, a doe sprung out of the woods in a full sprint. Two seconds behind her, a buck catapulted out of the woods hot on her tail. They could have cared less that we were standing mere feet from them or that Kathleen was chit chatting. This buck had one thing on his mind: this doe.

We watched, still frozen, as the chase led into the woods. We decided we should get up to the blind and see from a better vantage point. By the time I climbed up to the top rung of the ladder, I heard another crash, this time it was the recognizable sound of antlers locking together in a buck fight. I gazed out across the meadow, and two different bucks–not the one we had just seen–were duking it out on the other side of the pond.

The moment I opened the window in the deer blind we heard a huge splash. The doe from the earlier chase jumped into the pond and was heading for the opposite bank.

A beautiful eight-point buck–the one that had been chasing her–stood dumbfounded on the bank behind her, as if thinking, How dare she elude me!

Splash! He jumped in after her, taking off across the pond and pulling himself out of the water on the other side just as four more bucks emerged from the woods and joined in the chase. I’m not sure what perfume this doe was wearing, but man, it was attracting these bucks like moths to a light. Big bucks, too–at least two of them were eight or more points with what I would estimate was a  20+ inch spread each. Beautiful.

The two bucks in the lead were huffing and puffing, their tongues visibly hanging out as the bucks gasped for breath. This doe was holding strong in her lead and if those boys wanted any time with her, they were going to have to earn it.

The chase continued–around the pond, back into the brush, out of the brush and across the meadow, with no buck giving up. Every time the doe emerged from the woods, she had one more buck on her tail, until at one point we counted six.

One of my favorite parts of this whole event were the innocent bystanders.

This heron, wondering what happened to his peaceful little evening by the pond…(you can see a buck swimming right next to her)…

The little buck, watching and taking notes for future doe chases…

Finally after what felt like ages, the chase headed into the woods where, I suppose, it ended.

“So Kathleen,” I asked, “what were you saying about not seeing any wildlife tonight?”

I couldn’t help but smile at the look of pleasant surprise on her face.

When we got back to the lodge that evening, one of the guides who had been out hunting with another girl and her mom recounted a moment when young hunter had asked her, “But can’t the girl deer just say ‘no’?”

How do you answer that? “Well yes, honey, you can always say no. But things happen a little differently out here in the wild…”

So much of what we see in nature is controlled–like at the zoo, on a tv show, or like the tamed deer in our neighborhoods, as just a few examples. Truly wild experiences are not something we often get to see in our day to day, but these wild experiences make us realize there is more than just us in this world–there are creatures out there who possess intelligence and who have value that is completely unique from our value as humans.

Oh what a night! Hope you have an adventuresome wildlife encounter in your future.

 

Tales from an All-Girls Hunt with the Texas Youth Hunting Program

Hello my blog readers! Pardon the long break over Christmas and January, but I am finally writing again. It is hard blogging and working full time!!

This past December I had one of my most memorable hunting experiences ever—as a guide on an all-girls deer hunt with the Texas Youth Hunting Program. TYHP is a nonprofit that provides young people the chance to go on their first hunt. It is really the perfect place for a young novice hunter to learn, so if you know a kid who might enjoy it, please let them know about it. (One parent gets to come so it’s a great chance for you to learn over their shoulder.) And if you’re an adult who has experience hunting and would enjoy passing it on to the next generation, I strongly encourage you to volunteer as a guide.

Visit www.tyhp.org for more information

I was one of five guides, and I guided a girl named Kathleen–who was 10 years old and very high-energy –and this was her first hunt for a whitetail deer. We were paired together randomly, but turned out to be an awesome match and we hit it off. Though Kathleen had been on hunts with her brothers before, this was the first time it was all about her and it would be her first shot.

My job as her guide was to ensure she handled the gun safely, help her choose the best shot, and provide advice and encouragement as needed. It was easy!

You might be asking yourself, “Why is Kathleen wearing a pirate patch in this picture?” Well, she wasn’t trying to be silly…she was trying to close of her dominant left eye, so her right eye could see down the scope of the gun. Though it did fit her personality in a way.

No offense to the gentlemen out there, but the fact this was an all-girls hunt made it a lot more fun! We had a s’mores competition, and I cooked peach cobbler on the dutch oven. And sometimes its just more fun to learn something new and challenging among your own kind.

For the s’mores competition, each girl was given a smorgasbord of ingredients to choose from—peanut butter, chocolate graham cracker, Reese’s, plain graham cracker, chocolate chip cookie, raspberry shortbread cookie, Hershey’s, and Nutella, to name a few.

A panel of judges did the taste testing. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

That’s Bob, our Huntmaster (aka the guy in charge), Sarah, a guide, and Kara, one of our awesome chefs-de-cuisine.

So many delicious submissions, but Kathleen won because she made her s’more into the shape of a deer. I mean, how can something that creative not win? Her prize: a dutch oven!

The next morning was an early one, but the warm, weather proof blind and the sunrise over the hills made getting out of bed totally worth it. We saw a ton of deer, and the view from the blind was incredible.

Fire on the ranch several years ago had cleared out a bunch of the brush so we could see for miles.

 

The owners imported exotic animals, and those were cool to see amid all the gorgeous whitetails. It was kind of like being in our own personal zoo!

Kathleen didn’t feel comfortable with her gun that morning–so despite a few perfect opportunities for a shot, she returned to the lodge empty handed. But one girl got a deer and a field dressing and skinning/quartering lesson followed, with each girl getting the opportunity to partake.

Hunter orange is the rule for the weekend–everyone must have it on, and boy, do we look stylish.

Nothing will stoke your appetite like cleaning a deer, so next we headed up to the lodge for some lunch, relaxation, and…drumroll please…dutch oven peach cobbler!

That evening, we went out to a different blind, had an adventure I will tell you about in another post, but Kathleen still did not feel ready to take a deer. So, despite several clear shots on some healthy does, she refused to take a shot.

I was reminded of the adage, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

So, you all will understand my surprise when, the next morning, I came downstairs at the crack of dawn to find a very perky, very-gung ho Kathleen completely decked out in camo and ready to shoot a deer. I think the hunting fairy must have visited her overnight, because she was a different girl than the day before. Hooray! I thought. We had seen so many deer, with so many clear shots, so certainly she would have her opportunity…

So, experienced hunters reading this, what do you think happened? .

If you guessed, “You didn’t see a single deer,” you would be correct! Only bucks came to the feeder and we did not have permission from the landowner to take any bucks.

As y’all know, that is the way it hunting works sometimes. You have a perfect shot, you pass it by thinking something better will come along, and nothing does. While I wish Kathleen had gotten to fulfill her goal of shooting a deer, I’m also glad she got a taste of real life–it makes you appreciate the successful hunts even more.

For me, it was awesome to just sit back and watch for once. We ate incredible food, slept well, and had the perfect weekend! By the end of the trip, one of the dads said, “I’ve been on a lot of hunts, but this is my first girls hunt. I have to say, it’s true, girls have more fun.”

Amen to that!

 


More information about TYHP can be found on www.tyhp.org. Just about any kid can sign up, and the cost is very low and the experience is something you can’t get anywhere else.

Every youth hunt differs, depending on the ranch and time of year, but here are the specifics on this hunt:

  • Time of year: early December
  • Location: Central Texas ranch
  • Accommodations: the landowners’ ranch house
  • Wildlife available to hunt: does and hogs
  • Number of people: 18 (5 hunters, 5 parents, 5 guides, 2 cooks, and the Huntmaster)
  • Food: provided

Heritage Game Mounts with Rita Schimpff

This month in my column for Texas Wildlife magazine I featured three talented Texas women who turn trophies into beautiful pieces of art. Today I am featuring Rita Schimpff with Heritage Game Mounts!

{Become a member of Texas Wildlife Association today to read the full column!}


Imagine the taxidermy mounts, tartan fabrics, and oil paintings you might see in a Scottish highlands castle–now, combine that image with Texas’ whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, ducks, and thornbrush. This is the one-of-a-kind artwork Rita Schimpff is known for, and it stands out from traditional taxidermy.

Schimpff’s designs include hand-carved oak leaves and acorns, tartan fabrics milled in Scotland, and hand painted landscapes and wildlife reminiscent of old world hunting scenes. To make it even more personal, your own ranch brands or fabrics can be incorporated.

Here is my interview with the wonderful and talented Rita Schimpff!

How would you describe what you make?

I make elegant antler display panels for exotic and domestic game to be displayed in old world style mountings popular in European Hunting Lodges of the past. My panels are handcrafted here in the USA and designed by me, with deep relief oak leaves and acorns to be used with either the client’s antlers or from my collections of vintage antlers. The panels come in several finishes and can be custom painted. I also paint and represent lines of sporting art and accessories.

What inspired you to start making this art?

I was inspired by family sporting heirlooms and necessity. Our shoulder mount whitetail did not stand out over the fireplace of our new home.  I had long admired the antique Swiss carvings called Brienzerware, but could not find one large enough or that did not cost an arm and a leg, so I created my own!

(Whit’s note: Brienzerware is old-fashioned forest-themed wood carvings like what you would see on a cuckoo clock or in a Swiss cottage.)

We also have a German Charivari, made of tiny sterling oak leaves and acorns that hunters wore on lederhosen to symbolize a successful hunt. These pieces started the creative process.

I continue to derive inspiration from our collection of sporting memorabilia, as well as the Victorian fascination with flora and fauna and their creative ways of display and taxidermy.

“Antlers are nature’s art & sculpture.”

What is your most popular design?

It is a tie between the Monogram Legacy and Tartan Legacy.  They make statements as wedding gifts, board gifts, a memorable hunt, ranch warming or to honor a first trophy.

I incorporate a beautiful line of tartans that are milled in Scotland by one of my favorite designers and many times people supply or have me find their family tartan.

How long have you been making Heritage Game Mounts?

I started my company in 2010 – but I have studied art since I was 10.  I graduated from TCU with a BFA in Commercial Art and a minor in textile design and printing.  I studied Tromp L’oeil, marble and stone finishes at the Day Studio in San Francisco and all the while continued to paint & draw wildlife.

What has been the most interesting piece you have done?

I painted an upland scene on my largest panel and placed a mounted flushing bobwhite quail lifting off the panel.  A lady wanted it as a surprise for her husband and we decided to incorporate their Brittany spaniels.  The pups are long gone, and held a special place in the family.

What inspired your love of wildlife and the outdoors?

My love of wildlife and outdoor pursuits started very young, I was lucky that both sets of grandparents had beautiful farms near San Antonio. I turned the sheep into pets, rode horses, helped with the cattle and learned to drive standard on an old Ford pickup.  And shot my first deer there when I was 10.

Do you like to hunt and if so, what is your favorite thing to hunt and why?

These days our passion centers around dove, upland game birds and salt and fresh water fly fishing.  I got an IGFA super grand slam on trout last summer with my grandfather’s antique bamboo fly rod and reel.  This January I caught my largest redfish on the fly—22 pounds!

How can people can purchase a Heritage Game Mount?

You can purchase the panels by themselves or with installed antlers ready to hang, through my website https://HeritageGameMounts.com or visit my home by appointment.

Garden & Gun Magazine also carries them in their online Mercantile.

 

Can people send in their own antlers to be custom made, and if so, how do they do that?

Yes, people send or drop off their processed antlers.  Often they bring their own fabrics or Ranch Brands to incorporate in a design.

Do you have shows?

I do a number of private shows in Texas each year, along with Christmas in Cowtown in Ft.Worth, Houston Safari Club and special fundraising events at Joshua Creek Ranch and Houston Gun Club-Targets for Tourette’s.

Where can people find you online?

Thank you Rita for sharing your story with us. I loved learning about the European traditions that inspire you! Keep up the good work.

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Hunting the Rascally Turkey

Our turkey saga continues. As you may have read here, Brandon and I have been hunting down the wascally turkeys on our property since last fall, when we decided that 30 turkeys was enough for one ranch and we wanted to see how they tasted. Chapter 2 of the turkey hunt continues today.

A couple of weekends ago, I invited my friend Kristin (not a native Texan, but we’ll forgive her)—an expert turkey hunter, and lady of many talents—and her husband Adam down to the ranch for a little wild turkey hunting. As total newbies to this whole turkey hunting thing, Brandon and I needed advice and they were the people who could help.

I realize not everyone who wants to go turkey hunting has a Kristin or an Adam to turn to, so I tell this story and share their wisdom in hopes it serves you well.

Before Kristin and Adam intervened, here is the advice we had received from friends:

  1. Shoot the turkey in the hind quarters
  2. Shoot the turkey at the base of the neck
  3. Shoot it with a rifle
  4. Shoot it with a shotgun
  5. Be very quiet and still because they have very good eyesight and are highly skittish
  6. Don’t worry about being quiet, you can shoot it from a truck
  7. Wear camo
  8. Don’t bother wearing camo, it’s more important to be still
  9. If it doesn’t die right away you’ll need a machete to cut its head off.

Obviously, we were confused.

Adam and Kristin brought their guns, calls, dog, decoys, and even a frozen turkey for dinner in case we didn’t shoot one. Basically, we provided the land–they provided the party! As any good hostess knows, guests like that are always invited back.

Now, I have to say a word about Adam.

Adam is the quintessential outdoorsman. First of all, he looks the part.

Secondly, after hunting with him all weekend, I am convinced that if he were dropped off in a wilderness and forced to survive on berries, he would be the kind of man who could fashion a fish hook out of a twig and be completely fine. He does love his heavy artillery but if forced to live without it, I think he could manage.

In essence, he was the perfect turkey hunting guide.

(And they’ll be handy friends come the zombie apocalypse.)

Kristin and Adam also brought their very regal, very dashing collie Jane. Jane doesn’t walk—she parades. (She does have 7 AKC titles in agility and obedience to her credit.) She is a big sweetie. Trooper and she made for a very photogenic pair, but Trooper can be a snob so as to whether they will be best friends remains to be seen.

The night before our hunt, we scouted the turkeys—where they were roosting and where they were grazing, so the following morning we would be in position to intercept them.

That is, possibly intercept them. Turkeys are very rascally this way—one day they do one thing, and the next, they do something else. I’m inclined to think this isn’t so much survival instinct as it is forgetfulness. They remind me of a loud party in a restaurant. In a world where nearly all wildlife has evolved to blend into their environment for survival, turkeys don’t just stick out, they seem to delight in a lack of camouflage.

The following morning, we sat under a tree and Adam set decoys about 25 yards out in front of us. Our objective was to call the turkeys in to within 40 yards, and shoot one of the male turkeys (also known as toms.)(Hunting the females in Spring is illegal.)

Why would we want to shoot a tom? We wanted to eat it for dinner, and we have a healthy population to pull from.

We were completely decked out in camo—face paint and all. In case I didn’t already feel legit following Adam the Outdoorsman through the woods, with face paint and a weapon I felt like the Jason Bourne of turkey hunting.

That morning started off slowly—fun fact: turkey hunting involves a lot of silence, patience, and sore buns.  You pick a spot, sit down, and you do not move, no matter how much your derriere aches. If turkeys have one defensive asset, it is their eyesight.

Adam called the turkeys using calls like this periodically, starting once the sun had risen and doing one call every 20-30 minutes. He was keen to not seem too eager. Turkey hunting is a lot like dating: you put yourself out in the field, make yourself available for the right chap, play hard to get, and then the best display of feathers wins.

Around 8:30 the action started happening, and despite the fact I had barely been turkey hunting before, I knew this was a scene out of a turkey hunter’s dream. We had been hearing the turkeys cluck near us, but because of the brush all around, we could only see one to two turkeys at a time. Adam’s calls were working though because they started coming around the brush to check out our decoys.

A young male turkey strutted out into the open. Kristin was the closest and had her gun up. BOOM! She took the shot and the sky turned black as a dozen turkeys took flight. They had been all around us but we couldn’t see them due to the brush. She hit the turkey square in the head and he died instantaneously.

Adam advised we stay put, and within a few minutes a big male tom, emboldened by the site of our decoys and feeling very proud of his feathers glided around the side of a cactus just thirty yards from us. He was beautiful, and he walked as if he knew it. It’s funny how these birds can be gangly and awkward one moment, but once they splay their feathers they walk majestically.

Brandon took a shot, missed, and the turkeys flew off again—this time officially done with our decoys.

We moved locations a few times after that, trying to call in more turkeys, but to no avail. But we had our bird—and we had the experience of calling in a big gorgeous tom.

Adam and Kristin made turkey piccata for dinner that night and it was delicious. I had heard wild turkey wasn’t as good as the kind you buy in the grocery store, but whoever told me that was wrong!

We hunted that evening and the following morning, and saw a few more turkeys but nothing in range. Mostly the hunt consisted of sitting in the wildflowers and enjoying the rare cool weather.

We split the meat, and Kristin and I both saved a bunch of feathers for art projects. I can’t wait to have a chance to make these gorgeous feathers into something pretty.

We learned a lot about turkey hunting, and feel so much less confused than we did when we started. Lessons coming soon in another blog post. Hope you feel inspired to go afield and hunt a turkey next season! Happy hunting!

Cheers to a New Year and a Few Deer!

Happy New Year! Ours was spent down at the family farm. Spending the new year there is somewhat of a tradition, largely because it’s the only place we can shoot off firecrackers and not get in trouble.

That is, as long as we don’t shoot off anything big that would catch the field on fire. We got in trouble for that once…

It was a shock to see everything be so green.  I’m used to dead and decaying grass this time of year, minus the occasional oat patch. Given the warm weather and green fields it might as well have been spring this weekend!

Trooper was loving it. In Trooper news, he got booties for Christmas to help him avoid sticker burrs, but his legs are so short that they don’t fit.

One of my objectives this weekend was to get a couple of deer we can have processed into snack sticks, hamburger meat, and sausage. On New Year’s Eve morning, my husband Brandon and I went out to the deer blind. It was cold and rainy, and we were tired puppies. About a dozen turkeys paid us a visit so that perked us up.

As you may have read in my recent post, we are both new to turkey hunting and are on a turkey quest!

However our mission was deer this morning, so the turkey got off scot-free once again and the quest continues.

A few does and a young buck came near the feeder but not close enough for a clean shot, so at about 8:30 am we headed home, empty handed.

Later that evening we opted to sit near a different feeder and see what showed up.

Brandon was armed with the telephoto and I had the rifle.

Soon, a doe emerged with a meager young buck hot on her tail.

A minute later, two cows came through the brush. The buck spent half his time with his back to us, making sure the cow didn’t pull a fast one on him.

Never mind the fact there were two hunters about a hundred and fifty yards behind him!

Eventually a doe turned broadside and I took the shot, successfully.

That night was New Years Eve, and having gotten up at a God foresaken hour that morning and shot, skinned, and quartered a deer, we were asleep on the couch by 8:30 pm and there was not a firecracker to be had.

The following morning, we were back at it. No rest for the woman who wants her own venison!

It was Brandon’s turn to get a deer so I handed him the rifle and he loaded it up. When a group of does showed up, he chose the biggest one and took a shot. It was a kill shot and she went down immediately. (We prefer that!) He reloaded and we waited about ten more minutes, and more does came to the feeder. He took a shot at another one and got it in just the same way.

Three deer later, we were thinking a wild game dinner was in order.

A gorgeous sunrise graced us while we took care of cleaning the deer and headed back to the house.

I never tire of seeing what the skies will do out here. Every day is something different.

As a final act on New Years Day, we got out the shotguns and went out to see if dove were flying.

Nada. But it was a very tranquil afternoon by the field, watching the grasses dance in the breeze and letting my mind wander. I hope it sets the tone for my 2017—tranquil.

You could say our new year started off with a bang!

Ha!

Hope you and yours had a good one. Bring it on 2017! We are ready for you.

Turkey Hunt Attempt #1

I grew up hunting only the wildlife we had on my grandfather’s farm: deer, dove, and the occasional hog. No ducks, our land is too arid. No quail, not enough of them. Turkey hunting was out of the question, because we’d never even had one gobble in the direction of our fence.

Until one afternoon last year, when I was driving the 4-wheeler down our dirt road and glanced across the field towards our corn feeder. Not expecting to see anything, I returned my eyes to the road out of habit. Then something clicked and I realized I had seen something back at the feeder.

Unusual, since wildlife isn’t always out and about mid afternoon. I threw the 4-wheeler in reverse.

Indeed, there was something moving out there. I zeroed in on it with my binoculars and stared in disbelief.

A gang of turkeys.

What in the heck?

I eagerly reported back to our family, and since that day we have discovered even more. I have loved watching them cluck around and make very funny ruffling sounds as they move around. Turkeys add a level of comic relief to a relatively uneventful nature scene.

(For a description of the weird noises I am talking about see this hilarious Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFMXcbyHbF0)

Given that these guys never get hunted on our place, and given their large population, Brandon decided he wanted to get our Thanksgiving turkey the old fashioned way–by going out and harvesting it himself.

Here is the advice we received from well-meaning friends and neighbors on how to go about this.

  1. Shoot the turkey in the hind quarters
  2. Shoot the turkey at the base of the neck
  3. Shoot it with a rifle
  4. Shoot it with a shotgun
  5. Be very quiet and still because they have very good eyesight and are highly skittish
  6. Don’t worry about being quiet, you can shoot it from a truck
  7. Wear camo
  8. Don’t bother wearing camo, it’s more important to be still
  9. If it doesn’t die right away you’ll need a machete to cut its head off.

I’m sorry, did you say A MACHETE?

Mom, get a Butterball. This hunt is off!

You could say we were left in a quandary. So naturally, I did the only thing I knew how to do and bought a machete.

Another tip we received was that I should use a turkey call to attract turkeys to where we would be hunting, so I set about practicing, much to the chagrin of my dog.

Here I am attempting the call. I think I need to work on consistency.

We also watched a YouTube channel of Canadians going turkey hunting in an attempt to glean wisdom from their years of experience. All I got out of it was the way they pronounce the phrase “Going oooot turkey hunting.”

The more we researched the more lost I felt. We decided we were just going to give it a go and improvise as the situation dictated. (Ranches require great improvisation skills, it’s a fact of life.)

And so we went down to the farm, guns in tow and feeling clueless. The first evening, we went on a scouting mission and found the turkeys heading across a hill through short brush and into the area where they roost.

dsc_0280-smaller

The second night, they followed the same pattern.

We thought that if we disguised ourselves in the short brush they passed through every night, we would be within shooting range of them.

We parked the 4-wheeler on a dirt road about a half mile away, and walked as stealthily as possible.

dilley-thanksgiving-2016-32-of-38

Then we got to the area of short brush and had to determine where to light, which we realized we were totally unprepared for. Where does one sit?

About five long minutes of whispering and debating later, we resigned ourselves to two mesquite trees somewhat shielded by cacti.

And we waited.

And waited.

img_8693-smaller

Barely moving, except to get the occasional pictures. Plenty of time to question if we were in the right spot.

img_8694-smaller

I got up close and personal with this cactus.

Thirty minutes into our waiting game, we heard a rustle in the brush just over Brandon’s shoulder. Out popped a doe, a mere ten feet from me!

She and I had a stare down, neither of us knowing what to do. This poor little doe probably has walked this same brush every evening for a few years, and then one day there is a smelly human in her path? She gave me a very surprised look before she snorted and turned on her heels, a fawn following behind her.

After the doe left, things fell silent again.

About fifteen minutes later, we saw the turkeys flying over the trees in front of us into their roosting site, where they would be posting up for the night.

Sadly, this meant they would not be returning to our area.

They had rerouted their nightly stroll through our little patch of brush.

Outsmarted, we got up and went home.

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The good news is my mom’s Butterball turned out great and we were thoroughly filled with food. (Read more about our Thanksgiving here.)

Since that hunt we heard that what we ought to do is sit in the deer blind and wait for them to come to the feeder. The exact feeder where I had seen them the first time, in fact.

So far the machete has not been touched, but it’s a comfort to know if I ever need to dress up as Jabbar from Aladdin I will be well-equipped.

As far as what we will do when or if we ever get a turkey, here is the advice we have received:

  1. Get a big pot, and boil the entire turkey in it over a campfire to loosen the feathers.
  2. Don’t boil them! Instead, skin them and take out the meat.

Clearly, we have more research to do. Stay tuned for future tales of turkey glory.

If you have advice, we are all ears.

The Adventure of Getting Your First Deer

My friend Kristin bagged her first whitetail deer over Thanksgiving break. Go Kristin! To be honest, I was surprised to hear it was her first deer. Kristin is so outdoorsy and has been on many a hunt, I figured she would have had the chance before. But no. She stands as proof that it’s not too late to become a hunter, ladies!

An animal lover at heart, Kristin didn’t grow up hunting and made the conscious choice to become a hunter many years ago. Now she sees it as an extension of her love of the natural world. If you’re wondering how that is possible, read on. In this interview she shares how she prepared for this hunt, what it was like to shoot her first deer, and why she does it. You’re going to love her!

Is it possible to not like someone with a duck named Waddlesworth? Really.


Welcome to Whit’s Wilderness Kristin! First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon and now call the Czech Out Ranch home just outside of San Antonio. My husband Adam is a Texas native and our property is a dream that came to fruition three years ago when we moved from Oregon to live a more outdoor-oriented lifestyle on 30 acres.

I am 30 years young and enjoy hiking, gardening, camping, archery and training in competitive dog sports with my rough collie Jane. Jane currently holds seven AKC titles in agility and obedience.

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My friend Nicole and I own Cowgirls and Collies where we craft custom jewelry and dog collars. I especially love creating feather necklaces inspired by my outdoor adventures.

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In addition to Jane, I have 14 ducks, 1 chicken, 1 canary, 2 cats, 1 rabbit and a wide variety of wildlife on the property from bobcat to quail. I especially love raising ducks, mainly for their eggs, but also because it is impossible to be sad with ducks around; they are unique, comical creatures.

My favorite duck I own is an Indian runner drake named Waddlesworth.

This year my crested hen Maybell hatched and successfully raised her own duckling which was quite fun to watch! Her duckling, Uno, is now bigger than she is. (Yes, all fourteen have names.)

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Did you grow up around the outdoors?

I have always felt a deep connection with the outdoors. I grew up playing in the woods behind our house in the Willamette Valley. My parents took my brother and I on adventures and I have fond memories of camping and playing on the beach or visiting places like Crater Lake National Park.

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It’s fitting because I was born on Earth Day. My mom still calls me her “mud puppy” as a term of endearment.

How did you first get exposed to the idea of hunting?

My dad grew up hunting but never thought I would enjoy it because of my gentle nature towards animals. I once named a bluegill he caught in a pond “Vince Gill” and when I found out Vince died I cried the whole car ride home.

I wasn’t truly exposed to hunting until I met Adam when I was eighteen years old. He taught me the role of hunting in wildlife management and conservation and exposed me to the fact that the very places I loved hiking were preserved with dollars from hunting licenses.

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Before you were a hunter, what was your perception of hunting?

I will admit I was a very naive to the benefits of hunting before I became a hunter. I thought I would never be able to kill or eat wild game. Even so, I followed Adam around in the woods documenting his hunting adventures with my camera. I enjoyed being in nature and seeing things that I never got to see before.

I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the death of an animal but when I saw Adam harvest his first doe with a bow I was really astounded.

I found that a hunter could still have remorse for an animal even though they took its life.

What was the first animal you ever hunted?

The first animal I hunted was blacktail deer with my bow.  In Oregon you primarily spot and stalk deer so it was quite an experience for me, though I was unsuccessful in harvesting one. I will never forget two does hashing out their territorial anger mere feet in front of me. I stood there hoping they would mistake me for a tree. Or the time I hunted in the snow and a buck came in just yards out of my comfort zone.

Bow hunting deer helped me discover some of the most beautiful land in Eastern Oregon that I would have never seen before.

The first animal I ever harvested was a pheasant with Adam’s 12 gauge Benelli at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, a place I had grown up visiting my whole life not knowing that it was used for hunting.

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After that first pheasant I researched and purchased my own shotgun, a 20 gauge Mossberg which fit my petite stature perfectly. Since then I have proudly harvested duck, dove, jackrabbit and turkey with that shotgun.

My first pheasant hangs in my office as a reminder of how far I have come since that moment.

I did eventually end up harvesting an animal with a bow when I moved to Texas–a feral hog.

What made you want to take a deer?

I wanted to harvest a deer primarily for food. As carnivores, we spend a lot of money on beef but I know the benefits of eating lean, natural venison. Knowing where my food comes from has become important to me.

Though I have had the advantage of eating venison harvested by Adam over the years I wanted to be a contributor.  

Eating a deer you harvest is just as gratifying as plucking a tomato from your garden. I dream of a day when I’ll never have to purchase meat or the majority of my vegetables from a store.

How did you prepare to go deer hunting? What were some of the best resources you turned to?

I am fortunate to be married to an avid hunter and outdoorsman who has been my primary resource guide through it all. Adam became an Eagle Scout at the young age of thirteen and grew up hunting with the Texas Youth Hunting Program. He is the smartest person I know when it comes to firearm safety and information.

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That being said I have reached out to many women through social media for guidance throughout the years. Women like Sarah Fromenthal, Andrea Haas and Christine Cunningham have always encouraged me. And of course, Whit’s Wilderness!

I watched and aided in the hunt long before I ever became a hunter. I think that by doing so it really helped me develop all the skills it takes- patience, strategy, persistence, safety and more. I now love guiding and helping others achieve their hunting goals.

What gun did you use and how did you choose it?

I used a Savage .308 rifle with a SilencerCo suppressor. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who suffer from hearing loss due to firearms. Wearing hearing protection during the hunt is difficult when you need to hear the game you seek, surroundings and/or your hunting partner. I guess that is a benefit to bow hunting.

One of my biggest worries when hunting is improper shot placement. I pray for a quick kill and the least amount of suffering for the animal I seek.

A suppressor aids in this goal by reducing recoil and muzzle flinch. Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act and though they involve some extra requirements to own they are worth it to me.

How did you go about getting comfortable with your gun?

As with any weapon, target shooting is the primary way I get comfortable with a gun.

Knowing how to safely load, unload and take any gun on and off safety are the most important things for me to feel confident in the field.

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Give us a run down on the experience, from the moment you left the ranch house to after pulling the trigger.

Waking up around 4 AM in Victoria, coffee was in order before we headed to the New Ranch in Fannin about a half hour away. Our good friends Devon and Chris Bethune at New Ranch Outfitters own and operate the 3,000 or so acre low fence property along the banks of the San Antonio River. Our Thanksgiving weekend had consisted of amazing home cooking and wonderful hospitality and we were ready for our second day of hunting. Adam had harvested a doe the day before.

As Adam and I headed out to the river bottom where we would hunt that day, Chris hollered to me, “There’s a buck down there with your name on it!” It turned out that there was a cull eight point in the area that was fair game.

At first light, we saw a buck a hundred yards off and after much deliberation we figured out it was not the cull I was after. Several does made an appearance as well, however, a very large branch in the oak tree in front of our blind made it impossible to get a proper shot. It was frustrating but we hoped the does would come closer.

We were watching the does when out of nowhere appeared the biggest buck I have ever seen in person. Remember, I am originally from Oregon where our deer are much smaller bodied. It was the cull buck. I placed my sights on his big body, as close to the vitals as I could and followed him as he eagerly walked away towards the does, sniffing the air. The only time he stopped was partly behind a large tree. A part of me wanted to pull the trigger but I knew it was not the perfect shot placement I had envisioned. He quickly disappeared into the woods, along with the does.

I was disappointed and questioned my judgement on the cull buck when we headed into the evening hunt. I really wanted to provide food for Adam and I. Would I ever get an opportunity again? Could I be successful?

Maybe I was overthinking deer hunting too much or my expectations were too high. These thoughts went through my head as the evening went on and no deer were to be seen. At around 5:30 PM I had given up hope of seeing anything when Adam tapped my shoulder. A doe and a young buck stepped out into my shooting lane. Adam confirmed that the doe was a good size and reassured me that the young buck was of age. Something I knew but needed him to confirm to feel more confident. I waited with my sights on her as she slowly turned back and forth, foraging. When she turned perfectly broadside I aimed at her vitals and took a deep breath, squeezing the trigger, taking my time. When my rifle went off I watched as the doe stumbled and fell mere feet away from where she had been shot. I had harvested my first deer.

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What are some of the emotions you felt right before and after pulling the trigger?

I was worried I would make a mistake in my shot placement. Afterwards I was thankful and happy it had been a swift kill. A deer in the wild can be killed in much more gruesome ways, either by a predator or a moving vehicle.

I had executed, as it turns out, a perfect shot in the heart.

Not only was I fulfilling my role as provider but I was also doing the landowners a favor [by helping them keep their population in check.]

Did you clean the deer yourself?

Adam and I cleaned the deer together. My favorite part about cleaning a deer is skinning it because I am really interested in learning to tan hides. I am still learning how to clean a deer but gaining more confidence every time.

I use a custom BRT Bladeworks knife from Oregon that Adam bought me 7 years ago.  This knife has never known a dull day and I still send photos of it in the field to the knife maker, Ben Tendick. He says it is the most used knife he’s ever made. We hung the gutted deer in a walk in freezer located at the ranch and the following day quartered it for transport.

Do you have any advice to first time hunters?

Go at a pace that suites you.

At the end of the day it is all about making memories, regardless of the outcome of the hunt.

I have never been pushed into hunting or doing anything that I didn’t want to do. I only push myself based on my goals. It may have taken me a long time to harvest a deer but I always felt comfortable, even when the anxiousness of defeat hit me. I never felt pressured.

I had a lot of ups and downs, believe me, and someone needs to tell the first time hunter that’s ok. I think sometimes experienced hunters lose patience with those less confident in the field.

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I know you are an animal lover. Why does hunting make sense to you?

Living on the land has really influenced the way I think about hunting and its role. I see and interact with wildlife on a daily basis. I respect, yet curse the coyote. My heart flutters when I bust a covey of quail in a bush or see a grey fox on my trail camera. I feel connected with these animals in a way I never experienced before.

What drives me to hunt is being joined with nature, creating memories outdoors and doing my part to balance wildlife populations that the land can support.   

What about wild game is appealing to you?

When I tasted venison for the first time it agreed with all my values of natural, hormone-free food, and plus it was delicious!

There has been resurgence in localized, all natural, healthy eating but like anything it has turned into a commercialized fad, with “organic” labels slapped on anything these days. The majority of Americans out there are still disconnected with the food they eat, organic or not. I was once one of those people.

When I became a gardener and a hunter I started looking at food a lot differently.

My food symbolized my hard work, dedication and I knew exactly where it came from. I was proud of the food on my plate.

I can’t say it better than outdoorsman Donnie Vincent,

Unless you’re a small time rancher, small time farmer, a hunter or fishermen… you really have no idea where your food comes from. Most people don’t even think about it. Well, we think about it.”

Is there anything you don’t like about hunting? 

The romanticism of one animal over another. To me, every native animal holds a special place in the balance of our ecosystem. There is a tendency to hate seemingly ugly creatures out there that don’t have doey eyes or big trophy antlers. Case in point, the Javelina. The Javelina is a native species to Texas that many deem ugly and inedible. I happen to think they are just one of many unique and interesting animals native to Texas and I can tell you they are very edible. My first rifle kill was a Javelina and it happened to score second place in the Texas Big Game Awards last season.

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In general terms, I dislike when hunters show lack of respect for any of the game they seek. I don’t think that they represent the majority of hunters out there. If anything, they contribute to the decline of our rights by misrepresenting what hunting is truly about. We need to start realizing that not everyone has to hunt our way or even be a hunter to be a supporter.

The more people who respect hunters as conservationists and wildlife stewards, the better for the future of hunting.

Okay, I have to ask a field fashion question because you know me, that’s what I do! What did you wear?

In the short years I have been hunting, I have gone from wearing an oversized men’s camouflage sweatshirt and army pants to the latest technological outerwear designed for the female hunter. Let me tell you, it makes a difference!

I primarily wear the First Lite Alturas Guide Pant and Artemis Hoody with Larkspur base layer pants underneath. I love my First Lite gear. It is form fitting, comfortable and wicks moisture. I have also worn their apparel while hiking and been comfortable in hot afternoons in Texas. I hope First Lite will continue to add to their inventory of hunting apparel for women.

(Wink wink, First Lite, if you’re reading this, get on it!)

Were there any key pieces of equipment you were glad you had brought?

  • Gloves: For being a Northerner I get extremely cold easily! Despite rising temperatures I wore my gloves all day during that hunt. Keeping my hands warm is really important to me to feel comfortable in the blind and while out in the field.
  • Snake boots: I wear my Chippewa snake boots just about everywhere, at home on the property or out in the field. Walking long distances might be tough in them because they are a little heavy but they are a necessity. My favorite thing about them is that they have a lifetime warranty.

You hunt lots of other animals, what are some of your favorites?

If I had to pick one animal to hunt for the rest of my life it would be the turkey. I love everything about turkey hunting. Hearing them glide down from the trees in the morning, sitting under a tree and calling them into a decoy or spotting them from afar and trying to cut them off. I love their beautiful feathers and watching them strut around their semi- impressed hens.

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I hope to fulfill my goal of Sandhill crane hunting in Texas one day and my number one dream hunt would be ptarmigan in Alaska.

Any parting thoughts for women considering hunting for the first time?

My advice for other women is to not get discouraged. I am always learning. If you are unsure about hunting ask to go with a friend who hunts to see what it is all about.

My mantra is I’m a professional in humility, not hunting.

You don’t have to act like man to be successful in the field. You don’t have to hunt alone, you don’t have to pull a heavy draw weight, rattle in a big buck, or shoot a weighty 12 gauge. If you do, more power to you!

Find out what drives you to get out there, whether it is the culinary aspect, the meditative outdoor experience, the exercise or the thrill of the hunt itself. Go out there and do it.

I love it.

Where can everyone find you on the internet?

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. You’re an inspiration!

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Dilley Dove Busters Were at it Again

This past weekend was the last weekend of dove season, so Brandon and I went to my family’s farm to do a little shooting. Dove are our favorite things to hunt!

Unlike with deer hunting, dove hunting allows to you shoot a lot, you don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn, you don’t have to be quiet, and the clean up is easier. And most importantly, we love to eat dove.

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The meat is so flavorful.

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For a while before the birds started flying, Brandon paced along a fenceline while I took care of important matters, like napping in the truck and taking selfies in the wind.

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I also spent a while testing out my telephoto on my favorite subject. 🙂

Around 4:00 the birds started flying. Brandon took to one side of a field and I went around the corner to another. The colors of the field were on fire and the grass was dancing frantically in the wind.

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At times like this I always think Monet would have loved South Texas.

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It’s a shame he never made it here.

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The wind made the birds very unpredictable. One minute a bird would fly overhead at a gentle pace, and the next it would be picked up by a gust and disappear into the distance before I even had a chance to pull my gun up. Dove were diving up and down, zig zagging in front of us and the shots were difficult.

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We really had to work for our dinner!

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By the time it got dark, we had four dove between us. Not our biggest day of dove bustin’ but better than nothing and plenty for a meal. Till next year.

PS. I found out that night that defeathering a dove in a wind storm is an interesting experience…

 

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Tis the Season for Deer Hunting

Another successful hunting weekend in the books!

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This was my first time to be fully decked out in Prois Women’s Hunting Gear and I felt very legit. (Prois site: Vest, pants, coat.)

It was a beautiful morning–dew covered the grass, light cloud cover hung overhead, and there was just enough chill in the air.

Every time my alarm goes off at 4am before a hunt, I think, Why am I doing this to myself? This is torture.

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But, by the time I’m in the blind watching the sun come up and listening to the birds sing, I’m always glad I forced myself out of bed.

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Coffee helps a lot.

Brandon was with me this time, and though he’s usually the strong, silent type he was bitten by the conversation bug. Every so often he would interrupt the silence to say, “Did you hear that?” “Is the gun loaded?” “When do the deer come out?” “I have the binoculars in my lap” and so on. Thank you, Brandon, for your insightful contributions.

We waited and waited for the sun to rise and when it did we could see deer milling ahead of us by about 100 yards. I was hoping for two deer. Once a doe turned broadside, I took a shot. She fell about twenty yards away. I reloaded, and we waited a few minutes. A fat spike stepped out of the woods. I took a shot and got him as well.

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That’s when the real work began. When I first told my grandfather I wanted to start hunting, he made me gut, skin, and quarter a hog. He wanted to see if I was ready to commit to the whole process.

As I field dressed the two deer that morning, Brandon was in shock. “Wow, baby, you’re a hoss,” he would say.

I got a tiny bit of pleasure out of showing him I could be tough, I must confess. I could tell it perplexed him.

“You can be such a germophobe about things, but here you are with your hands in a deer’s guts. It doesn’t make sense,” he kept saying.

At one point, I reached down and cut off the the deer’s testicles and tossed them on a nearby cactus, to which Brandon remarked, “Well, that really killed the mood.”

By 10am we had shot and cleaned two deer and dropped them off at the meat processor. I was ready for a taco, a hot shower, and a nap.

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It was a fun morning and great start to Christmas, and I’m glad I forced myself out of bed.

Thanks Prois Hunting & Field Apparel for Women for keeping me chic, comfortable, and equipped!