Rapacious for the Rio: The allure, argument and addiction of hunting wild turkey

Some days
I am more wolf
than woman
And I am still learning
how to stop apologizing
for my wild
-Nikita Gill “Wolf And Woman”

Imagine sitting in complete darkness. On the bare ground. Your back to a tree. That is, if you’re lucky enough to find a tree without a plethora of biting ants or sharp thorns. Cool air brushes your face and you scan the ground a second time with your flashlight for snakes. Your skin already begins to itch, you are certain you’ll leave with chigger bites to remind you of the morning. The nearby creaking of a working windmill can be heard as you imagine its blades whirling ferociously in the wind.

Creak. Creeeaaak. Creak.

The howl of a distant coyote wakes the sleep from your eyes. Quickly followed by the repeated gobble of a flock of Rio Grande turkey in a nearby cluster of oak and mesquite trees. In unison they alert each other of the threat nearby. The sun peaks over the tree tops and the wind slowly dies down. You check to make sure you remembered your ear buds and load your shotgun.

I don’t care how one with nature you are. You can scale the tallest mountain or camp under an open sky (all very wonderful and admiral things I might add) but you just don’t wake up on your days off from work to go sit among the wild things the way a hunter does. You don’t feel the grass tickle the back of your neck or the cold metal of a shotgun in your hands. You don’t sit and imagine the days events, watch the sunrise slowly, and hope for the perfect scenario of the game you seek the way a hunter does.

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The first animal I ever hunted was the Rio Grande turkey almost as far away from the Rio Grande as one can get. That’s right, in Oregon. According to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife the Rio Grande turkey was imported to Oregon in 1975. Despite reported low bird density per square mile, the Rios run rampant in high numbers in the suburbs where I grew up. Nobody really hunts them there, and they virtually have no predators aside from a neighborhood dog or hybrid car. It seems it is a case of wildlife management gone wrong, or lack of management completely. A lure of hunting to me being that hunters keep wildlife numbers in balance.

Because of their sheer numbers in my suburban neighborhood, I thought the turkey would be a much easier target then a deer for a first time bow hunter like me. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. Not once did I see a turkey on the public lands I was required to hunt. Low and behold mass quantities would walk by my house in the South hills of Eugene on their way to roost in the tall firs behind my quaint house. Just out of reach.

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Public land just outside of my suburban neighborhood in Oregon

Fast forward to my life in Texas where wildlife management and land stewardship seem to be of higher importance to the hunter. I have continued my pursuit of the Rio. From bow hunting only to shotgun. Not all types of hunting provide such an alluring scenario as turkey hunting. I find that it is hard to describe to folks who don’t know what it is like.

Turkey hunting is like elk hunting for the bird nerd.

When a bull elk comes bugling into sight, or a herd of cow elk make their way down a hillside into view, the adrenaline and the patience needed by a hunter to make an ethical shot is indescribable. This is how I feel when a gobbler (tom turkey) comes strutting or running in to a decoy. Or when a flock of hens fly down from the roost and I patiently wait for a tom to follow. The moment I see him it takes every ounce of strength in my body NOT to move. The turkey may be awkward in the sky and on the ground but the one thing that they have going for them is impeccable eyesight.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation:

Wild turkeys are one of the most challenging game species to hunt. Their keen eyesight and hearing help them hone in on sounds and movement from a distance, allowing them to locate flockmates and food while also avoiding predators. They can sense the slightest movements, which often results in a hunter going home empty handed…

 …Hunters who choose wild turkeys as their quarry are adept at blending into their environment, remaining still for long periods of time, recognizing and mimicking the various sounds wild turkeys make and are the epitome of patience.

After many unsuccessful hunts and close calls,  I harvested my first tom turkey in Live Oak county Spring of 2016. He weighed a whopping 17 pounds.  This butterball did not come from the grocery store but was procured by my and my husband’s own efforts and actions. That is where the confidence and addiction to turkey hunting began.

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The wild turkey is the largest North American game bird

While hunting larger game animals like deer, elk and feral hogs have their own draw I have always felt a unique attraction and allure to bird hunting. It may sound trivial but I think it is because before I ever took up hunting I was an avid bird watcher. Adam would laugh at me when I would visit Texas and get excited about seeing a Grackle or a Cara Cara, all very common birds. I still love watching large black vultures roost in the bull mesquites and I have been known to turn my car around to photograph them eating carrion on the side of the road. If it is a bird, there is a good chance I adore it, no matter the species.

So why hunt something you love?

Fellow blogger and hunter Mike Adams of Mike Adams Hunts discussed this question in a recent post about his love for waterfowl hunting:

Being able to communicate an efficient explanation to this question bugged me for weeks to come, and overtime I came face to face with a realization. The answer cannot be described in black and white terms, rather a complex blend of different variables come together to convey my relationship to waterfowl.

If you love ducks so much, then why do you kill them?

I have a lot of non-hunters in my life. I am totally OK with that. Throughout my short time as a hunter I have been asked that very question over and over again. How can you kill what you love? When I ponder the question, I would agree with Matt, it is a complex blend of many reasons. My initial answer is with a question itself.

Why does one pick flowers for a vase? Why not just leave them in nature to be photographed and admired?

I find that hunting birds provides me a higher comprehension of the game animals I love. Understanding the animal I seek makes me a better hunter and gives me more fulfillment as a “bird nerd”. For instance, the average person may say their favorite animal is the sloth but do they travel to Panama or Costa Rica to study them in their habitat? Not likely. I return to the third paragraph of this blog post to make my point. Not often will you find the average Joe, or even avid birder waking up before daylight to sit on the ground in the middle of cactus and mesquite brush to watch turkeys. It is different for the hunter. Touch. See. Taste. All the senses are involved. As a hunter I get to study turkey habitat, their behavior and revel in it. I feel a deeper connection with the birds I love by doing so. I get as much enjoyment watching a hen turkey guard her nest as I do hunting her tom counterpart. And should I harvest a bird for my and my family’s consumption, I know I am contributing to the management of the species.

The majority of the turkey I eat is field harvested. This means something to me. I dream of a day when my Easter or Thanksgiving dinner is put on my plate at the hands of my shotgun. I have become that annoying person at the holiday dinner table. I am OK with that. While I enjoy the taste of a good beef steak from our local meat market Pruski’s, wild game birds are so much different then their chicken or turkey counterparts. If you’ve never had the pleasure, don’t you dare let anyone tell you wild birds are dry and tasteless. After eating properly prepared wild game birds you can confidently tell those people they are terrible cooks. Unlike store bought chicken, you don’t have to cook the snot out of wild turkey, duck, dove or pheasant for it to be safe to consume. And no, you don’t need to wrap everything in bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno. In fact you need very little ingredients to enjoy their flavor instead of masking it. Wild turkey or pheasant piccata with a lemon, caper and white wine sauce is our go to favorite.

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Spring 2017: Thankful for my friends Whitney & Brandon Klenzendorf who gave me the opportunity to harvest this tom on their farm & ranch in Frio county.

Ultimately, I don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for why I hunt turkey. Wild game is where it’s at and turkey hunting is my addiction. I may not be an expert turkey caller, have the latest gear or the most expensive shotgun but I do know I have the patience and perseverance it takes to get the job done.  When I am turkey hunting I am a predator. I have learned a lot over the past five years of hunting turkey, and every time gives me more and more conviction about why I have been called into the field to become a hunter. Why knowing where my meat comes from is important and how hunting the animals I love plays a key role in their management. The only hunting related dreams I have at night are always of turkey hunting- not deer, not elk, not even duck. That must mean I am officially addicted.

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Adam is my go to turkey caller but I hope to get better at it and can’t wait for Spring 2018!

I have now harvested dove, duck, pheasant and turkey with my 20 gauge Mossberg Super Bantam youth model shotgun (MSRP: $419).

What’s next? Quail? Crane? Goose?

Only time will tell. What I can be certain is come springtime the allure of turkey hunting will draw me back to the Texas brush country where I will sit and wait in silence, ravenously waiting.

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I will be as I am

Not as you pretend me to be.

Defiant until the end. -‘Fiercely Me’ 

Interested in trying turkey hunting? For tips visit Whit’s Wilderness: 10 Tips for the Beginning Turkey Huntress & Turkey Hunting Basics You Need to Know

For wild game recipes visit My Wild Kitchen and check out dishes like Lemon Rosemary Wild Turkey

 

 

The West Texas Connection: Conservation waterfowl hunting with Heath Edgerton

 

“I hear a Spec in that group!”

img_20170122_205456_648Hundreds of geese circled above us as we lay motionless under muddy burlap blankets on the banks of a cattle farmer’s pond somewhere on the outskirts of Littlefield, Texas. The morning weather began around 35 degrees and I was thankful for my waders and hand warmers. Our spread of decoys consisted of an array of ducks, Canada and Snow Geese. Our guide and friend, Heath Edgerton wailed on his various waterfowl calls in hopes to attract the steady flow of birds that circled overhead. Health’s ultimate prize, a Specklebelly goose, flew on to the adjoining wheat field but its flight companion the lesser Canada goose fared differently that morning.

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10 minutes after legal shooting time

If there ever was a human embodiment of a bird dog it would be my friend Heath Edgerton. Never in my whole life have I met anyone who could identify and talk about waterfowl with the ease, enthusiasm and excitement that Heath can. The kind of guy who has a Pintail drake mount affectionately named Aldo in his living room. This is fitting since Heath is the President of the Texas Tech Ducks Unlimited Chapter and a friendly face among his peers on campus. As if he couldn’t be more involved in waterfowl hunting and conservation, Heath serves as a field representative for Team Drake and a crew member of Higdon Outdoors, the official decoy maker of Ducks Unlimited. A student of Agricultural Economics, Heath boasts of Lubbock, its wildlife, hardworking people and the surrounding Panhandle portion of West Texas with a much deeper understanding than most.

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Our guide Heath Edgerton

Heath’s connection with the land starts with the farmer. When there is work to be done Heath assists many farmers with various tasks, be it driving a tractor across acres of wheat fields or fixing a cotton stripper. However, Heath has made his love of hunting the most significant tool of all. As a waterfowl hunter, Heath gains permission to hunt the private lands of West Texas with his knowledge and positive relationship to those farmers. He even recounts how he gained permission on a particular property by naming all the different breeds of cattle the rancher owned. In turn, he acquires the opportunities to guide others and do his part to manage the thousands of migratory birds who travel through the Central flyaway zone each year.

“Without the farmers we don’t eat and I can’t hunt.” –Heath Edgerton

As hunters we often assert that our efforts afield are conservation minded. In addition, we are sometimes challenged by others who haven’t taken the time to understand the correlation. How can you say killing is conservation? How can you hunt ducks if you have pet ducks? I am met with animosity all the time. However, nowhere is the relationship between conservation and hunting more clear than in waterfowl hunting. According to Texas AgriLife Extension:

In the 1930s, waterfowl populations were drastically declining. The U.S. Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, known simply as the federal Duck Stamp, was implemented in 1934. Since its inception, over $750 million has been raised with funds going towards research efforts as well as the protection of over 5 million acres of critical waterfowl habitat.

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Our contribution to the duck stamp program every year is just another way to give back to the wildlife we cherish so greatly.

Looking back on life, it has been ingrained in my head to love and worship waterfowl. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, home of the Oregon Ducks. When I was a little girl my parents took me sporting events where I would dance and high-five our mascot, Puddles. I proudly graduated from the University of Oregon and before moving to Texas, Adam and I decided to try duck hunting. It was there that we enjoyed the cold, often wet companionship in the marshlands of Western Oregon. In a pond not far from where I harvested my first pheasant, I shot my first green-winged teal hen and got to taste duck for the first time. Fast forward to life on the Czech Out Ranch in Texas and I wake up to the sound of fourteen ducks eager to be let out of their pen to forage for the day.  That’s right,  we raise domestic ducks for their egg production. It appears I am destined to be tied to waterfowl no matter where I go.

Last year I put out into the universe my dream of Sandhill Crane hunting in Texas (which requires an additional Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting permit I might add). In fact, this is my number one dream hunt in Texas. Not a trophy mule deer or a bighorn sheep (though I would be game for either), but a Sandhill Crane. According to National Geographic a fossil from the Miocene Epoch, some ten million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as the modern Sandhill Crane. The Sandhill Crane’s deep historical significance, sheer size, numbers and beauty, make them the ultimate challenge for a bird nerd like me. There is a reason they are affectionately called the ribeye of the sky! Yes, Crane are very much edible.

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Sandhill Cranes- Post, TX

There was a second part to this dream however, I wanted to Sandhill Crane hunt with Heath Edgerton. 

My dream came true last Saturday morning when Adam and I headed to a wheat field outside of Lubbock. We may not have harvested any Sandhill crane that morning but I still feel successful in my pursuit of them. We witnessed those large, prehistoric birds, fly overhead. We heard their unique trilling calls and Heath taught us the differences between adult and juvenile birds. I also learned to appreciate that the Sandhill Crane has impeccable eyesight and the ability to fly while wearing body armor.

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Crane decoys

The following day Heath, along with his friends Haley and Joe, treated us to a memorable waterfowl hunt. I harvested my first Widgeon (a hen) and Adam his first Canada goose among other species of duck. It was there on the banks of that pond that I watched the sunrise and I got to witness Heath call for birds, learning the meticulous tricks and determination of the West Texas waterfowl hunter.

It didn’t take long for me to notice how much Heath values his relationship to the farmers of West Texas. Leaving the land in better condition than when we arrived, Heath and his friends picked up trash and empty shotgun shells left by other hunters. In addition, they made sure to open and close every gate with care and always took into account safe shooting distances and directions in relation to buildings and livestock. By taking great care in these things, Heath hopes to continue to foster a positive relationship between the land owner and the hunter.

It was then I realized that sometimes who you hunt with is much bigger then what you hunt. In the fast paced world we often find ourselves living in, genuine young people like Heath are hard to come by. He is definitely not your typical college student. The future of waterfowl hunting and conservation is alive and in good hands. One day, Heath might even play a major role in the food we consume or better yet, he might work for Ducks Unlimited. Either way,  I left Lubbock feeling like I had made a connection not only to the land and wildlife, but to the people that inhabit it.

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Mixed bag: Mallard, Widgeon, Pintail, Green-winged teal, Canada & Snow goose

And yes, I plan to pursue the Sandhill Crane again next season. Hopefully, with my friend Heath calling by my side.

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Thank you Heath and Haley for showing us a great time in Lubbock! 

For more information on a guided hunt with Health Edgerton please visit Wreckin’ Wing Outfitters.

Say Yes to the Field Dress: Marriage, hunting and more.

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Christmas day 2009 I should have known Adam was up to something. Sitting in my parent’s living room I was asked to close my eyes before receiving my Christmas present. I heard the clicks of cameras turning on from our family members as they sat around me. I didn’t even look at the ring when I responded to the question asked. As it turns out the ring was beautiful but the man who gave it to me was even more exceptional.

I should mention that I dislike surprises.

16944_1163850983858_3369676_nI witness many relationships that are time starved. Lives that are lived almost entirely separate of one another. Spouses who remain detached from each other’s passions. Couples who validate that “date night” is the key to staying committed. I can’t fault anyone for making time for one another but personally, I hate that term. There, I said it. Save me the stuff about how when I have kids I will think differently. Maybe, maybe not. I think I dislike the term because it isn’t used to describe my idea of a memorable time together. Unless date night means flounder gigging I highly doubt I will ever look back on our marriage and remember the restaurant we ate at 100 times or the best movie we saw in the theater (we haven’t been to the movie theater together in over three years). 

Being outdoors plays a huge role in our marriage. It is almost an obsession of ours and it is where we spend the majority of our outings together. Without it so deeply rooted in our lives I think we would be lost as husband and wife. Instead of date night, I will remember the time two sandhill cranes flew into the feeder while we were whitetail hunting, or when we got off a plane in California and hiked to the tallest peak in Los Angeles county (over 10,000 ft. elevation). When we trained and completed two 10ks in two different states, worked tirelessly in the Texas humidity to build duck pens or worked together to reel in a 7 ft. sturgeon on the Columbia river. 

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Our society is caked with stereotypes about hunter’s wives. Painting the picture of an ultra girly wife who nags on their husband when they want to spend money on hunting or fishing gear. The husband who sneaks into a tree blind just to get away from his family. And don’t forget the curse of the pregnant wife during deer season. I am sure this merits some truth to folks, but for me it couldn’t be farther from reality. I can’t imagine how empty I would feel if Adam and I didn’t share and support each other’s passions, especially those involving the outdoors. It doesn’t mean we have to always be together when we do them however, I definitely don’t want to play the sour wife left at home role. I know plenty of non-hunting wives who support their husbands going afield in search of game.

Yes, there are nagging wives who oppose hunting and men who don’t want their spouses to come along; but there are plenty of couples out there who bond over shared hunting experiences and who support each other! Women should never let the disparaging remarks of a man discourage them from hunting. I taught myself to hunt and have had plenty of men laugh in disbelief at the notion I hunt and can gut my own animal. So, I say not to wait on a man for permission. You’ll be waiting a long time and will miss a lot of gorgeous sunrises.

-Whitney Klenzendorf, Whit’s Wilderness

Hunting with your spouse is just as beneficial as it is hunting with anybody. In my opinion, it is even more rewarding. I firmly believe if you share a similar passion for the outdoors, then hunting with your spouse can provide so much more than a memory together. It fosters all the important basics to any relationship: patience, teamwork, communication, and fellowship. 

007You don’t have to be a hunter for very long to know it requires a patient mindset. Often cold early mornings give way to warm afternoons without seeing more than a squirrel. I am not known for inhabiting a lot of patience (especially if I am hungry), so I get A LOT of practice when I am afield. Often times I feel as though more experienced hunters lose their tolerance for the less experienced hunter. This can lead to an unsafe and ill received hunt. Adam has a lot of intuition and knowledge, even if he is hunting something for the first time. He teaches me a lot when we are hunting together and that requires a lot of patience on his part. In the end he is always there to encourage me. The patience of the hunt and with each other is what strengthens us and makes us a good team.

Teamwork is very important in hunting and in marriage. All the goals that we have reached in our lives together are because we have supported one another. Hunting promotes this idea of unity. Not only is it safe to hunt with another person it is also beneficial. For example, two set of eyes and ears are better than one as you both work towards the goal of harvesting the game you seek. Or sometimes teamwork simply means helping out. Whether it is carrying an extra firearm, setting up the ground blind, tracking a blood trail or processing your game. It is your accomplishments together that really feel good at the end of the day. In fact, sometimes teamwork doesn’t mean hunting together at all

Now that we have a baby, we do have to hunt alone while the other watches the baby. But we’re still there on the journey, supporting each other and making sure the other succeeds. Having that support system and learning the ways of hunting, really brings us closer together.

-Morgan Garcia, Armed Rogue

12294663_10205119537495476_7253915904394303295_nCommunicating is often difficult in a marriage. Even the happiest couples struggle with it’s daily conundrums. Hunting with your spouse leads to a lot of quiet times but it also leads to a lot of various conversations. Whether it is strategizing about the hunt, or debriefing, you are forced to talk it out with your partner. In addition, for you and your spouse to hunt together I believe it is important that you share some of the same ideals about hunting. Even so, talking about it can often lead to good conversation. I didn’t always hunt, but I never let that stop me from having a conversation about it. Having communicated with Adam about the ethics of it I have come to develop my own ideals and reasoning. As our lives developed with more opportunities to share our hunting passion, especially with youth, it is nice to know that we are unified in our beliefs and advice to others. We are more unified as a couple because we share these same ideas.

We both pretty much have the same point of view on hunting and the ethics surrounding it and each pull our own weight in the field so we make a good team.

-Andrea Haas, Huntress View

1507Life is never boring when you’re married to your hunting partner! I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed and cried with Adam in the field. The fellowship that we get from being together is irreplaceable. We bond over the memories made and we gain a deeper understanding of one another because of them. Ultimately, for me it boils down to being best friends.I trust him and enjoy our accomplishments together. Whether it be hunting, hiking, camping or another outdoor activity we are sharing in our passion which makes us happier people and therefore happier as a couple. That is why Adam makes the best hunting partner for me.

That Christmas day over six years ago I was really saying yes to so much more than being a wife. Since then we have accomplished so much together and we continue to strive towards our passions and goals. It turns out, I was saying yes to a lifetime of friendship and togetherness in the great outdoors.

I was saying yes to the field dress.

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Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a “how to” post about marriage or a “why my marriage is better than yours.” I am far from perfect but I am proud that Adam and I enjoy living our outdoor lifestyle together. Happy hunting!

May We Never Run Out Of Firsts: Reflections on deer hunting

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When I was a little girl my best friend Morgan and I would run through the woods behind our suburban homes just outside the Willamette National forest. Gifted imaginations, we would pretend we were Native Americans and fashion bowls out of twigs and leaves, pointing at the “pioneers” when a neighbor drove by on the street below. Our loyal, fast mustang horses were our mountain bikes. Often in the forest we would run into blacktail deer and hunker down in the ferns, watching quietly as they passed, mere feet away.

Like many of my outdoor adventures my first experience hunting deer came by following Adam around in the Oregon woods. In 2009, standing beside him wearing his  over sized camouflage sweatshirt, I watched Adam harvest his first blacktail doe with a bow. I blood trailed the deer only to find her expired under the fir trees she knew so well. I had never even tasted venison before but there I was helping Adam quarter a deer. Why I did it, I didn’t really know at the time. I just enjoyed being outdoors in the elements. Returning to the free feeling I felt as a little girl.

It’s hard for me to believe I harvested my first deer a couple weeks ago at the age of 30. It feels like I have been in the woods with them my whole life. I have always been there for Adam’s deer harvests throughout the years, watching and assisting where needed.  As a volunteer guide and mentor, I have aided in more deer harvests in Texas then I ever did 27 years in Oregon.

People were even more surprised to find out this was my first deer. It’s almost as if they were confused about what I have been doing in the field all these years. There is something about harvesting a deer that solidifies being a hunter in the eyes of many. The deer is such an iconic species when it comes to wild game. It is relatively large and admired by many. One of those animals glorified by hunters and non-hunters for similar and different reasons. Either way, I am thankful for the many opportunities I have had to watch and chase these beautiful animals. My personal journey deer (and elk) hunting up until this moment has been one of countless challenges. None of which I will take for granted.

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I’ve carried my bow across rivers, up mountains, checked trail cameras, walked tirelessly over fallen timber, tracked in the mud, and sat patiently (and sometimes impatiently) for hours in a deer blind. I have broken my bow in the wee hours of the morning hunt because of a stupid mistake and passed on shots with my rifle. I have pulled my bow back and never released the arrow. I have sat on a hillside watching through my scope as a herd of cow elk foraged below, bull tag burning a hole in my pocket. I “gave up” hunting deer many times out of frustration. Yet, moments like those are what made this deer even more special.

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A mature south Texas doe

I realize now that I am a person who chases down “first times.” I am a goal setter. I want to go places I have never been and accomplish things I have never done. That is the euphoria of the outdoors for me. I am not comfortable with the mundane. I am a dreamer and a checklist maker. It is my coping mechanism for all the worries that ordinary life can bring. Thankfully Adam is typically supportive of my obsession with new goals, even if I complain my way through them sometimes. In the end, I am always proud of my accomplishments.

Climb the third tallest mountain in Oregon? 

Pheasant hunt in the Texas panhandle? 

Equestrian camp on the Pacific Crest trail? 

Help conduct a helicopter deer survey? 

Complete a 10k in the Texas hill country? 

Fish for sturgeon on the Columbia River? 

Check.

That is not to say I will never hunt deer again. I look forward to experiencing many more deer harvests in my future. I dream of a day when I will never have to buy meat at the grocery store. That is what really drives me to deer hunt. My only hope is that I continue to be thankful in the same way I feel with every first harvest or new experience. Extreme gratitude for the right to be a hunter and outdoors woman.

Taking an animal’s life is a big decision for me. From a dove to a deer. 

No matter the game I seek, hunting and all that the outdoors has to offer has been blessing in my life.Hunting has given me purpose and let me return to the connection I felt with nature as a child. Like a child, I am always learning. While I may not have boat loads of money to spend on extravagant hunting goals, I somehow manage to make plenty of great memories, and accomplish things I never thought I would.

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Grateful.

Want more details on my first deer harvest? I was recently interviewed by outdoor writer Whitney Klenzendorf of Whit’s Wilderness .

Read More: The Adventure of Getting Your First Deer

Never Lose Hope: Guiding for the Texas Youth Hunting Program

“Bull.” 

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It was all I could manage to say seven years ago when I got my first taste of what being a guide was all about. Bull. Bull. Bull. I had to repeat it several times to get the attention of the hunter and for fear I’d only said it the first time in my mind.

It was November 2009 when I spotted and tracked my first bull elk in the coastal mountains outside of Florence, Oregon. When I was asked to join a hunter as a second set of eyes and ears I had every intention of walking around in the damp woods and not seeing a thing, I was wrong. Muddy elk tracks in my path made my breath turn shallow. When I saw the ghost of the forest staring at me a midst the tall Douglas firs my heart rate accelerated.

I couldn’t have been more proud to share that moment with the hunter, a friend of my dad’s, even if it meant taking the life of such a huge creature. It was an invigorating and emotional experience that I couldn’t quite comprehend at the time. Adam, having grown up hunting with the Texas Youth Hunting Program, had prepared me for that moment. He had educated me on the benefits of hunting safely and ethically. The elk’s life would not be wasted, in fact, it would be celebrated at every meal. Something about being the reason someone gets to feed their family still ignites the passion for guiding in me.

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This would mark the third year for Adam and I to guide with the Texas Youth Hunting program. The program is the product of the Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife joining forces to bring an array of opportunities to hunt safely, ethically and educationally for kids ages 9 to 17. Again, we joined Huntmaster Jack Thompson and landowners Gail and Bruce Hoffman at the La Trinidad/Hoffman Ranch in Ben Bolt, Texas for a whitetail doe and hog hunt.

When I first saw Esperanza, age 17, she was hands deep into the process of skinning a whitetail doe that another youth hunter had harvested. She had clearly done this before and I was impressed by her tenacity to dig right in and help. I was excited to be paired with her and her mother from East Texas. It would be Esperanza’s last year before she aged out of the program and I hoped to make it a memorable one.

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Getting to know Esperanza was energizing. She is the type of girl I might have hoped to be had I been introduced to hunting at a young age; Independent, fierce, hardworking and good with a knife. Not to mention she had a quick wit and sense of humor. We talked about ethical hunting, and how it is our responsibility as hunters to practice firearm safety and proper shot placement on the game we seek. Together, we set a goal to harvest a mature doe. This meant that Esperanza passed on many yearling does during our time in the field, opting to stick to the goal. As all the other youth hunters harvested their deer, I had hope that we could make it happen for Esperanza too. The evening before the last hunt the landowner said to Esperanza, “Tomorrow you can harvest anything.” Esperanza’s eyes lit up. The opportunity to harvest anything meant, buck or doe.

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Cold front rolling in at the Hoffman Ranch

That Sunday morning Esperanza and I sat together in the deer blind rubbing hand warmers together to activate them. A cold front had settled in and the Northerner in me forgot what 30 degree temperatures felt like. I had not missed it and despite my wool socks my toes went numb with cold. We heard coyote howl from both sides of the blind and the lack of deer movement had us worried about whether we’d even see any deer at all that morning. Usually when I hunt with Adam this is where I would chime in some witty comment about how all the deer must have been at church. That morning though I kept quiet as time ticked by on Esperanza’s last youth hunt. Coyotes dashed across our shooting lanes. Birds rustled in the trees. Silence.

Just when Adam texted me that he was heading out in the truck to pick us up a deer walked out into the shooting lane to the right of us, about 80 yards. I quickly told Adam to hold back. Esperanza and I confirmed it was a spike and she put her rifle back down. We watched the spike graze and the silence between us meant we were both in deep thought. When she turned to me and asked, “If I shoot it, will you be disappointed?”

My heart sank.

That was when it hit me. Being a guide for the Texas Youth Hunting program is so much more than being there for the hunt. It is greatly about mentoring and encouraging our youth. As mature as Esperanza was I had forgotten that I was still being looked up to. My opinion mattered in her eyes.

“I don’t think I could be disappointed in you.” I responded.

I explained to her that all weekend she had proved to me she knew the difference between right and wrong and what it meant to be a safe, ethical hunter. She knew what being a respectful hunter meant. With the landowner’s permission she was able to harvest any deer of her choice. After all, there is a big difference between harvesting a fawn buck and a spike buck. This was her chance to provide sustenance to her family back in East Texas.

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The moment of truth

Esperanza agreed. As she shouldered her rifle again I reminded her to take her time. To breathe. When the shot echoed in the blind I watched as the spike buckled down and then disappeared into the bushes. I was confident she had hit him and prayed we would be able to track and find the deer. The prayer of every guide…and when it finally came time to look it was there we found her spike, 30 yards in the brush.

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Success!

For a girl with a name that means “to hope” in Spanish, I have a lot of hope in the future of hunting with young women like Esperanza in Texas. She exemplifies those women that can lead their peers to the knowledge of ethical practices, safety and hunting traditions, all with a fun, positive attitude. One day Esperanza may even lead her own hunt as a Huntmaster for the Texas Youth Hunting Program. Should that day come I hope to be asked to be on her guiding team.

It is hard to believe how far hunting has taken me since the moment I laid eyes on that bull elk. Yet still, there are so many goals I have yet to achieve. Guiding has become a natural progression into the hunting community for me. I may not be a professional guide, but accompanying a hunter is where I get to practice all the elements of the hunt: patience, tracking, safety, strategy and more. Even after I picked up a shotgun, bow and rifle I found that guiding taught me the real lessons of being in the field. Not to mention it gave me just as much fulfillment as being the hunter.

Only those with a true passion for the elements and the outdoors can understand the enjoyment of being a guide. There really are no words that can describe the satisfaction and importance. As I have said before hunting is not always about being the one behind the trigger. Hunting is about collecting memories, celebrating the land, enjoying the wildlife, and about leading by example and passing on hunting heritage. Every hunt, regardless of its result, should be cherished. The future of hunting depends on it. Never lose hope.

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Till next year!

Volunteer with the Texas Youth Hunting Program Click here

Read my previous blogs about volunteering for the Texas Youth Hunting Program on The Hunters Feed: 

The World Is Yours: Guiding through the Texas Youth Hunting Program

Old Traditions, New Blood

Small Spaces, Big Hearts: Lessons learned from modern day pioneer life

I first wrote this article back in May where it was originally published on The Hunters Feed Blog. This Thanksgiving marks the three year anniversary that I have spent my life living in a 5th wheel. Three whole years without a conventional roof, or an oven, good water pressure or cable television among many other everyday norms. To be frank, I needed to re-read this article to remember the journey that Adam and I have been on since and be grateful for the many lessons and values we have learned a long the way. 

“So often we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey.” 

There has always been a deep yearning in my heart for dirt. I didn’t have a rural upbringing and despite my efforts to shake it, dirt seems to follow me everywhere I go.

I am the coworker that tracked the mud into the office.

I am the girl changing from high heels to snake boots daily.

My own mother calls me her “mud puppy” as a term of endearment.

When 30 acres of dirt and mesquite covered brush became our dream come true, we were more than 2,000 miles away. I had only seen photos of the property and as difficult as it was to leave my hometown, the dirt called. It had been a long time coming and we were both eager to get there. We left our quaint, beautiful, three bedroom home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for an unpredictable life. The truck acting as our oxen and the fifth wheel our covered wagon, we made the journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Lone Star state. We were modern day pioneers.

My husband, Adam and I have lived that existence and the lifestyle that comes with it for two years on our South Texas property, affectionately called the Czech Out Ranch. We don’t have cable but I am told that numerous reality TV shows currently depict small space living as simple, easy and affordable.

NEWS FLASH:

Small space living is not glamorous.

Small space coupled with Texas farm life is not for everyone. It is not always peaceful or kind. In fact, it is downright difficult at times. There are poisonous snakes, dirt in  your fingernails, giant insects, and set backs of all kinds. Despite that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have learned so many beneficial lessons these past two years as my soul has been tested, friendships stretched, and marriage tried and strengthened. As Adam and I prepare ourselves in the building of our custom home on the property, the lessons that we have learned from our journey have been at the forefront of our minds. These are lessons that we can all learn from and that I hope we will continue to remember throughout our lives.

  1. Less is more.

People have often told me, “I just couldn’t do it, where would I put all my _____?” Hunting gear, clothes, craft supplies, etc. My response is always the same, “You’d be amazed at what you can fit in less than 400 square feet of living space. What you can live without.”

Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.

Living in a tiny space has taught me so much about the importance of decluttering. Not only is it necessary when living in a small space but it is soul changing and stress relieving. When you go through all your worldly possessions and ask yourself the question, will my quality of life change without this? Two things happen. You are released from the stress that being attached to inanimate objects has on you or you truly cherish the item you decide to keep. It is all about priorities.

  1. Necessity vs. Comfort

Along the same lines of the “Less is more” concept, on a daily basis we are met with the troubling 21st century consumer question:

Do I want it or do I need it? If I do need it how will I fit it in our tiny space?

To make room for ANY item in our small dwelling means that we value it immensely- from a loaf of bread to a kitchen aid mixer. It also means being inventive with the space you do have.

Many items in our small space have multiple purposes. Adam handmade our cedar chest which acts as our coffee table and opens up for storage purposes. We jokingly call it the wine cellar, because well, that’s where we keep the wine. Adam also made a bird stand for our canary’s cage to sit on. That bird stand has two compartments. The top compartment is used to store animal supplies and the bottom is a hidden litter box for our cats to use. There are also some built in items that make storage easier, such as a pull out pantry and a laundry shoot- yes a laundry shoot.

In addition, living in a small space means saying no to many things because we don’t have the luxury of space to accommodate random decorations or adornments. When it comes to clothes shopping I follow the one in, one out rule. If I purchase something new I have to donate something old. Not only does this save space but it makes me feel good.

248Despite not purchasing many material items, we do add items to our lives that bring fulfillment and real joy despite our small space situation. These past two years we have added a dog and a kitten to our menagerie of indoor pets. When we added our collie Jane to our lives almost a month after moving to the Czech Out Ranch it added an even bigger space dilemma. We sacrificed our table and chairs to accommodate a wire kennel for crating purposes. In return, Jane fulfills our heart and home with laughter, purpose and joy.

 

 

  1. Focus on the Outdoors

My absolute favorite thing about small space living is that I spend the majority of my time outside. Whether it’s cooking, playing with the dog, farm chores, walking the property, hunting or gardening, rain or shine- my life happens outdoors.

329The time period between moving from Oregon to Texas was a rough two months of harsh, frigid temperatures and snow storms in my parent’s driveway. I remember the propane heater broke and we were without electrical hookups. To combat the stressfulness of life, Adam and I spent every single weekend of that two months hunting. Laying in marshlands looking up at the sky or in a deer blind watching the snow fall. The urge to be outdoors constantly carried over when we reached the Czech Out Ranch where we now spend 75% of our free time outside tending to farm animals, a large garden, hunting the property, trail running and enjoying nature’s splendor.

This is a lifestyle that has molded us into the people we are today. When people complain about the weather, we shrug our shoulders because it doesn’t affect us the same way it affects others. Even as we design our home we are reminded of the outdoors and have a deep yearning to pay homage to nature within it. We want to prioritize having outdoor living space as opposed to indoor space and limit our human footprint on the property we love so dear.

  1. Lower carbon footprint. Less waste.


We all consume. We’re all guilty of polluting. It is difficult to live a completely whole and “righteously” earth friendly life. I am a firm believer that small steps can make big impacts.

Living small also means storing small. Our fridge is small. Our pantry is small. As much as I say I hate the small space, it also means less food waste. Food does not get stuck in the never-ending abyss of the “back of the fridge.” And I often buy fresher produce and groceries, harvesting only what I need from the garden. When something does go bad it goes to the farm animals or the compost pile, limiting landfill waste.

Less water is wasted running long hot showers because it is just not possible in our small space. I have become the queen of the quick shower so much so that when I am staying in a hotel, a long shower just doesn’t seem right anymore. In our small space we have to make decisions about whether to run the washer for laundry, shower, or do the dishes on a weekly basis. We also dry our laundry on the line. A perk of living in South Texas.

In general, being more environmentally aware of our carbon footprint has inspired us to build what most folks might consider a small home with eco-friendly options. So that when we do have the luxuries of a large fridge, a dishwasher and more we still feel good about what the time without them taught us.

5. Appreciate the little things.

Overall, I have learned the lesson to appreciate the little things in life that I often took for granted. Most of these “little things” are actually big things – electricity, water, hot water, water pressure, garbage service, a conventional oven, a bathtub, a large closet. These are all things that I have lived without at some point during this time in my life. I have always been an avid camper and outdoors person however, to actually live without some of these luxuries for over two years continues to be life altering.

As much as I am proud of our accomplishments I will admit there have been moments when I felt ashamed of living in an unconventional home. When the hard times were just too much to bare. Those “bad times” have become some of our most shared moments with others. The time the heater broke in a snow storm, blowing out a tire on a major highway in California, breaking the pull cord on the generator at six in the morning before coffee was brewed, digging trenches for electricity, losing electricity, hauling trash & recycling, flooding water from the shower and losing use of the fridge (which meant keeping groceries in the cooler for a week) are just a few of the memorable events. To really appreciate what you have you have to live a little uncomfortably sometimes.

Installing electrical wire

Make no mistake there have been a lot of positive and memorable moments during this time period in our life as well. Enjoying weekday dinners together outside watching the sunset, evening walks around the property discovering new wildflowers, critter tracks and more, dancing in the living room/kitchen/dining room, lying in bed one minute and hunting in the “backyard” the next, sharing the property with friends and introducing others to outdoor activities, innumerable amounts of laughter playing with a hyper puppy in a small space watching as she bounces off the walls, almost literally, and many more cherished good times with my best friend and husband.

In the end the positives out way the negatives. Both make up our unique modern day pioneer story and how we have found deep appreciation for the big and little things in life.

You Know You’re A Couple That Hunts Together When…

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I happened to be on a hunting forum (reading about falconry in Texas if you must know) and stumbled upon a “You know you’re a hunter when…” post. Some of the responses were funny but all the ones about planning your children so they aren’t born during hunting season and/or leaving your wife for a deer stand made me cringe. I was in the woods following Boots around before I ever thought I would want to hunt- and I had fun doing it. In addition, I hope to TAKE my kid hunting- ON their birthdays would be considered a perk. I guess it’s all your perspective on things.

So, for those hunting couples out there I wrote some true story funnies from Boots & I’s experience being a couple that hunts together.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A COUPLE THAT HUNTS TOGETHER WHEN…

You can tell your hunting stories to your friends by pointing to the different layers of filth on your truck

You’re excited to find critters even when they aren’t in season

You WANT to go to the zoo together, but then feel…“urges”

You love duck hunting so your husband surprises you with mallard ducks for pets (Wrap your head around that one!)

Your anniversary is coming up…and you go Sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River

You eat meat but rarely buy beef. When you do eat beef you bite into it like it’s some rare interesting delicious substance from another land

On the same note: You cook venison chili, venison Asian stir-fry, venison tacos, venison stew, venison hamburgers…and it tastes better than beef!

Laughing at each other is tripping, stumbling, falling in a marsh lake, fights with blackberry bushes, dropping your release, helping your wife find her release, bee stings, bruises, a rain boot with a hole in it, carrying your wife across marsh ponds, peeing in the woods…in the snow…and much more!

You buy a puppy and the first act of training is to teach it not to be gun shy

You’ve probably spent more time discussing hunting strategies, animal poop and tracking then your emotions, chores, future children and work combined

Thanksgiving means four days of deer hunting and Christmas means two days of duck hunting (And Boots and I made it back for dinner too)

You join an archery league together

Weight gain occurs in summer and weight loss occurs in the fall/winter

A satisfied day may not mean catching or killing anything, but scaring hikers who aren’t aware its hunting season- then educating them- is always a perk

“Date night” does not exist in your vocabulary. More like “Date morning” in the woods, eating granola bars & sharing coffee from a thermos

When people ask you what your favorite color is. Your respond: Camouflage

You’re deeply offended that the archery specialist at Gander Mountain doesn’t know what a Flu-flu arrow is. Then he asks w/ surprise, “Are you going to try to hit a dove with an arrow?”

Your husband’s coworker comments on a deer head horseshoe sculpture he made and says “Your wife lets you have that kind of stuff around?” and he replies proudly, “My wife is a hunter!”

Teamwork in a marriage means helping hold the deer while your husband guts it, or vice versa.

No pink camo

The best nap you ever had was propped up against a Douglas fir (Boots has the picture of me to prove it!)

You emphatically tell stories about being covered in mud

You specifically only serve BBQ at your wedding! (Actually we did buy some veggie trays but they never made it out of the fridge…lol)

You cuddle in a deer blind- to actually stay warm

You consistently get asked by men what bow you’re shooting. Then they respond “I wish my wife would shoot with me” or “I should get my wife one.” Vice versa, men consistently ask you “How’d you get your wife into hunting?”

Your husband has to console you by wiping away your tears when the elk gets away…or the deer…or the duck…or the nutria…

The most expensive clothes/boots you own are waterproof, snake bite proof and usually camouflage

You can’t drive by an open field or a pond without slowing down “just to take a look”

You high five after successfully stalking a herd of elk

An argument occurs when you want to HELP carry and set up the deer stand

When your husband says put more makeup on- he means camouflage face paint. Also this is the ONLY time he will ever care about your makeup

You look at the ground for tracks everywhere you go together…your property, your neighbor’s property, your parents’ house, the river, the zoo, etc.

Christmas presents are marked “To my snot faucet”

You think your husband outshined you on your wedding day because he got to wear two matching revolvers…and you’re ok with that!

Your fondest memories involve watching movies & sleeping in your pickup truck together while hunting

Tumbling in the grass together is not at all like the country songs say it is

Your husband buys you a bouquet…of dove decoys, shotgun shells and bug spray (Boots can be so romantic!)

All of these and MORE are the exact reasons why I am passionate about hunting with Boots, and as you probably know, I am not afraid to share that.  Not only through hunting do I constantly challenge myself (probably too much) but really, if I think about it, all of my favorite memories with my best friend are made when we’re outdoors- I know hunting is not for everyone but our society constantly preaches that husbands/wives need to have separate passions and activities to have healthy relationships. And while Boots and I are different in MANY ways- our society needs to start preaching for husband/wives to be teams again!

Get out there. Support one another. Be happy.