Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Kitchen Table at Christmas

I just had the striking realization that it's Christmas Eve, and that means I have to clean off the kitchen table. People might need to actually - you know- "eat" off of it tomorrow.

Now, I don't know about you, but my kitchen table is the center of activity in my house, and as such, it is rather a microcosm of my life. Things that I need to either put away or find another temporary home for today and tomorrow include:

-My laptop - upon which I compose these posts, and surf the web, while still being able to watch a TV show going on in the living room.

-Noise cancelling earphones - for when I want to listen to something on the laptop without distraction, or when - like yesterday - I want to drink my coffee and check stuff online at 630 AM without disturbing the sleeping teenagers on the floor in my living room who had a sleepover the previous night and were awake until 2.

-Various bills, statements and the like.

-Coupons for the fabric store's next sale. Although, I've already got a backlog of projects to finish first - like the quilt for Soldiers' Angels, the microwave rice bag for a friend, and the shooting vest for my brother that I've been promising all fall.
-Christmas lights still in the box, along with glue gun and empty shotgun shells. These were moved to the table from the living room floor when the previously mentioned teenagers came to sleep over. I used all that a few weeks ago to make these, and was going to make another string.

-Folder that holds the papers for my gun memberships, so I can keep track of it all.

-Pamphlet from Antietam National Battlefield that I visited back on Memorial Day ( yeah, I don't clean off the table that often)

-Three DVD's on practical shooting - lent to me by a friend.

-The phone book that I used over the past few weeks trying to find SOMEone who would replace a couple pieces of siding that blew off my house in the last wind storm.

-Large purple binder that holds all my quartet music. Did I mention that I sing in a  women's acapella quartet? That's the "singing" part of my "Singing, Sewing, and Shooting" hobbies. It's a blast. We've done a few performances for Christmas, and are making plans for Singing Valentines.

-Various stacks of requests for holiday charitable donations. I enjoy doing this, but once you are on a mailing list, the requests seem to come every week. You'd think the postage would become cost prohibitive after awhile.

-8x10 photos of the Babes With Bullets Camps I've attended. Been meaning to frame or put them in an album and haven't gotten around to it.

- A scope mount that is likewise waiting for a "round tuit".

- Compact camera that I bought that has a better zoom than my phone - maybe to take to SHOT? I still haven't opened it.

-Bag of toothbrushes and sugarless gum leftover from Halloween. I suppose I should give it to the homeless shelter or something...

-Various omnipresent pens, notepads and reminder stickies. My brain goes fifty different ways sometimes, so I need visual cues to remind me to do things (like call someone about the durn siding).

-Biometric gun vault  for my bedroom. This is another installation project that is waiting for a "round tuit".

-Pretty much everything "but"  A Partridge in a Pear Tree.

So. There you have it - my "Wonderful Life" in microcosm on the kitchen table. I'd like to think that it just means that I have a fun and busy life - not that I'm a slob. But I embrace my mess as an expression of "me" - LOL

Maybe seeing my mess will make you a little less hard on yourself about your own hobbies and messes, and let you relax and enjoy the holidays. :-)

From my kitchen table to yours -- Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Recycled Chamber Flags

Now that more and more ranges are requiring chamber flags for firearms, I thought I would share my solution - and it cost me nothing (My favorite price!!!)

I've heard of all kinds of homemade options for chamber flags - zip ties, etc, but once I started thinking about it, my solution was staring right at me from the comfort of my recycle bin.

I happen to use a brand of liquid laundry detergent that happens to come in a bright yellow #2 jug. The jug also happens to have some handy right angles, that if cut to the proper width, work very nicely.

All you need is a clean, empty jug (and probably any bright color would work, it's just that I already had bright yellow), a sharp pair of shears or snips, and some imagination. I found it worked well to leave the flag end rather broad, and then taper/angle the chamber end. If it's too fat, you can just snip it down. And if you totally screw up the first couple (like I did), you've still got a whole jug's worth of plastic left to play with. You could probably make enough to supply your whole shooting team from one jug.

Martha Stewart I ain't, but sometimes I get hit between the eyes with a good idea.

There ya go! Go Crazy!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mentors for Latebloomers

It occurred to me last week when I was discussing local buck season, that what I (and women like me) really need is a "Mentored Latebloomer" Hunting program. Many states have a "Mentored Youth" program, so why not a program to mentor the not-so-young?

I mean - think about it - we've got programs in place to encourage women to learn to shoot, and programs are growing to "keep" them shooting. To continue that encouragement and incentive, why shouldn't there be hunting programs for beginner women? Sure, there are always destination guided hunts available, but that can be cost-prohibitive for a lot of women. There are also BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman) programs, but does that include taking the women actually OUT on hunts to learn habitat, tracking, food sources, and all the other essentials "besides" pulling the trigger? Maybe there are some out there, but just not in my area. If there are, somebody please get me the info, because I would be all over it.

There have got to be other women out there besides me who do not have a significant other or family member to teach them who is close by. I have some remaining family who hunt deer, but only a couple - and they both live out-of-state. It is also kind of awkward as a single female to ask men at my gun club or in other social circles if they would "take" me hunting. I don't want the request to be misinterpreted or take on other connotations - ya know what I mean, ladies? Am I being too overcautious about this? It would be much easier if there were mentors on a list somewhere or something who've already signaled their openness to teach.

And I'm not just talking about deer hunting. There are all kinds of things I'd like to try before I die, and some things I'd just like to learn more about - Pheasant? Grouse? Turkey? Feral hogs?

I can't turn back the clock and be twelve again (besides the fact that you couldn't pay me enough to go through adolescence a second time - HA!), but I'd love to learn some of these things "now" - if I could find someone to teach me. Surely, I'm not the only one?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Opening Days 2013

WARNING!!! If you expect to see photos of trophy bucks here, you are in the WRONG BLOG!
Turn back now or risk your sanity!! LOL!

Okay, now that I've got THAT out of the way... :-)

I wouldn't exactly call myself a "deer hunter". But I have been out deer hunting for four seasons now. Emphasis on the word "hunting". Notice I did not say "shooting". The truth is, I've gotten one shot off in four seasons. If it weren't for sighting-in and practice, I'd still be on my original box of 30-30. LOL, how sad is that?

I didn't learn to hunt when I was young - I wasn't permitted to go to deer camp as a girl. I do understand now (but didn't then) that the family camp was crowded with men, and there would have been no privacy or "place" for a 12 year old girl, who would have put a definite crimp in the atmosphere. It's just how things were back then. And since dad didn't hunt the "house deer", I just didn't get to learn to hunt at all.

So I started when I was 46 - the same year that I bought my first handgun. There will be more to the story in another post, but for now let's just say that I'm a latebloomer at hunting too.

Consequent to my late start, I only know how to hunt deer how my family hunts deer, and even that is kind of fuzzy. I learned what I do know upon the family property, so the style is related to the topography of the camp - which is deep eastern creek valley and mountainside. My family doesn't hunt from tree stands or ground blinds. There are no scent lures or any other enticements either. It's just not what they do. My family does what my dad always called "pussyfooting". I guess the proper term is "stalk" hunting. At least in this family, this involves taking only a step or two at a time - baby steps, and with a heel-to-toe roll to keep the leaves and frosty ground as quiet as possible. Then you stand still, and look and listen for a few minutes. Then you take another couple slow quiet steps and look and listen again. It is a rather exhausting style - especially if you do that for a mile or so out the old log road - but it also keeps you from getting bored. There is a certain amount of "standing" too - but there is no climbing involved. What passes for a "stand" in this family is keeping a little three legged stool or a seat pad in your vest back, and finding a temporary perch somewhere - like behind the twin trees at the top of the fire lane, or near the path down to the spring, or simply within the branches of a fallen tree along the trailside - anything that breaks up your outline, where you can sit for awhile and watch. I'm not saying this is better or worse than anything else - this is just what I learned from my uncle, my dad's hunting buddy, and my brother over the past few years. I don't know anything else.

This year was a new experience with new topography. The cabin at the family camp is becoming nearly uninhabitable, and no one was going to be able to make it up there anyway this year. Because I am still a novice, and there is no cell service at the camp, it was probably not a good idea for me to go up there alone, so my brother invited me to come up and hunt with him and his son at the farm property he bought a couple years ago. The farm is only 20 minutes from his house. Wait, you mean I can hunt all day, and then come back and get a hot shower, AND flush the toilet?? What a concept!! ( yes, the cabin is THAT kind of cabin) I didn't know what to do with luxuries like that!

It was fun just learning the lay of new land this year. Where the farm is located is pretty flat territory, so not every field of view was going to provide a safe shot from ground level. I might HAVE to learn to use a tree stand at some point if I continue to go there, but for now there were enough dips and swales and hemlock creek hollows that I still felt comfortable taking a shot if I had the opportunity.

It's always hard getting up in the dark on opening day of buck season. But there's some anticipation too. The imagined possibilities are endless. Would this be the year for me? Although it's fun to think about, I tried to squelch that as much as possible and keep my shooting match mindset.  "Just Be Safe and Have Fun", I told myself. I was also realistic. Antler restrictions have gotten tougher. The days are gone when you could shoot a spikey or a "Y-buck" in this area (unless you are a junior shooter, disabled or active military). My nephew could shoot pretty much anything, being a junior, but these days, in this area, a legal buck starts at "3-Up" and brow tines don't count. Since I didn't know until the last minute that I'd be shooting in my brother's area, the doe tags were all sold out before I even got organized. What that meant for the bottom line was that I couldn't shoot at anything less than an 8-point. I thought that was going to be a tall order. But I was there to enjoy the couple days I had anyway.

My brother had printed me out an aerial map of the property, so I knew where I was going, and the map was sealed neatly in a ziplock bag and tucked into my coat in case I needed it. We parked the truck in the pre-dawn and split up to our various patrol areas on either end of the property.

The thing I really enjoy about hunting (once I get past the dragging myself out of bed thing, and the 40 layers of clothes thing) is that it forces me out of my usual sensory routine.

The first thing I noticed was the sharp frosty air that made my nose crinkle and turned my breath into white fog. I have an attached garage at home, so I am admittedly sheltered from the realities of being out in the cold for most days of the winter. Being out hunting made me more acutely aware of temperature fluctuations and how that might affect the movement or activity of the animals in that environment.

As I started down the lane, my eyes had to adjust to new fields of focus. I think computer distance makes my eyes "lazy" - it's kind of one field of focus all the time. But out in the fields and the woods, my eyes were forced to do some actual work. Depth perception gets a workout when I am focusing on one layer of trees, and then scanning the next layer in, and then the layer after that - with some dappled sunlight and overcast shadow thrown in for good measure - then, zooming back out to focus on the frost crystals that had formed on the Queen Anne's lace and fallow wheat heads at my feet. On top of that, add visual motion detection. When I was really quiet and still enough to pay attention to detail, then I was tuned in enough to notice the squirrel zipping up that tree out of the corner of my eye, and the songbirds hopping from branch to twig and back. These aren't usually things I notice from the comfort of my car on the Interstate! LOL

And the tracks! There were tracks everywhere in the week-old snow. Some of the tracks were obviously turkey, some were obviously deer, and some obviously rabbit, but then there were some other interesting 5-toed tracks that I had no idea about and I'm going to have to try looking up. Possum? Raccoon? Squirrel? So many interesting things to see, if only I used my eyes properly and prodded them out of their usual routine.

My ears got a similar workout. The first step was letting the hum of the distant interstate highway fade into the auditory background. When that happened, then I could tune into the sounds of the snow crunching under my boots (and mud making sucking noises after the sun came out and warmed things up a bit), the sounds of the creek water running, and twigs snapping as a squirrel hopped around on his squirrely errands. Then there were the blobs of snow dropping off the hemlock boughs with a plop as the temperature rose, and the rustle of the breeze stirring the leaves of the dried corn crop still standing in the field. It was really quite the outdoor symphony once I allowed myself to listen. No iPod earbuds could duplicate that.

Once I got settled onto my little stool amongst some hemlocks, then came the bird calls. I wish I had paid more attention when I was young, but my dad taught me to recognize several bird calls. There was the "Pee-weee" and "Chicka-bzzbzzbzz" of the Black-capped chickadees, the "Jay!" of the Bluejay, and several others that I recognized from my childhood, but I couldn't quite conjure the right names from my foggy memories. Besides the songbirds, I heard the "honk..honk-honk" of some Canada Geese flying by in V-formation, and a red-tailed hawk screaming several times overhead. Some of the smaller songbirds got closer - even 5 feet away - as they figured out that the big orange "thing" sitting there on the dollar store  3-legged stool didn't seem to be a threat. (Can songbirds see color? I know turkeys can - I'll have to look that one up). There was also a Red squirrel who was very put out by my presence. He (she?) sat about 12 feet up a nearby tree and gave me the absolute dickens - chirping and chattering at me for several minutes.

It wasn't just my ears and eyes that got a work-out. My muscles told me that I wasn't used to carrying the weight of gear and gun. My 30-30 lever gun and scope weigh about 9 pounds total, which isn't a lot - until you do it for hours at a stretch, for several days in a row. I also had on heavy insulated waterproof boots, and several layers of clothing, to include the orange vest, which also held a water bottle, a clif bar, a space blanket, a knife, a dragline and gutting gloves etc. in case I got lucky, and the previously mentioned dollar store 3-legged stool. I probably had 15 or 18 extra pounds of gear to drag around, which is not part of my normal routine. Maybe I need to work-out more and lose 15 or 18 extra pounds of "me", and then imagine how good I'd feel! LOL!  I wasn't climbing up and down the side of the mountain like at the camp either, but all that pussyfooting made my knees start reminding me that I wasn't 20 anymore.

I did see three deer in two days. But that's all I did - "see" them. Two were nothing but tails disappearing into the brush.  It might have even been the "same" tail, as it was in the same general location on the walk out and then back. I'm not obviously a champion stalker, and the first time, I had my eyes downcast, watching  my footing as I stepped over a log. I heard a snort, and looked up to see the tail, and that was the end of that. The third deer was a mere shadowy wraith disappearing between tree trunks when I had my eyes on the fallow wheat and apple trees instead. But I had two interesting days outdoors - got the briar scratches to prove it - and got the "good tired" feeling that being afield always gives me in the bargain.

I haven't been what you'd call a "successful" hunter so far ... but I guess that depends upon how you define success. I still didn't bring home a deer for the freezer, but I did get to spend some time truly "alone" - with myself, with my thoughts, and with the natural world. I got to mentally switch gears, retrain my eyes and ears, and pay attention to the very smallest of details that normally go unnoticed in the rush. I found a little temporary peace in the hubbub of my life, and that sure seems like success to me.