Keepers of the outdoor spirit

Deer rifle season began here in Kansas last Wednesday and I’ve put-off penning this week’s column hoping for a deer hunting story to tell. Alas, no deer or deer story yet, but each year this experience brings back memories of deer hunts from my past, some when deer were successfully harvested and some when they weren’t. I try not to use the term “unsuccessful” by itself when it comes to any outdoor adventure, because there is always something to enjoy in God’s outdoors, whether or not game is harvested.

Just yesterday I watched a northern harrier (hawk) hunt patches of weeds and CRP around our blind. Harriers hunt low and slow, gliding and rocking back and forth mere feet above the vegetation, attempting to scare rodents concealed below into giving up their hiding places. That particular northern harrier dropped suddenly to the ground numerous times but always came away “empty-clawed;” maybe it was inexperienced or maybe it was just having an “off” day of hunting (I can relate.)

As a high school kid in Ohio, I learned to hunt deer from a group of local farmers and land owners who always hunted together a few times each season. They were a diverse and colorful lot; there were a couple farmers, a couple factory workers, a local cop, an older couple who were both on disability and squabbled the entire time, them my little brother Joe and I. The preferred method of hunting Ohio farm country deer back then was surrounding a section of land with several hunters, then sending others to walk through and drive the deer toward the shooters; not real sporting, but effective. The only allowed weapon in Ohio in those days was a shotgun shooting rifled slugs. Unless you owned a shotgun with a special “rifled” barrel, they were not very accurate at any distance. Dave Burt was the cop in the group and his kitchen windows overlooked my patch of woods and other good nearby deer habitat, so his kitchen table often became ground zero for morning deer hunts. Dave had eyes like a hawk and it was inevitable that as we sat around his table drinking coffee and cocoa, he would spot a deer. Coffee cups would roll and chairs would spin as hunting coats were snatched from chair backs as we all ran for the pickups.

Neither Joe or I ever shot a deer when hunting with that crew, but Joe harvested his first deer before I did, and I’ll never forget my reaction (of which I’m not proud.) I had purchased our 150 acre farm from dad and lived by myself on the farm after our folks built a new home nearby. I was in the National Guard and as I remember it, I came home one Saturday evening from our monthly guard drill to find a nice buck hanging in the open doorway of my barn. Joe had shot it along the woods on my farm, and I believe I asked him where he planned to hunt from then on. Joe now lives smack-dab in the middle of 200 acres of pristine deer habitat in southeastern Ohio. He is by far the better deer hunter, and he, his wife, his kids and grandkids take half a dozen deer there every season. In fact, he just helped his youngest 8-year-old grandson harvest his first Ohio whitetail.

Today, Joe and I would be the seniors in that hunting group if we still lived there, and we would be mentoring future deer hunters like those guys mentored us. Joe and my other siblings have done a crack job of keeping the outdoor spirit alive in their families; our grandfather, the original giver of that spirit would be proud. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!

 

Steve Gilliland can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com.

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